Springbok star Lusanda Dumke played her way to the top with character and guile – and she’s still dreaming big

Springbok star Lusanda Dumke played her way to the top with character and guile – and she’s still dreaming big
Lusanda Dumke on the attack during the Springbok women's second Test against the Kenya Lionesses at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on 16 August 2021. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

Lusanda Dumke’s road to success has been far from smooth, but the feted Springbok women flanker is grateful and hungry for more wins.

Springbok women flanker Lusanda Dumke has had to fight fiercely for the success she has achieved while playing the game of rugby and navigating life in less-than-ideal conditions.

During all her ups and downs, the 26-year-old has worn an infectious smile, paired with a jocular attitude. For that, and of course her brilliant rugby skills that have seen her represent both the South African Sevens women’s side, as well as the 15s, she has collected numerous accolades along the way.

At the beginning of 2022 Dumke was named the first Springbok women’s player of the year, following a stellar 2021 during which she captained her provincial side, Border, to the Premier Division title, and played an important part in the national team. She also walked away with the award for provincial women’s player of the year in the process.  

In June 2022, underdogs Border, who had somehow beaten the powerful Western Province the year before, proved that that victory was not a fluke by repeating the feat and retaining their crown.

It was a win that made captain Dumke very proud of her young charges, who had finished second behind Western Province in this season’s group phase.

“Our 2021 win was unexpected because we were playing against a very good team. They had beaten us convincingly in the first round. So, many people were sure that we won by mistake when we beat them in the final,” Dumke told Daily Maverick.

“Then in 2022 we beat them in the group stage and then in the final again. I was captaining a very young team. But they showed that they can play. They showed incredible character and made my job easy.”

Success and sacrifice

Just recently, after skippering the Eastern Cape-based Border to the defence of their title as the best women’s rugby team in the land in June, she added two more accolades to her ever-expanding roster of achievements.

Lusanda Dumke is tackled as the Springbok women take on the Kenya Lionesses in Stellenbosch on 16 August 2021. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

In August, Dumke was named Eastern Cape sports star of the year, while also clinching the sportswoman of the year accolade. For her efforts, she received a brand-new car. She then made headlines after asking to forfeit her prize, a VW Polo, in favour of a family home.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “The sky’s the limit as pieces continue to fall in place for Bok women

“When I won the awards and the car, that [to give up the car in exchange for a house] was the last thing on my mind. My success was still sinking in at that time. It took time for me to make that decision,” Dumke said.

“I remember having conversations with people that are close to me, and saying ‘okay, I’m going to have a car, but my family lives in a shack. How does that make sense?’ So, the best thing to do was to get a house instead.”

The Dumke family lives in an informal settlement in Mdantsane township and under her care the Springbok star has her bedridden grandmother and partly disabled aunt (after she suffered a stroke in 2016).

With that in mind, the car would have been a priceless addition to the family. However, according to Dumke, she had to prioritise better lodgings for herself and her loved ones.  

“The decision was not an easy one. Because I feel like we still need a car in the family. But the thing that we need the most at the moment is a house.”

Tough beginnings

Character and guile define the diminutive Cape Town-born player. Dumke and her four older siblings were raised by a single mother after her father died 10 days before she was born.

Tragedy befell the family again years later when 12-year-old Dumke – who had since relocated to rural Centane in the Eastern Cape – lost her mother. Following that, she moved to East London to stay with her paternal aunt. That’s where her love affair with rugby started, having previously also dabbled in netball and athletics.  

Not long after that transition, she joined Border after being scouted, and her leadership skills and resilience were already shining through. Hence she was named captain of Border’s under-16 side.

Since then she has become the undisputed Border skipper and has also captained the Springbok women’s team – in which she is a mainstay and is likely to be a vital cog at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand from 8 October.   

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“I don’t know much about the reason for me captaining. But I can tell you that whenever I lead, I want to lead by example. I can’t require players to perform, whereas I don’t perform. That’s what keeps me going and is the secret behind my success [as a leader],” the University of Fort Hare alumnus said.

World Cup outlook

Though she won’t don the captain’s armband for her country at the World Cup, Bok coach Stanley Raubenheimer will be relying on Dumke’s leadership qualities as the Boks navigate a tough pool consisting of England, France and Fiji.   

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Springbok women upbeat after a week of milestones, with eyes on the biggest prize

“The most important thing is to enjoy ourselves. Not to go and put ourselves under pressure. Because we are going there as underdogs in any case. Many of the teams there don’t respect us. So, it’s up to us to give them reasons to respect us,” Dumke said.

Lusanda Dumke beats tackles during the second Women’s International Test between South Africa and Spain at Fanie du Toit Stadium in Potchefstroom on 19 August 19 2022. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

“I’d like to see us being as competitive as possible. Not go there just to make up the numbers. We must make our mark. So that people can know that the Springbok women were here.”

She has even paused the hunt for a family home momentarily because she wants to invest all of her energy in ensuring that she is in the best mental, emotional and physical condition come the World Cup.   

I have a dream

Dumke, who made her Bok debut in 2018, is cognisant of the strides that women’s rugby has made since she has been involved. When she started, she wouldn’t have imagined that they’d have their Test ties broadcast live on television. Something which is now a reality.

However, the flanker believes there is room for even more growth and improvement, particularly at provincial level.

“The growth is massive. But I still feel like there is room for improvement. Especially for provincial teams. Because the girls that play there are just playing for the sake of playing,” Dumke told Daily Maverick.

“If the league can be semi-professional, at least, that can motivate them even more. Because right now there is nothing that motivates them, besides the hunger of playing. Especially because not everyone will make it into the national team. I wish it can be as beneficial as it is in the national team.”

Of course, if Dumke’s dream becomes a reality, many players coming after her might not need to make the sacrifices she has been forced to make. However, the journey to that reality remains long and winding. DM



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • A Concerned Citizen says:

    Fantastic to have these ceiling-breakers and inspirational role models featured on this kind of platform. Looking forward to many more of these kinds of articles to raise the profile of our Springbok Women.

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