Trailblazing Bok prop Babalwa Latsha is making her mark – on and off the field
There’s no stopping the resolute Babalwa Latsha, whether it’s when she’s wearing the green and gold, or tackling social justice issues.
The first female African rugby player to sign a professional contract. Capped for both the Springbok Women 15s side and the Sevens equivalent. A law degree holder, a philanthropist, Laureus Foundation ambassador and an overall trailblazer. That is Springbok Women prop and Khayelitsha native, Babalwa Latsha.
“People like myself are extremely important in our society because we need to challenge the norm to effect positive change. We need to create opportunities for others to do much better than us. Especially young girls,” Latsha told DM168.
“If we present ourselves as authentically as we can, that allows the next young person to see themselves in us. To see that we actually represent them. It’s so important that we use the platform we have, and the resources we have access to, to help advance the next young person.”
Latsha, who became the first African female rugby player to clinch a professional rugby contract when she joined Spanish side Eibar in 2020, does not just talk the talk, she walks the walk too.
When Latsha is not tackling and bulldozing opponents on the field and in scrums, the 28-year-old is taking on period poverty, which is a lack of access to sanitary products.
The passionate prop is one of those at the forefront of a project to get sanitary pad vending machines into schools: “We have a few in Lesotho and Mozambique. We cater primarily for the Western Cape, for now. But in KwaZulu-Natal and Johannesburg, we have a few machines up in schools,” Latsha said.
The initiative is the brainchild of the MENstruation Foundation and a local girls’ home, O Grace Land.
Latsha is affiliated to both: she is a director at the MENstruation Foundation and sits on the board of O Grace Land.
The two foundations install the machines in schools and pupils are given monthly tokens to “withdraw” a pack of pads.
Why did she choose to throw her weight behind this particular initiative?
“Nothing makes me as happy and fulfilled as knowing that I’ve made a difference in at least one person’s life.
“I know what it’s like to be without sanitary products. It affects your dignity as a person. It affects your confidence and your self-esteem,” she explained.
“You’re just not comfortable – especially when doing your favourite things, such as sports,” Latsha said.
She recalled an encounter that drove home the overall impact of this project.
“At one school, when we went to refill the machine, one girl came up to us and said: ‘I love rugby so much. But I’ve never been confident enough to be involved in the sport when [I have] my period because I never had the right protection. At home, it’s not a priority because the most important thing is food on the table. And if we have to choose between pads and a loaf of bread, we will choose the bread.’
“Now that she has access to pads, she enjoys coming to school. She enjoys playing her favourite sports, which are rugby and netball,” Latsha told DM168.
Latsha, who returned to Western Province Rugby after her Spanish stint, hopes to continue inspiring young girls and boys to live up to their potential.
When the Springbok Women take to the global stage that is the Women’s Rugby World Cup, she will look to make further strides in this regard.
The championship, which was postponed a year ago by World Rugby because of Covid-19, is scheduled to take place in New Zealand from 8 October.
South Africa is in Pool C, alongside the imposing teams of France, England and Fiji. The French – against whom the Boks will open their World Cup campaign – trounced the South Africans 46-3 during the Springboks’ tour of Europe at the tail end of 2021.
Latsha said the one-year delay of the global showpiece handed the team an opportunity to improve.
“The World Cup is the biggest of all competitions. So, it’s really exciting. It was postponed a while back. And perhaps that was a blessing in disguise because we’ve now had more time to prepare.
“Our preparations have been going extremely well. It’s going to be big and I look forward to it.”
The postponement has also helped the Laureus Foundation ambassador work towards being in perfect physical condition by the time the World Cup starts. She missed out on the FA Women’s Premier Division last year as she was recovering from a long-term shoulder injury.
This season, she has been a mainstay as Western Province have enjoyed a successful season so far. They sit second in the Premier division, behind defending champions Border. They need one more win to secure a second successive final berth.
Latsha, one of a handful of female South African athletes who are sponsored, is affiliated with sports equipment company Asics.
In a country where many female sports stars have to pay from their own pockets to play sports, the value of the partnership is not lost on the prop. Having a sponsor made a difference, Latsha said.
“It’s the difference between being able to assist your family or not. The difference between you being able to take care of yourself or not.
“The difference between you being able to get yourself to the next training session or not. That’s how impactful it is.” DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.