Lebohang Ramalepe has experienced the intense highs and lows of Banyana Banyana’s recent adventures at the pinnacle of the woman’s game more than most.
During the 2018 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations in Ghana, the Ramalepe was the outstanding right-back in the tournament, delivering a series of magnificent displays as South Africa reached the final and secured World Cup qualification.
She was named in Caf’s Team of the Tournament following her exploits during the campaign, and notably netted an 81st-minute goal—South Africa’s second—as they confirmed their berth in the final by defeating Mali in Cape Coast.
However, she endured her own personal hearbreak too, notably missing her penalty in the shootout—Banyana’s second spotkick—to lose the initiative that they’d gained from Onome Ebi’s missed opener for Nigeria.
It was a critical moment as South Africa went in search of that first title, and Linda Motlhalo ultimately missed Banyana’s fifth penalty as the Super Falcons clinched yet another continental crown.
The joy of reaching the Women’s World Cup in France was somewhat tempered by Banyana’s fortunes in their three group-stage matches; they lost all three, conceding eight goals, with Ramalepe playing every minute of a troubled campaign.
Both episodes will surely have prompted much introspection on the part of the defender, who plays with her heart on her sleeve and hasn’t shied away from—in interviews—her sensitivity and internal doubts.
She began her footballing journey in Ga-Kgapane, a Limpopo township, where, like teammates Janine van Wyk and Refiloe Jane, she flourished playing alongside boys as a child.
“There was a small stadium close to where I grew up,” she remembered, in an interview with New Frame. “We played there. We would spend the whole day there playing football during the school holidays.
“I enjoyed my time back then. The boys I played with inspired me to continue playing football because at that time we had an A team and a B team.
“I was always in the B team, until one of the coaches said you’re good enough to play with the big guys in the A team.
“My mother was very supportive, but we fought a lot,” the right-sider added. "You know that as a girl you’re expected to wash dishes and clean the house.
“That was a lot of hard work for me, even though I could spend the whole day playing football without getting tired. We used to fight about that, but then she realised that football is my passion and she can’t do anything about it.”
Earlier during her international career, Ramalepe didn’t show the qualities that fans will know she’s capable of, and that she demonstrated in Ghana.
Perhaps overawed by the honour of representing Banyana at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, she was far from her best, and delivered a series of unconvincing, timid showings
She was ultimately dropped for South Africa’s final game against Brazil, but has bounced back strongly in the intervening years to become her nation’s undisputed first-choice in her position.
Ramalepe has come a long way since nerves and pessimism got the better of her and she quit the game—briefly—in 2013, and the Cosafa Women’s Cup provides her with another opportunity to prove that she may now be the finest African right-back in the world today.