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30 March 2020
UWC’s rugby superstar returns to SA as COVID-19 tightens its grip

University of the Western Cape (UWC) alumna and Springbok Women’s Captain Babalwa Latsha has described her return home from her first rugby season in Spain as “something that was almost out of a horror movie”.

The first African woman rugby player to turn professional touched down in South Africa recently after a resoundingly successful first season with SD Eibar Femenino, where she scored 13 tries in just six matches.

Spain is among the hardest-hit countries by COVID-19 and, like many sporting codes around the world, the rugby season was called off with two games to go. At that point, Eibar was top of the league and stood a chance of being crowned champions. The Spanish Rugby Federation is yet to decide whether to crown the log leaders as winners.

Latsha, who graduated with her LLB last year, decided that the best thing would be to come back home as soon as possible as the coronavirus affects travel, with travel bans imposed in Spain and across Europe.

“It was something that was almost out of a horror movie. Spain was in complete lockdown, so it was quite scary to move out of your flat to find out that there isn’t a single person outside during the day,” Latsha said.

“But I managed to make the journey from Eibar to the airport to catch a flight to Paris. The hustle came when I got to France when there were major flight cancellations which resulted in me having to wait for about 11 to 12 hours to connect with a flight to OR Tambo International Airport. You can imagine the type of anxiety and frustration. Here I was stuck on a continent, in a country, that is being devastated by the pandemic.

“I just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. But I chose not to panic and remained calm until I boarded my flight to OR Tambo, where I saw it was not as hectic as in Europe. The SA lockdown was not in effect at the time. Shops were in full operation, which was rather concerning to me. But I was very happy to be back home. And now I’m with my family in Khayelitsha and we are in good health”.

Bee Beast, as Latsha is affectionately called, said passengers were tested for high temperature and cleared to disembark, and she has since been in self-quarantine/isolation with her family.

Unlike when she departed for Spain when a large group of people gave her a celebratory send-off, she could not meet those people during her return.

“I couldn’t engage with a large group of people, although they would have wanted to welcome me back. The circumstances were not ideal and not the circumstances we had hoped and planned for. But I’m extremely grateful, and will forever be, to the people who took their time to bid me farewell, and for all the messages of positivity, motivation and encouragement.

“The most important thing is that I adhere to precautionary measures, just like everyone across the world and our country…It is difficult when you live in a community where people see you, know you and would love to come and have a chat with you, especially if you are a people’s person like me. You love to engage with the community, but I couldn’t do it, and it broke my heart actually. But it is for the best”.

To maintain her level of fitness, Latsha has a home training programme which she is following.

“I’m creative about it in the sense that I’m sort of inventing exercises – lifting couches here and there and using my 13-year-old sister as a weight on my shoulders when I squat, and so on. I’m trying my level best not to lose a significant amount of fitness. So I’m training at home, which I’m enjoying although the circumstances are not ideal.”

To the UWC community and the country, Latsha has expressed her gratitude for the direct and indirect support she has been receiving.

“I must thank UWC and my mentors who invested their time and effort towards the advancement of me as an individual and my career. I would like to encourage everyone to be selfless and to adhere to the regulations set out by the government and by the health officials. So please do adhere to the precautionary measures. Wash your hands and cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze, and don’t touch your face. Those are important things that can save multitudes of lives.”