Breaking boundaries with Hacjivah Dayimani, the kind of star rugby desperately needs

Hacjivah Dayimani at Stormers training. Credit: Alamy
Hacjivah Dayimani at Stormers training. Credit: Alamy

Hacjivah Dayimani describes himself as an outcast, someone who never had a place within the norms of society. Instead of falling victim to the restrictions of the world as we know it, the star decided to pave his own road – one that has led to stardom.

The chances of a young boy born from Joe Slovo township in Cape Town to make it as a professional rugby player are nanoscopic, and the chances of starring in the Stormers’ first title-winning team are even smaller.

Planet Rugby’s Dylan Coetzee met with Stormers superstar Dayimani to find out what makes one of rugby’s most intriguing characters tick.

Early years

The Dayimani we see on and off the field, filled with joy, smiles and a love of life, is somewhat different to his younger self.

The Stormers loose forward recalls times of change and uncertainty growing up, moving between homes from the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape to a trip to Johannesburg loaded with unknowns.

It is a heavy load for a young person trying to navigate their way through the rigours of life in South Africa.

To overcome obstacles, Dayimani became a “child soldier”, one who removed emotion to find ways to deal with issues he faced. The situation was often beyond him, where the family’s well-being came first.

“I think I had to be like a child soldier and hide my emotions, hide how I feel and just soldier on,” Dayimani told Planet Rugby.

“I think growing up when I was a kid, I remember when there’s problems in the house or anything you couldn’t say listen, ‘I’m struggling with ABC at school’ because there are bigger problems in the house, you know, there’s no food, we’re struggling to pay rent and there was always the bigger problems.”

During his younger years, Dayimani would work to contribute to his family in any way, as the focus was always on the collective.

“I always worked. I was a servant for my family, and I worked for my family. So at a young age, I did construction work, sold oranges and naartjies, and I never saw anything wrong with it because it was for the family,” Dayimani said.

The leap of faith

The star’s positive and uplifting attitude had its place when it was time to make the move from his grandmother in Cradock, Eastern Cape, to Johannesburg as a young boy. He viewed it as an opportunity to make the next step rather than being intimidated by the biggest city in the country.

“When I left my granny’s place going to Joburg, I think another kid would be like, ‘No, I don’t want to leave’ and will be happy with the comfort and stay with what they know, at that age. I think I was looking at the positive picture of it.

“I was thinking, what if I got a job and my dad is a multimillionaire? And then my life turns around.

“When I went to Joburg, I never had a back-up plan. I was just going to look for my dad,” the loose forward explained.

The move paid off as Dayimani earned himself a scholarship at Jeppe High School and, ultimately, a spot in the Lions set-up.

He was playing well and turning heads with his extreme pace for a forward, but it was not until he returned to Cape Town to play for the Stormers that he found a place where he could be himself and truly break the mould on and off the field.

On the field, one would think he should be a centre or possibly even a wing with his speed. Dayimani quickly caught the eye and became an integral player in the Stormers’ title triumph in the United Rugby Championship (URC).

Changing perception

Off the field, the 25-year-old has embraced his self-proclaimed outcast title and paved his own way. From painting his nails to posting pictures in skirts on social media, Dayimani is here to change perception and make a genuine difference in the rugby space.

“I always felt like, you know, what? Why do I have to conform to the norms or how things are supposed to be done? You know, I’m gonna actually show people the representation of how my life is, and I’m gonna be different. I’m not just one person’s rugby player. I’m actually something different,” passionately exclaimed the Stormer.

Dayimani has been red-hot on the field, scoring sensational tries and setting up many others and wants to use his growing stature in the game to make rugby a more progressive space.

“No one cares about my nails being painted. No one cares that my hair is blonde, and no one cares what type of stuff I wear off the field. Everyone just loves me because I’m scoring tries. And that’s what I’m trying to show people that you are hating a person for how they look but deep down, you know that that’s not how you feel about that person,” he said.

The star credited Stormers head coach John Dobson for understanding the modern player, which has been tremendous in his development on and off the field.

“One thing I can credit John Dobson for is that he knows how to treat the Gen Z’s because he knows that there is a different way of coaching these new generations. The way you wanna coach 20 years ago versus how you coach now is two different things,” Dayimani continued.

“I feel like with him he actually created this culture where it doesn’t matter what you do off the field. You know, it doesn’t matter how you behave when you go out at night or whatever, as long as you have respect for the people around you and as long as you give your best on the field, that’s all that matters.

“The Stormers have an inclusive culture where we have different people from different places. Players get welcomed just walking in, and everyone feels as if there’s no senior players or junior players. Everyone’s on the same level because at the end of the day, when someone breaks a line, we’re not going to be like, ‘Oh, you have 60 caps. You need to chase him.’ No, no, no, the one with two caps if he is the closest he needs to make the tackle,” he explained.

Player-driven Stormers

By giving power to the players to respect the jersey and those in their team, the Stormers have developed a player-driven environment – a key aspect in their historic URC triumph.

“I just feel like there is something cooking at the Stormers at this point. It’s player-driven. That’s the thing about the Stormers. It is very player-driven because, at the end of the day, we are on the field, the players are on the field, you know, the coaches are just there to guide us and give us a good plan and good ideas on how we can we can infiltrate teams, but the players come up with ideas and say, ‘Listen up, based on what the coach said, I feel like we could implement this’, and we have a discussion and that’s how we move forward,” Dayimani said with a smile.

Following the URC triumph, the star blew up on social media as he went on an epic celebration in his full kit lasting several days. However, Dayimani claims it was more than just a party for him.

“It’s quite emotional in the sense that I come out of a place where, I don’t know the stats, but it’s not very easy for people to come out and just make something out of it. When I go to visit, I look at the people, and even they don’t believe I’m from there. That’s how rare it is for people to make it out,” he said.

“I went everywhere I could think of where I’ve had bad memories, and I celebrated as hard as possible.”

Change the world

When asked about his aspirations going forward on and off the pitch, Dayimani profoundly responded, “I want to change the world.”

“I feel like I have a message to give to people without offending them. I feel like when people talk about race, it’s always offensive to one party, when people talk about toxic masculinity it’s offensive to one party. I want to show people that it’s okay to do certain things, to be a certain person, and it is okay to be part of this group. I feel like obviously through sports, I’m doing it, but I wanted to do it off the pitch, by the way you dress, the way you behave, the things you do and just break boundaries,” he declared.

Dayimani is profound, inspiring and pioneering. His philosophy on life is very powerful and has brought him great success. As he eyes the Springbok jersey in his future, the rugby world is only beginning to see a star who lives life hard and plays even harder.

Remember the name Hacjivah Dayimani.

READ MORE: Champions Cup: Stormers boss John Dobson frustrated with first half performance against Clermont

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