The Qawe household could be cheering for not one, but two of its daughters in the Rugby World Cup for women in New Zealand next year. Twins Chumisa and Chuma Qawe caught the eye of Springbok Women’s coach Stanley Raubenheimer in their breakthrough year in 2019.
They then went on to solidify their places in the team. The sisters, Chumisa at centre and Chuma at fullback, were part of the national rugby team that played against a Spanish XV in a series of friendly matches in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town in September. The friendlies were part of the Springbok Women’s preparations for the 2021 Rugby World Cup.
Earlier in 2019, the duo appeared alongside one another in the South African Women’s Under-20 team, playing an international game against Zimbabwe, as well as in the SA Rugby Women’s Interprovincial final in which their club, Border, went down 38-32 to Western Province.
Now that the Qawe sisters have broken through into the national senior team, their hunger for game time has doubled. But most importantly, they are looking to make a name for themselves in the sport so that they are part of the squad that will represent South Africa at the highest level.
“Playing in the World Cup would be the biggest highlight for me. I mean, it’s everyone’s dream to represent their country at that level, so I hope I’ll be awarded that opportunity come 2021,” Chumisa said.
The up-and-coming 20-year-olds hail from Debe Nek, a small town in the heart of rural Eastern Cape. They may not be identical twins, but they are equally talented and have the potential to emulate a legend of the senior women’s national team, Nomsebenzi Tsotsobe, by becoming the next big talent in the sport.
Breaking into the team
Although the twins have been regulars at Border since being picked in 2017, they say their national call-ups to the senior team surprised them.
“At first we were excited about the call-up, more especially that both of us were picked. However, when we got to the camp, the nerves kicked in because when you get to that level, the intensity becomes high. But we stuck it through and adapted to the team’s style of play and their way of doing things,” Chuma said.
It was Chuma who convinced her sister to take up rugby. In primary school, Chuma played cricket and rugby with the boys as there were no girls teams. Meanwhile, Chumisa was playing netball.
After some gentle nudging from her sister and with lean netball opportunities in rural areas, Chumisa shifted her focus to rugby in 2017. The Qawe twins say they are joined at the hip and there is no doubt they share a special bond. They add that one feels incomplete without the other, and that separating them normally leads to heartbreak for both.
“It would not sit well with me if my twin had not been chosen as well to join the national team, because when I play with her I feel at ease,” Chumisa said. “We understand each other. When I am struggling at something, my sister holds my hand and helps me towards mastering it. It’s the same when she is tackled or hurt on the field, I hurt too.”
Winning over their mother
Besides having one another, the twins said family support has been one of the biggest factors driving them to where they are in their careers at the moment.
At first, the idea of girls playing a brutal and physical sport such as rugby did not sit well with their mother. Slowly but surely, however, she started to understand their passion and how serious her daughters were about the sport, and she warmed to the idea.
“We have an older brother who also plays rugby, but at club level. He’s our No. 1 fan,” Chumisa said. “He always encourages us to work hard and deliver our best on the field. Although the sport can get a little bit rough, he never prevented us from playing. Instead, he has been supportive.
“Our mother never played any sport. While growing up, books were her thing. So I think the interest for rugby came from our brother.”
While the Qawe twins may share the same interest in sport, their paths have split when it comes to their future careers. Chumisa is studying towards a national diploma in human management sciences at the University of Fort Hare, while Chuma is at Lovedale College pursuing a national diploma in public relations.
Their breakthrough year in the senior national team coincided with them doing their first years at varsity, forcing them to juggle sport and education.
“We know that this journey will not be easy, but because we want to wear the gold and green blazer, we have to endure and keep working hard,” said Chumisa.