By Robson Sharuko
Harare – Botswana female rugby referee, Naledi Chabe, has revealed she barely slept at all on the eve of the night when she was set to handle a match on the centre stage of the Jubilee Field at Prince Edward High School in Harare during the 2018 Dairibord Rugby Festival.
The annual tournament is the world’s biggest schools rugby festival, by the sheer weight of the number of players who make the yearly pilgrimage to Harare’s Prince Edward High School, and has been an event that has showcased the talents of many of the country’s finest stars.
This year’s tournament was dubbed the search for another Beast in reference to Zimbabwe rugby’s quest to produce a player who can match the heroics of Springbok superstar Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira who once graced this tournament.
Another former Springbok, Tonderai Chavhanga, graced this year’s tournament and had an opportunity to return to his old school, Prince Edward, where he first made an impression before his talent took him to South Africa where he played four times for that country. Dairibord Zimbabwe last year renewed its contract with the Schools Rugby Festival in a partnership that would run for three years with a sponsorship package of US$182,000 per annum.
Chabe spoke to APO, media relations consulting firm and press release wire distribution company in Africa, on Mothers’ Day on Sunday with the news organisation doing the interview on behalf of the Botswana Rugby Union to mark Women’s Month of Rugby.
The 32-year-old physical education teacher was one of the match officials who took charge of this year’s Dairibord Rugby Festival.
She chronicled how she was introduced to the game and how she has been inspired by the positive feedback that she has been receiving from other referees from across the continent in a field that is dominated by male match officials.
Chabe also spoke about the weird dreams she had on the eve of her plunge into the spotlight of Prince Edward’s Jubilee Field, including the possibility that her whistle would not blow when she needed it to and waking up at 04h00 on the morning of the match to have another look at the law book.
However, she stood her ground and did well in that match under the spotlight.
“I get a lot of feedback from ‘CMOs’ (Coach of Match Officials) and other experienced match officials from different countries,” she told APO.
“The day I was told my game would be on Jubilee (main field, Prince Edward School) I never slept at night, I had weird dreams that I would lose my whistle and at one moment my whistle would not blow.
“I woke up as early as 04h00 to look at my law book on areas of concern. It was a challenging game but I enjoyed and took control over it as per feedback from the CMOs.”
She has come a long way from being introduced to taking control of tag rugby while at university in 2009 and becoming a player who would graduate to represent her national team.
“Mr Zilwele Khumalo (Zee) introduced me to refereeing touch/tag rugby in 2009 at schools level when I was still at university,” she recalls.
“In 2012, Mr Alleck Maposa introduced me to contact game where he shadowed me in the first game. Because my interest was more into playing, I did not take refereeing very serious then until last year, 2017.
“The two gentlemen had always persuaded me into officiating and quit playing because of the injuries sustained. I am now set, I enjoy refereeing [more] than I ever thought I would. I am still in control of the game in the field, so it’s goodbye to playing.
“My most memorable moment is being invited to referee at the Dairibord Rugby Festival in Zimbabwe (biggest school rugby festival in the world) and as my first 15s game to referee in.”
She had first played the game in 2007 for the Botswana Defence Forces rugby team, Cheetahs, where she stayed until 2014.
“During my time as a player, I loved the rivalry between my team (Cheetahs) and UB Rhinos, it was always a tough competition between the two and I swear you wouldn’t want to miss the two teams playing,” she said.
“I played fly-half, which is the most challenging position in rugby and I refer to it as being the ‘general’ of the game; I loved being in control and deciding where play should go. I always had scores to settle, in a good way though.
“I started playing for the national team in 2008. My debut match was in 2008 in Uganda during the World Cup qualifiers and then the Africa 7’s tournament. It was and always is a pleasure to represent the country although at times I felt the pressure that the whole nation was expecting more from me.
“There were teams that I never wanted to lose against and if it ever happened I would literally cry; winning had always been a part of me. I had played against big ladies and I was so tiny but I would give them a run for their money.
“Playing had always been the best for me and I had planned to represent my country until my late 40s. My body structure had never been a limit but rather I always used it to my advantage and the side stepping. Oh, boy! I so want to go back, I miss that part when having a ball in hand.”
She said the game should always be about passion and respect. Passion and respect and even had some words of encouragement for those who want to follow her path and plunge into refereeing.
“Officiating is the best thing ever and nobody can take it away from you. It’s the most interesting part of the game, totally different from playing,” she said.