Week 244 (16 - 22 June 2018)
127 years, 478 Tests, 60 white captains, 0 black captains.
The uncomfortable reality of white men dominating rugby in South Africa, even in the post-Apartheid era, shifted significantly earlier this month when Siya Kolisi led the Springboks out as the first-ever black South African test captain, in what was a special moment of both sporting and national significance.
Born into the Eastern Cape Province township of Zwide, and raised by his grandmother from the age of 15, the Springboks captain could not depend on regular meals. Rather than becoming despondent with the hand life had dealt him, Kolisi focused on his natural rugby talent. His drive to make it to the top, and the inspiring message he is communicating to the world now that he is there, is an inspiration to disadvantaged people all over the globe.
"My first goal was to get a meal at the end of the day. Now I set much higher goals. I want to be one of the best players in the Springbok team and one of the best players in the world.”
Kolisi’s evident rugby talent at an under-12 tournament in Zwide led to him receiving a scholarship to the prestigious Grey Junior School in Port Elizabeth and later continued to Grey High School. While at the school, Kolisi faced a backlash for wearing the school uniform when he returned to his community. Ignoring this, he continued to wear the uniform, a symbol of his rightful place at the elite Grey school. In hindsight, Kolisi’s attitude and refusal to be ashamed, was a sign that he was well on his way to becoming a Springbok player.
Despite attending Grey, and the negativity he received, Kolisi is incredibly proud of his roots. Remembering the South Africans who have helped him along the way, he continues to help out those in a similar position to himself. In 2016, he donated shirts to the African Bombers, the club he played for when he was young. He acts as a source of inspiration for young South Africans, encouraging them to focus on overcoming their situations and to make the most of their opportunities.
“I don’t shy away from where I have come from and I’m aware that my story is a typical South African story in some ways. It’s my motivation. “Yes, being a professional sportsman can be tough and occasionally you question if it’s all worth it. But then I just think about where I’ve come from and about the people that look up to me. For me to be able to help people inspired by me, I have to play every week. That is my duty.
“I’m not only trying to inspire black kids but people from all races. When I’m on the field and I look into the crowd, I see people of all races and social classes. We as players represent the whole country. I tell my team-mates that you should never play just to represent one group. You can’t play to be the best black player or to be the best white player to appeal to a community; you have to play to be the best for every South African. We represent something much bigger than we can imagine.”
While his appointment has resulted in the inevitable political focus, Kolisi remains focused on rugby, the passion that got him this far. He has made it clear that he wants to “represent everybody in South Africa”, and ensure rugby is a sport for all South Africans.
On Saturday, South Africa will look to complete a 3-0 series whitewash against England. However, the success of this series for South Africa goes far beyond the performances on the pitch. Kolisi’s appointment could well be the start of a new era in South African rugby.
For communicating the importance of unity and for using sport as a mechanism to bridge social divide, Siya Kolisi is JTA Communicator of the Week.