Zinhle Ndawonde

Image: Supplied / HH Photography and design for Africa Photographic Services.

Woman of the week: Zinhle Ndawonde plays by her own rules

Springbok rugby player and firefighter Zinhle Ndawonde is anything but conventional and we have to thank her for it.

Zinhle Ndawonde

Image: Supplied / HH Photography and design for Africa Photographic Services.

Zinhle Ndawonde is a beautiful storm all on her own. At the tender age of 31, she is both a firefighter and a Springbok and Sevens rugby player. Hailing from Inanda in the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, Ndawonde is far from standard, regular or ordinary.  

Ndawonde decided from the onset that her circumstances would not determine her future. It was then that her extraordinary story began. 


Ndawonde, completely down to earth, explained that firefighting chose her rather than the other way around. 

Ndawonde, in 2013, was juggling a BTech and working as a fitness instructor to make ends meet, when a post for a firefighter at King Shaka International Airport in KZN caught her attention. Being that she was the firstborn child and her mother did not have a job, she needed to earn a decent wage to support her family. 

“That was my first priority at the time,” she said. 

“It’s not something I wanted to do but when I got into the environment I started developing a passion for firefighting,” she said. 

“I loved the feeling of knowing you could save someone’s life during the day and help someone that was in need because being a firefighter is not something that’s easy. Some things would actually tear your heart apart but it needs love, it needs passion, it needs understanding,” she said. 

Image: supplied
Image: supplied

In terms of her outstanding balancing act between firefighting and rugby, Ndawonde said they complement each other beautifully as they both require the same physicality, mental fitness and trust within the team.  


Back in high school, Ndawonde played touch rugby but little did she know, her hobby would morph into her destiny. She explained that one of her teachers saw potential and later introduced her to the full-contact sport. 

“From there I developed the love and passion for the sport and had my first KwaZulu-Natal colours in 2006 where I played SA games,” she said.  

From there, Ndawonde was named DUT sportswoman of the year, Sharks women’s captain and she participated in the Commonwealth Games. 

She was also part of the Women’s Africa Cup 7s which qualified for the World Series and Women’s Africa Cup 15s which qualified for the World Cup in 2021 – just a few more astonishing notches to the belt.  

“People would say women’s rugby is not as physical as men[s] but we all play the same sport, we all gym, we can all tackle meaning we all are capable. We always have to prove to ourselves that we are capable of doing the same things that men can do,” she said.  

Image: supplied

Ndawonde, breaking down stereotypes, said she recently beat a man who challenged her while they were doing physical testing at work. 

“He was sure he [would] not be beaten by a woman, we ran together and he lost all because of th[e] stereotype that men are stronger than women and, therefore, cannot be beaten by women,” she added. 


When asked which woman inspired her to accomplish all she set out to do, she said her mother without a doubt. 

“Growing up she worked as a domestic worker playing two roles, being a mother and father with the little she had. Her strong character and capabilities of turning something small into something big have been a motivation in my life [because] when things get tough I know I have to be strong, the days where I feel I have nothing she taught me to kneel and pray,” she said. 

“Throughout my rugby career, these elements I’ve learnt from her have taught me to be a strong brave woman,” she added.  

Ndawonde’s message to young women is “never let your situation determine your future. Young girl, it is possible”.

“A lot of our young ladies like me are growing up in disadvantaged backgrounds [and] want to play rugby and be like us but think they will never make it because of the situation they are in now. I was also in the same situation but where am I now? Because I used that situation to strengthen [myself],” she said. 

Image: supplied

When asked what comes next for our wonder woman, Ndawonde, without hesitation, said the Women’s Rugby World Cup, set to be held in New Zealand in 2021. 

“It’s one of my biggest dreams to make the final squad that will go and represent South Africa in New Zealand,” she said. 

Apart from the World Cup, Ndawonde is also interested in coaching the youth to help develop young sports stars into professional athletes.  

“I’ve started coaching U18 girls, sharing my experience as a player and inspiring them to be better athletes,” she added. 

Looking to follow Ndawonde? You can find her social media handles below; 

Facebook – Zinhle Ndawonde, Instagram -@zinhlendawonde and Twitter- @zinhlendawonde