Rugby has given Zikhona the confidence to ignore what people might say or think about her, and she is keen to pass on that strength to young people in South Africa and beyond.
Zikhona has witnessed first-hand the positive impact the game can have on people’s lives, having first laced up a pair of boots as a 15-year-old in the township of Langa in Cape Town.
Now 19, she hopes to use rugby as a tool to help keep young people out of trouble and away from the threats of gang violence, crime and drugs.
“I think rugby will help them. It will keep them out of the street and doing wrong things, and it will help them socialising with others,” Zikhona told World Rugby.
“It's important because now in our streets there is gangsterism, kids smoking drugs.
“So, [if] when they come back from school they’ll go to the field, then go home again they won't have the time to do those things.”
She added: “When they start, they will feel the energy that rugby has and the love that they get from the other people, which will make them go every day to the field to involve themselves with the rugby.”
“No one will stop me”
Zikhona has experienced that love, having been introduced to the game by a friend when she was 14.
Initially put off playing by a fear of getting tackled — “I thought it would be sore” — Zikhona was won over by the camaraderie among the Busy Bees team that play in her local community.
“Being part of the team is very important because in a team you learn how to take care of others, to involve everyone and then you can also become a family,” she said.
“[I saw] the team-mates when they scored a try and the happiness that they had amongst others, so that's why I wanted to play.”
Inspired by what she had seen, Zikhona started playing for Isilimela High School and along with her friend set about recruiting local teenage girls to form Busy Bees’ first under-16s side.
Doing so remains one of her proudest achievements and opened her eyes to the benefits that rugby could provide to the local community.
“Rugby gave me confidence,” Zikhona said. “Me being confident in what I do on the field [is] because I love rugby.
“That's how it makes me feel unstoppable because no one will stop me if I'm confident in what I do.
“No one will stop me. What they talk, what they say, what they do will not stop me.”
Zikhona went on to play second-row for Western Province U18, becoming the team’s vice-captain, and has since been called into the elite senior women’s squad. But, she continues to use the game as a tool to help others.
Last year, she began delivering food parcels with her team-mates to fellow Busy Bees players who were struggling to find money to pay for groceries due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many people lost their jobs, so in other households it was difficult to have groceries. So, that's where we wanted to help our team-mates,” Zikhona said.
“It was very good and exciting because our team-mates were very happy to be helped by their team in their household.”
Looking up to Nolusindiso Booi
It was that sense of community and communal spirit that attracted Zikhona to rugby, and it is what keeps her focused on making the most of her opportunities.
She describes having the trust of her team-mates, whether that be in lifting her in a lineout or helping to push in a scrum, as “exciting” and it is clear she gives back all that energy she receives.
Personally, Zikhona harbours ambitions of representing South Africa at Rugby World Cup and emulating her hero, Nolusindiso Booi, who has appeared at two.
It was Booi who Zikhona studied when she was first making her way in the engine room for Isilimela and Busy Bees, poring over clips of the test second-row to pick up tips.
“She was the one who inspired me,” Zikhona said.
“Every time when I wanted to know something in rugby, I would watch some videos of her training so that I can do the same thing that she does.
“Because she represented our country, she played for SA and she also leads the SA team so that that's what I want to do.”
Zikhona had the opportunity to learn from Booi as a team-mate this year when she was selected for the Western Province senior squad.
“She was there to push me during trainings to do my best, and motivating me and other players to never give up,” the Youth Unstoppable said.
“That's part of what inspired me from her to be my role model.”
Given what Zikhona has achieved in the three years since she first stepped onto a rugby pitch, it is easy to understand why she is quietly so confident of achieving her goals.
Her determination to realise the objectives she has both for herself and the wider community shines through when she is asked what advice she would give young women and girls who were thinking of picking up an oval ball.
“They have to follow what they want and never mind what people are saying about their dreams or what they want to be,” Zikhona said.
“They have to be confident in themselves and focus so that they can achieve their goals.”
Don’t be surprised if young women are studying videos of Zikhona in years to come.
Introduced to rugby by a friend in Langa, Cape Town, Zikhona was initially put off playing by a fear that tackling would be too painful.
However, having noticed the team spirit that existed among the Busy Bees players who competed in her local community, she convinced herself to give the game a go.
At 15, Zikhona began playing for Isilimela High School and along with the friend who had first shown her rugby she recruited enough team-mates to set up Busy Bees’ first under-16s girls’ team.
Picked at second-row, Zikhona began studying tapes of South Africa international Nolusindiso Booi and went on to be selected for Western Province U18, becoming the team’s vice-captain.
Zikhona revelled in the camaraderie of her new team-mates, winning their trust and paying it back by helping to deliver food parcels to those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She believes that rugby can be used as a tool for change in her local community, and is keen to pass on her love of the game to others in order to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.