When a rugby coach in Khayelitsha decided to start a team for girls, he was faced with a big problem: he could only find two girls who wanted to be part of his team. To solve this problem, Thembani Ngubelanga, coach of the Blue Jets girls’ rugby team mixed them with the boys and that’s how they trained. Even though some people found it unorthodox, it worked because it earned the girls the respect of their peers and boosted their confidence. That was 16 years ago. Today the Blue Jets girl rugby team are a hit and have produced players who have gone on to play for the Springbok women’s national team.
“For me it’s all about hard work and believing in your team, I feel great to coach women in rugby because they’re challenging a predominantly male sport and are doing wonders,” said the coach. Ngubelanga said he couldn’t have made this without the support of the residents as well as the players’ parents. “They are very supporting of their girls because not only does the sport keep them grounded; it also keeps them away from the dangers of township life where you find young girls getting pregnant at a young age.”
He said it has also been great to get the girls out of Khayelitsha so they could see other parts of the country and travel the world. Zimkhitha Philane, for example, plays for the national team and has been to Dubai and Athens. “For me rugby has always been my first love,” she says, “it has inspired me to learn that there is more to life. I got to see places that I have never thought I would ever get the chance to visit. For me, to travel to these places has really taught me that hard work really does pay off.”
Ngubelanga said the sports ministry has also been supportive of the team by helping them to buy sports gear and helping with transport costs. His dream for his club is that they can get more black girls to be interested in playing rugby. “We need to teach the young girls that they can become whoever they want to be in life. For me, rugby is that sport that gives you confidence, teaches you about respect and also earns you a lot of respect from your peers.”
Images: Onele Liwani