Being The Best You Can Be: Babalwa Latsha, Rugby Superstar & Laureus Ambassador
Nicklaus Kruger, 18 August 2021
Sport helped Babalwa Latsha become her best self – Springbok Women’s prop and the first women’s rugby 15s player in SA to turn professional. Now she’s helping others find their way as well, as the latest Laureus Sport for Good Foundation ambassador – joining fellow sporting icons like Olympian athlete Wayde van Niekerk, fellow rugby star Cheslin Kolbe and current Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis.
“I like to think of sports as a calling,” she says. “No matter where you are, it will find you. When it finds you it ignites that fire of greatness that burns softly in our hearts. It is that flame that makes the wildest of dreams seem possible to the dreamer. And it’s our job to help others find that flame within themselves – and help it burn bright, inspiring others to do – and be – better.”
Born in the Eastern Cape town of Mount Frere and raised in Khayelitsha, Latsha started playing rugby out of curiosity and completely fell in love with the game. Since then, the popular prop’s own sporting flame has been burning brightly, and she has a string of achievements to her name.
Two-time Inter-Provincial League winning captain. South Africa Rugby Women’s Top Achiever in 2017. Captain of Springbok Women since 2019. And after becoming the first African women’s rugby player to turn professional upon joining Spain’s Eibar Rugby Taldea in January last year, Latsha went on to score 13 tries in seven games – receiving a renewed contract in the process, and becoming a triple finalist for the 2020 Momentum gsport Awards. Oh, and she captained the Springbok women’s team to qualify for the Rugby World Cup 2021.
“In my rugby career, I have had the privilege of playing at all possible levels, and captained teams at those levels as well,” she says. “Over the years, I have travelled the world, met and engaged with new people and embraced them and their diversity. With that, I have picked up some valuable life lessons that I still cherish to this day. Rugby is a way of life after all.”
Latsha balanced her rugby career with her studies, bringing textbooks along on tours, managing matches and exams and graduating with a law degree from the University of the Western Cape in 2019, paving the road for a bright future on and off the field.
And by overcoming gender stereotypes and criticism throughout her rugby career for playing a male-dominated sport, Latsha has become a beacon of hope to many aspiring female rugby players across SA – and the perfect Ambassador of Laureus sporting values..
“Latsha’s journey from township to rugby stardom has been phenomenal to watch,” notes Chairperson of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation SA, Morné du Plessis. “We are thrilled to welcome her to the Laureus family. She is already doing such important work to shine a light on women’s rugby and continues to leave a legacy that will inspire future generations of African women to pursue professional rugby. We are very excited to be working with her to upliftment communities across SA.”
Shining Bright – By Helping Others Shine
Laureus Ambassadors volunteer their time and effort to support the work of Laureus Sport for Good Foundation SA, using sport as a means to combat some of the toughest social challenges facing young people today, such as juvenile crime, HIV/AIDS, discrimination, social exclusion, lack of education, landmine awareness and health problems such as obesity.
That’s something that’s very important to her. Latsha maintains close ties with her community, and often spends time inspiring young people through talks and training sessions in disadvantaged communities. And as a director at the MENstruation Foundation, she aims to help young women understand their bodies better (and end ‘period poverty’ through initiatives like sanitary pad vending machines).
“Acceptance is something that I struggled with throughout my teens – I never conformed to what was generally perceived as normal for a girl. I was slightly taller, a little bit more muscular. Like a boy,” Latsha recalls. “Rugby taught me to accept that I was different, and to love that difference. It taught me that I didn’t need to shrink myself to fit in – I could embrace my strengths and stand out boldly.”
Ultimately, it’s about getting young women to overcome the expectations of society to build the lives they deserve.
“I have had the honour of being surrounded by exceptional women – women who have moulded me into an all-round improved human being and athlete,” she says. “I have been inspired to inspire good in others, opening their eyes and hearts to the greatness that is within them. They, too, must realise and understand that they are leaders in their own right. In a world that accepts mediocrity, they can shine bright.”
Latsha has championed women’s rugby in SA and around the world, challenging gender stereotypes and focusing on grassroots rugby and empowering women on and off the field.
“Sport is the one place where a girl can be as safe as possible, and where you can truly be yourself. It creates young, independent and strong vocal women who do not shy away from anything,” she says.
And she has no plans to quit anytime soon.
“My biggest dream is to see a society where young women can grow up safely, freely and confidently, where they can be empowered to become young leaders within our communities,” she says. “My dream is that young boys and girls see themselves as equal, so that we can ultimately and finally foster a society that does not see women as lesser than, but sees them for who they truly are – and helps them reach their full potential”
Want to know more about Babalwa’s journey, how she’s become the inspiring woman she is today – and what she’s learned along the way? Find out here – in her own words.