Babalwa Latsha, South Africa’s first woman rugby player to turn professional, could have been as adept in the courtroom as she is on the playing field.
The mission for the prop from Khayelitsha, Cape Town, is the same – justice for all.
“The most important thing to me is that I follow my heart and my purpose and that has led me to the game of rugby.
“Of course, not neglecting law as well because it is also my passion.
“At some stage, the two were intertwined, that is law and rugby, in different ways other than it being in the courtroom,” she said.
Latsha, who captained the Springbok women’s team to qualification for Rugby World Cup 2021, said she wanted to use her talents and expertise to plough back into women’s rugby, assisting and contributing to its growth globally.
“That may come in the form of, perhaps, serving on the committee or the subcommittee of Rugby Africa for Player Welfare and Participation so there are other ways in which I can use my law qualification to enhance and elevate women’s rugby,” she said.
A graduate with a law degree from the University of the Western Cape, Latsha has captained the women Springboks since 2019 and last year made history when she became the first African women’s rugby player to turn professional.
Latsha joined SD Eibar Femenino in Spain in January 2020 and was an instant success, scoring 13 tries in seven games getting an improved contract as swift reward.
“Now, the door for African women rugby players is open,” she said.
Unfortunately, her dream of emulating the men in holding aloft the World Cup was put on hold until next year.
After leading her to towards qualification for the Rugby World Cup 2021, her dreams were stymied by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in a postponement of the tournament.
“Fortunately, the Women’s Premier league in South Africa will be kicking off quite soon.
“That is where you can see me in action on the pitch. Of course Covid-19 has impacted all of us globally on various levels, and obviously playing, as well.
“But on a personal level, I have developed hobbies that I didn’t know that I actually had such as writing,” Latsha said.
Starting out late in her playing career has had its share of challenges for Latsha, including dealing with criticism and stereotypes attached to being a young woman in rugby.
“Over the years I’ve developed a thick skin, and found mechanisms in which I accept criticism, but I also know which criticism to acknowledge and which not to,” she said.
Growing up in Khayelitsha, she never had hopes of representing South Africa at rugby, though she dreamed of playing football as it was the main sport that she had took part in growing up.
“Of course, I came across the sport of rugby, football was my first love.”
She was introduced to rugby while a student at UWC and played for the university sevens rugby team before graduating to national colours.
A role model to many, Latsha said her heroes are retired rugby giant Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira, star athlete Caster Semenya and global icon Serena Williams, who has revolutionised tennis, enabling many like her to achieve their goals.
“The advice I can give to youngsters across south Africa is to dream big.
“There is no such thing as a dream too big, too ridiculous or unattainable.
“Anything and everything is possible, if you put your mind to it and you couple that with hard work.
“Ask when you don’t know, be open to learn and pursue your passions with all of your heart.
“Genuinely and surely doors will open because opportunity does recognise hard work and passion,” she said.
Latsha said apart from rugby, she had several other passions and is involved in community work, mentorship of young girls, particularly in and around Khayelitsha.
“I’m involved with various organisations that cater to the needs of young girls, such as the distribution of sanitary towels.
“For me it is very important that young girls are taken care of and are protected, and their dignity restored by ensuring that they constantly have access to things like sanitary towels.”
Coralie van Den Berg, general manager, Rugby Africa, said: “She is a true ambassador, dedicated to the sport and determined to set an example on the world stage.
“Not only has she boosted the profile of Women’s Rugby in her home country and on the continent, she is also unwavering in her determination to pass on the baton, and attract more professional clubs to Women’s Rugby in South Africa, and on the continent.”
“Her incredible leadership skills, coupled with her prowess on the field, came to the fore during her Test debut with the Springboks Women on their UK Tour in 2018,” according to Maha Zaoui, women’s manager, Rugby Africa.
“This made her a natural fit as skipper for the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup in 2019, and Latsha proved it by leading the Springbok women’s team to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2021.”
On the African continent, women’s rugby has seen tremendous growth.
In the past decade it soared from 50 000 female players in 2012, to more than 260 000 in 2018.
Africa will also be well represented when South Africa participates in the rescheduled rugby World Cup for women in New Zealand in 2022 and Kenya in the Olympic Games.
But the inspirational Latsha has no doubt helped to swing the doors wide open.