6 May 2021 – “I played about 75 games for Banyana Banyana while campaigning in the Sasol League, that should tell you how much of a major role the league has played in my career and of many other players.”
These are the words of a grateful Lebogang Ramalepe, speaking to SAFA Media from her base in Belarus where she is on the books of Dinamo Minsk in Eastern Europe.
Jumaima, as she is commonly known to her teammates, joined the side in July 2020 after many years of waiting for an opportunity to move abroad.
Within just a few months of signing, she has already bagged three gold medals – a league title and two cup victories.
Here is what she had to say:
Arrival in Minsk, Belarus:
The welcome was great, and the good thing was that when we got here it was in the summer. We really enjoyed ourselves because it was nice and warm, little did we know what was coming in the winter. Towards November the weather started turning for the worst and their winters are a punishing -19 degrees Celsius, something we were totally not accustomed to. It was extremely cold, and we had to train indoors. So one had to be strong because this is where I have always wanted to be. I took vitamins to avoid being sick because remember I am from Limpopo, so it was two extreme weather patterns for me. But I managed to pull through and I am still here today. We saw the sunshine again recently, as winter only ended in April.
Banyana Banyana teammate Bambanani Mbane welcomes you:
It was great to be welcomed by one of our own. When I landed, I had to be in quarantine for seven days. When I was done, I moved to the apartment she was staying in – it was like a family reunion. She was here all alone, now she had us (myself and Rhoda Mulaudzi – Banyana Banyana striker, who also signed for the club from Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies) and we were comfortable that someone we know was going to take care of us and show us around, help us to settle in smoother and quicker. It was also a blessing in disguise for her because she missed home and us being here made her stay also better. She really helped us a lot. We supported each other and when there was a challenge we were there for each other. I think we also helped her heal quicker because when we arrived here she was shaking off an injury that had sidelined her for a while.
First match for new club:
I played my first match in August 2020 having signed my first professional contract on 31 July 2020. After seeing me at training, my coach said I was going to play as a defensive midfielder, but I told him I had never played there before. He just looked at me and said I want someone who can neutralize their quick players and I believe you can do it. And guess what? I did it. I was hardly there for three weeks and played a full 90 minutes, and we even won the game.
I played very well as I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I told myself that I can’t come out here so far from home and joke around – this was my chance and I had to grab it. I played my heart out that day because I was so happy. I was living the dream I had for a long time.
Dream come true, first professional contract:
I was sitting at home thinking I am going to spend another season at playing in South Africa. Although I had prayed for such a move, I didn’t expect it at that time. But when that call came to say I must go and arrange my visa, I did not think twice. I was overwhelmed because this is something I have been waiting for, for so long. I was very emotional, and I thought to myself – this is finally happening. I can only thank God for that for He knows our tomorrows.
Patience was key, prior to that call:
For a long time nothing was happening and I was very disappointed, but at the back of my mind I knew that God was waiting for the right time – remember His plans are not like our plans. Deep down I was hurting that I was not getting a chance, more so because when I looked around most of my teammates at Banyana Banyana were being snapped up by overseas teams. It is at times like those when you ask yourself what else must I do to earn a move too – I mean I have been a regular for the National Team for years but no door was opening.
Out of nowhere something came up, and I said I am not going to say not to this. I kept on thinking, I don’t know where Belarus is but I am going nevertheless. This was as great opportunity and I was not going to let it slip by.
You see, that’s how God works – when you think it is all over He gives you something bigger than you expected. So when the call came I did not hesitate. What I knew also was that two teammates from the national team (Rachel Sebati and Letago Madiba) played in Belarus before so that game me comfort and also, at the time, Bambanani was there.
I found the standard quite different from what I was accustomed to in the Sasol League and at Banyana Banyana.
This new environment required a fast learner. You could see that they were not taking chances with what they were doing – they knew what they want to do with the ball or off the ball. They were more professional and more structured. But I am must say being at Banyana Banyana for so long helped me catch up and adjust quickly. You need a strong personality to survive here. I have learnt a lot since I got here, especially their quick play.
He is a very nice person and coach – but then like any other coach when under pressure he expects miracles. The good thing is that I am now settled and understand everything that comes my way.
