Springbok Zinhle Ndawonde: My Tough Upbringing Didn’t Deter Me

Zinhle Ndawonde

As Told To

Born and bred in Inanda Township, firefighter and Springbok player Zinhle Ndawonde will be heading to France for an invitational, in preparation for test matches scheduled for September. Ndawonde shared her experience and journey with the Daily Vox.

Back in school I had planned on playing soccer as a sport because it’s what I related to most, but when I realised they didn’t have it, I was then introduced to touchdown rugby which I fell in love with, until I was introduced to physical rugby.

From then on I wanted to become a springbok when I grow up. It was not easy because many people in my community didn’t understand how a woman can play rugby. Also, there was a stereotype that when one plays rugby they start acting like a man, and my father didn’t want me to play; but I continued with it anyway until I joined the Sharks in 2008.

Having grown up in a township where social ills are inevitable, rugby saved me from many things. Young girls were falling pregnant and I could have been one of them, but because I had a dream, I had to focus.

Growing up I didn’t know much what I needed to do to become a professional rugby player, but having realised what I wanted, I started going to camps where they would teach us about different things including exercises and diet. From then on we knew what it takes to become a Springbok player, that you have to start living like one even if you’re not one yet.

I am now playing for Sharks, Springbok 7s and 15s. I’m also a firefighter by profession and both my jobs complement each other because they are all physical, so it’s somewhat easy to juggle between the two.

God has been great to me, I was just a girl child growing up in a township where living conditions are not very conducive and I chose rugby which has changed my life completely.

Rugby has taken me to places; I’ve been to Hong Kong, London, Spain, Australia for commonwealth games and many other countries. It’s quite an honour and a privilege to me considering my background, and it has taught that it’s possible for everyone regardless of their background.

One of my greatest highlights was in Hong Kong when I scored a winning try that took our team to finals. It was a great moment.

In the previous years I have seen a lot of transformation in rugby, which I’m really applauding the KZN Rugby Union. They have made the sport accessible to children in most isolated areas by creating teams in disadvantaged schools, and that’s something. They are not only making the sport accessible in private schools, so one doesn’t necessarily have to attend a private school to become a rugby player. They have established under 16 and under 18 teams at schools, something that we didn’t have growing up.

I would encourage everyone young person who dreams of becoming a rugby player to start now because you become a rugby player the time you start playing no matter your age, background or circumstances. It’s all about you and what you want; and it pays off in the end.

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