South African sport is making leaps on the global stage. These are the next generation sport stars who have not missed their marks.
Last year was a rollercoaster sporting year for South Africa, which culminated in one of its proudest moments to date, as Siya Kolisi lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan. This year promises plenty of excitement and new heroes.
Destiny Careers spoke to three budding South African sports stars who we think you need to know about in the new year.
Stellenbosch University and Western Province prop Sazi Sandi, 21, has been on the road to greatness for some time. Having played for (and even briefly captained) the Junior Springboks in 2018, Sandi has played the waiting game since. This could be the year in which he finally makes his breakthrough.
Tighthead props tend to be late bloomers, but Sandi was the standout player in the St Andrew’s College (SAC) 1st XV, which he captained in 2016. The strength and conditioning coach for that team, Laurence Christie, is among the mentors Sandi counts as most crucial to his development, along with his own rugby-mad family.
He made the Eastern Province Country Districts Craven Week side and later SA Schools. Then, he represented the Junior Boks at the 2018 World Rugby U20 Championship.
Sandi is an imposing figure who would best be avoided in just about any physical altercation. Intriguingly, though, he tells Destiny Careers that losing weight in his teens was crucial to his development as a player.
“In Grades 8 and 9, I was a bit chunky and slower,” Sandi recalls. “I did work hard. I’d say I lost a bit of weight from Grades 9 to 10, which allowed me to be a bit faster.
“In Grade 10, when I got picked for Grant Khomo [Week], it gave me a huge confidence boost… I had a good camp. When I played well, it helped my confidence and my game a lot. After that, I kind of had the inkling that I could do this thing.
“I just started aiming for more goals. After Grant Khomo [Week], it was the next goal — Craven Week. After Craven Week: ‘What’s the next goal’?”
The Stormers are under new leadership in John Dobson, who took over from Robbie Fleck ahead of the coming season. Sandi’s immediate goal is to catch his coach’s eye, but he knows there are no guarantees and he can only focus on what is under his control.
“Hopefully, I get a senior debut, but I think the thing I’m looking forward to more is just improving in my profession,” Sandi says.
Sandi idolises “skilful” front row players, such as recently retired Springbok, Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, and New Zealand hooker, Dane Coles. He, himself, is a player with an impressive skillset and anybody who has watched him play can attest to the fact that he leaves his heart on the field.
Springbok Women prop Babalwa ‘Beast’ Latsha has already had an exceptionally successful career. Nevertheless, all indications are that the best is yet to come. This could be the year in which it all comes together for a pioneering player in South African women’s rugby.
The 25-year-oldhas enjoyed a meteoric rise since her first run out on a rugby field at the SA Rugby Legends Association’s 2014 VUKA programme. Her exceptional performances for the University of the Western Cape (UWC) put her on the national radar, and she has not looked back since.
In 2019 Latsha captained the Springbok Women in 2021 World Cup qualification. In addition, she has been linked with a move to English giants Saracens.
“We were meant to have concluded negotiations by now,” Latsha tells Destiny Careers in a later November interview at Khayelitsha Stadium — where her rugby journey began. “They are keen on having me that side, and so am I. There are a few minor issues that are getting in the way, which we are on the way to sorting out, so that’s still on the cards.”
Finishing the final year of an LLB degree at UWC in 2019 was quite a feat for a woman with a tough background. Doing so while juggling her studies with international rugby was even more commendable.
In 2019 Latsha was a deserving recipient of the Chester WilliamsSportsperson of the Year award at UWC. It was a bittersweet milestone, as the legendary former Springbok winger and UWC coach tragically passed on in September.
“Chester was a great man and a great lover of the sport,” Latsha says. “His legacy was one which magnified the fact that it didn’t really matter where you came from or how you looked — whether you were black or whatever, you could still achieve the best that you can.
“For me to receive such an award; I felt really honoured that someone out there recognises the type of work that I do.”
Once her time in the game is up, Latsha’s ultimate goal is to use her legal expertise to start an agency facilitating the process for women seeking to play professional rugby.
“I think that in the near future, it’s not impossible; it could happen. I’d like to facilitate that growth and have more and more professional [women] players — in fact, professionalise our whole rugby system in our country.”
If the prop has it her way on the field of play, however, her best years still lie ahead.
In October last year, SPAR Proteas’ 23-year-old centre-court player followed in the footsteps of the iconic Karla Pretorius. By securing a move to Bath, the most successful team in the history of the UK’s Netball Superleague, Khanyisa Chawane capped off a frantically busy year.
Chawane starred for the Proteas at July’s World Cup in Liverpool. South Africa went all the way to the semi-finals, where they were edged 55-53 by Australia, one of world netball’s most feared outfits.
The World Cup represented a tremendous triumph for South African netball, particularly given that the country does not have a professional league. For Chawane, there was added significance given the personal obstacles she had overcome.
Her mother passed away when she was just 14 — shortly before Chawane realised she had the potential to go far in netball.
“She was really supportive at a young age before she passed on and came to my netball… When she passed on, I missed out on that aspect,” Chawane tells Destiny Careers.
“If I achieve something great, I know that the effort she put in in the time that she was still here didn’t go to waste.”
The Tzaneen-born starlet certainly wasted no time making the most of her talents, becoming a vital member of the University of the Free State (UFS) netball team. However, tragedy struck again in 2016 when a fire consumed all her possessions and endangered her father’s life in their Bushbuckridge family home.
“That was actually very traumatic — the fire starting in my room; and spreading; and him not being able to escape from the house in time because of the smoke that filled his lungs. He was in ICU for a few weeks,” Chawane recalls.
Eventually, her father recovered, but making it through a testing time took every ounce of strength she had.
Life is more stable now off the court for Chawane, and on it, she is set for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. If she feels any fear, she does not show it.
“Karla has been there [at Bath] before. I’ve spoken to her and she did say it’s not much of a big town where I will actually get lost or anything like that. It’s a small town with lots of things happening, so I’ll probably enjoy it. I’m looking forward to that,” she says.
As the SPAR Proteas old guard passes the baton to a new generation looking to take South African netball to greater heights, Chawane is one of the main players to watch.