Working in two industries that are poles apart is a difficult task, but Thembi Zikalala, a strong, disciplined and driven youngster is doing it with so much grace.
During the week, Zikalala (22) is a go-getter city girl roaming the concrete jungle in Johannesburg. There, in her private time she pages for hours through scripts and briefs in preparation for acting roles, dance gigs and voiceover work.
But come Friday (and all holidays), Zikalala metamorphosises into a nature-loving game farmer, roughing it out in boots and khaki on the Zvezda Game Resort she co-owns in North West.
“You’ll find me in the bush, with a riffle doing target practice. Or hosting snake-handling sessions for tourists visiting the resort. I swear, sometimes I feel like I’m leading a double life,” Zikalala laughs.
The actor, dancer and voiceover artist says she has found passion in game farming. And being the co-owner of a game resort makes her feel very proud.
“I feel unique, to some extent because I’d like to think that having a game farm gives me a competitive edge. I’ve become versatile and can adapt to anything, anywhere.”
Farming with a slice of undisturbed Africa
Her journey into the wildlife industry started in 2013 when her father, game farmer Siphiwe Zikalala, bought their first game farm.
“My dad brought all of his kids and introduced us to the farm. I immediately fell in love with all the animals. In fact, all of us did.
“We are outdoorsy people and adrenalin junkies. We love being in the bush, hiking, spotting footprints, reading books and watching National Geographic. This is probably the only channel that is always playing.”
Zvezda Game Resort in Brits is a privately owned game farm offering visitors a true dose of African bush. It is considered a convenient wildlife sanctuary where one can experience a slice of undisturbed Africa.
The resort is an excellent place for relaxation, the hosting of private events and engaging in intensive agricultural projects. They farm with livestock, does agro-processing with vegetables and also hosts the occasional agricultural camp where aspiring agriculturalist are taught and trained.
Being a game farmer, Zikakala says, has taught her a great deal. She now considers herself as a person with a holistic perspective, who can adapt to anything, anywhere.
“Every day I am on the farm, there’s always something to do, you are never bored. And also in the city, if I’m not reading my books, I’m watching a play or film. Or doing reviews, practicing a dance routine, or doing voiceover for animation for student films,” Zikalala says.
Mzansi’s young ‘Beyoncé’
As a child, Zikalala was always on her toes, performing some entertaining skit for her family. She holds a bachelor’s degree in live performance, screen acting and stage acting which she obtained from AFDA.
She has worked with both The Bomb television production company and television channel M-Net. She played a lead role in the Loerie Awards-nominated film “To The Little Girl Inside Of Me”.
“Dancing and acting have literally always been a part of me. The family used to call me Beyoncé growing up,” Zikalala says.
“It’s ok to embrace life, work hard and live for you.”
“I just love the idea of storytelling and making something up out of nothing. That’s why I am so in love with productions and the process of production.”
“I always look for an opportunity to put my abilities out there and get myself exposed. In fact, a lot of my gigs I don’t even get from my agents, because I am always putting myself out there,” she says.
Juggling two worlds
Her journey hasn’t been easy. Striking a balance between the worlds of the arts and game farming was initially an immense battle for her.
So, she decided to dedicate her weekdays to her arts and on weekends travel from Gauteng to the North West to be on the farm and get her hands dirty.
“As soon the weekday hits, I have to switch my game farming hat and replace it with my artist hat.”
Zikalala says she wants young girls to know that times are changing and that they can be whatever they want, whenever they want.
“It’s ok to embrace life, work hard and live for you. We grow up with this stigma that the black child must work in an office, be a doctor or lawyer. No, do what works for you.
“Game farming and the arts are two different worlds, but being part of both makes sense to me and I’m honestly good at it. I am my most authentic self being in both of those worlds,” Zikalala states.
When asked what her career plans are going forward, the young mover and shaker says she does not like announcing her projects prematurely.
“We work in an industry [game farming] that is not a conventional career path. So, things don’t happen conventionally either. What I can say is, my plans are to continue staying focused and hone my craft further – both in the arts and farming.”