Following her impressive exploits for Banyana Banyana, Lebohang Ramalepe admits that her appointment as second vice-captain of the senior national team swept her off her feet.
Ramalepe was an integral figure for the South Africans in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations campaign, which sealed their spot in their maiden Fifa Women’s World Cup in France next month.
In the Awcon, Ramalepe aced her wing-back role to the tee, to such an extent that she even scored a cracker of a goal in their 2-0 win over Mali in the semi-finals.
In her new leadership role, Ramalepe will play third fiddle to skipper Janine van Wyk and Refiloe Jane.
“It came as a shock as I wasn’t expecting it,” Ramalepe conceded during Banyana’s send-off at Sasol headquarters this past week.
“Sometimes, when an older person wants to talk to you, you probably think that you messed up. But that day, the coach sat me down and said my hard work has been consistent and they feel it’s time they appointed me as the vice-captain. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe it!’ But now that it’s happening, it’s a motivation to work harder.”
However, in her ascension up the corporate ladder Ramalepe has experienced a good deal of hardship.
Prior to her pioneering years as a top footballer, she had played the game at grass-roots level with boys in rural Ga-Kgapane in Limpopo. However, those difficulties ran deeper than that as her mom initially battled to understand why her daughter would want to become a footballer.
But once her mother finally understood the concept, she became Ramalepe’s pillar of strength on and off the field of play.
“My mom, I don’t know what to say about her because she’s been my pillar of strength,” she enthused.
“Every time I think of her, I become emotional. The struggle we’ve been through together means a lot to me.”
However, not only was Ramalepe’s success celebrated in Ga-Kgapane, but it became a provincial event when journalist Lethabo Kganyago organised a send-off for Ramalepe, Noko Matlou and Rhoda Mulaudzi this month.
“It was overwhelming,” Ramalepe gushed. “Lethabo and her crew did a brilliant job by saying, ‘Guys we love you, go out there and do us proud’. They are the media people that always follow us.”
However, in the bigger scheme of things Ramalepe, who’s currently playing for MaIndies in the Sasol League, is banking on the global showpiece being the platform that will unearth for her an international career -like othando Vilakazi, Jermaine Seoposenwe, Leandra Smeda, Thembi Kgatlana, Muladzi, Jane and Ode Fulutudilu who are all currently plying their trade abroad.
However, all this is easier said than done, especially as the South Africans have endured a barren run in eight matches this year, drawing three games while losing five.
But Ramalepe remains optimistic and is adamant that Banyana Banyana will pull off the improbable at the global showpiece.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the dream is finally happening. There are so many players that came before us that wanted to be there. But it us who will be there, so we have to do it for them. We’ll take each game as it comes."
The South Africans, ranked 49th in the world, are in a tough Group B with Germany, China and Spain - who they’ll meet in the opening round on June 8 - and who are ranked second, 16th and 13th respectively.