The coach is even playing me left back and I am happy with that. The team did not have a left back so they asked me to play there until they find someone to fill in that slot. My normal position is at right back, but I haven’t played there since I got here. I have also played defensive mid as well as attacking mid. It seems like when they are lacking in a position they look at my direction – but I am loving every minute here.
We are top of the table after seven league matches – we won all of them. Winning the league will see us playing in the EUFA Women’s Champions League – and that is where we want to see ourselves, that is what the club directors want.
Being there will help us grow as a club and as individuals because it is a higher level where you meet champions of leagues from other countries – and competition is very high. So preparation starts now, not when we qualify.
You have already scored a goal for your club:
We played a cup match before the start of the season and I scored my first goal for the club. I was so happy when I got on the score sheet, and this happened after the director came to see us and encourage us to do well, so the goal meant a lot to me. We wanted to win so badly.
During pre-season I scored three goals in friendly matches, so I am confident they will come in the league. So far I have played six games (90 minutes each) and only one where I played about 70 minutes.
They have played a major role in my career – if there was no Sasol League there would be no Lebogang Ramalepe. Back home in Limpopo, I was training with boys and girls so that when I get to the National team I am ready because the level was higher and with the help of the Sasol League I managed to keep in good shape. I have travelled a lot with Banyana Banyana and I have grown as an individual, but it was the Sasol League that provided the platform and opportunity for all of us women footballers.
Sasol are the best – without them the careers of our top women players would not be in the spotlight as it is happening now. We all went through the Sasol League to be where we are, we were groomed there – their involvement is very crucial.
My prayer is that their relationship with SAFA must remain so they also help the next generation of players because if truth be told, the Sasol League has uplifted our lives and we are all living testimonies.
Advice to young players still at Sasol League:
First of all, don’t give up on anything in life –no matter how difficult things get. For instance, there will be times when games will not be played due to reasons beyond your control, but just keep the faith and keep your heads up high. We also went through the same challenges but here we are today still standing tall and strong. Hold on to this piece of advice – the Sasol League is a stepping-stone to a brighter future and we are proof of that. Now it is up to you to make it happen because you have been provided with the platform and the opportunity. If you don’t play at a higher level, at least you can still study – or do them both.
Banyana Banyana players are moving abroad in numbers:
It is good that so many of us are now playing abroad, this can only mean a stronger national team. The challenge might be that as we will all be coming from different playing and coaching philosophies, we need to gel according to the style of the national team. We must show the difference that we are playing at a higher level. We must share the experiences that we bring back from our clubs.
SAFA National League:
I was very heartbroken when I could not play in that league after working so hard to help my team win the provincial league, and get to the playoffs where we finished second – thus qualifying for the National League. First of all Covid-19 stopped all the games in 2020 and I could not participate in the league, then as we were preparing for a restart, I had to move to Belarus. I am not complaining because God had other plans for me – to go and use my experience somewhere, and in the process fulfill my childhood dream of playing abroad. But all is not lost, I can sill come back and play in the National League. I am still in contact with my home team and I always encourage them to do well. I know they played the Limpopo derby this past weekend and lost – it is a minor setback. I am confident they will reverse the result in the second round. Anyway, this battle has been going on since our days in the Sasol League, so it is not surprising that it is continuing in the National League.
To be honest, this is what I have always wanted, so for now my plan is to stay in Europe for a while longer. I still want to explore different countries, I need to grow as a player and as a person and don’t want to be in the comfort zone. But then again, sometimes things don’t go the way you always want them to, so I will wait and see. Right now, I am enjoying every minute and loving the experience.
Jersey number 25 in Belarus?
This has a very special meaning to my family and me – it is my mother’s birthdate. When I left home I said to her I am going to use number 25 should I find it is available, if not, I will try and get my usual number 3 – which is my birthdate. So I get here, and boom, here’s number 25 and is available, I was so excited and jumped for it. So every time I run on to the field, I carry blessings from my mother and I know she has my back at all time. This adventure is also for her because she has long wanted me to achieve this dream.
Belarus,[a] officially the Republic of Belarus,[b] is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Russia to the east and northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Covering an area of 207,600 square kilometres (80,200 sq mi) and with a population of 9.4 million, Belarus is the thirteenth-largest and the twentieth-most populous country in Europe. The country is administratively divided into seven regions. Minsk is the capital and largest city – Wikipedia.