When South African women’s sevens player Babalwa Latsha took up rugby a few years ago it wasn’t just a new sport she had to master.
To begin with she had concerns about her safety.
“There would be times where I would like to go for an evening run, but I can’t because I live in a township,” the 24-year-old tells CNN of her area of Khayelitsha, based in the Western Cape section of Cape Town. “It’s not the safest thing to do.”
As she pursued both her sporting and academic ambitions, Latsha then moved out of her family home and into a place of her own.
“It was the best thing to happen, actually, for my academics and also for my rugby,” says Latsha, who was part of the inaugural South African Rugby Legends Association’s (SARLA) development program in 2014.
She did not, however, abandon her roots, and still lives in the township of Khayelitsha.
“I’d say it is a tough place to live, but I don’t think that I would want to change it for anything,” she says. “Khayelitsha has its own flavor, if you like.
“It requires a specific way of life, if you know what I mean. So, it’s a special place, really.”
With her astonishing work ethic – she is also studying law at the University of the Western Cape – Latsha has had to develop a powerful physique to help deal with the demands of playing the prop position.
She has also found herself trailblazing a new path for South African women’s sports.
“Whether I like it or not, this is not about me as an individual. It’s about the person who looks at me and thinks, ‘Maybe I can do the same,’” she says, speaking in a manner that evokes wisdom beyond her years. “In my heart that is what it’s about.”
’Inspiration to all of us’
This year Latsha captained the Springbok women for the first time in a sevens tournament against Spain, Italy and Wales, and was named South Africa Rugby Women’s Top Achiever for 2017.
“She’s an inspiration to all of us,” SARLA chief Stefan Terblanche told South Africa’s Independent Media of Latsha.
Another person to be inspired is her 12-year-old sister, who is already following in Latsha’s footsteps as a primary school rugby player.
“She copies everything I do, basically, so for her the next best thing was to start playing rugby. Actually, she’s quite good,” Latsha says. “I hope to leave a legacy, so she’ll continue it.”
Latsha also represents Western Providence in the 15-a-side format of the game and aspires to qualify the Springboks for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
South Africa first developed a women’s rugby union team in 2004. Since then it has played in three World Cups, collectively winning two matches and losing 13 before missing out on 2017 qualification.
Having a world class talent like Latsha could be transformative to the Springbok Women, however.
Should her game continue to develop, a rugby team from one of the more competitive women’s leagues in the UK or continental Europe could come calling.
But prying Latsha away from South Africa will be difficult, considering she’s on path to become a lawyer, a dream she has had since childhood.
“As early as I can remember, I was always fascinated by how lawyers spoke so eloquently and all those gowns,” she recalls. “In my eyes, they were champions of justice and all of those things.”
Balancing the intense training required for rugby and the mound of reading for her legal studies has not been easy.
“I think time management is a very important thing because I need to train,” she notes. “Somehow, I’ve managed to find a way up until now, and it works.”
“Look, a law degree is really demanding, in terms of time,” she adds. “In order to do that, there’s a whole process that you need to undergo. So, I’ve decided to embark on that journey and actually embrace the process.”