Siya Kolisi: An awe-inspiring tale of true greatness
Siya Kolisi became the first black player to be given the job of being the South African rugby captain; a post that previously had only ever been held by white players.
Rugby matters in many places around the world, but only in South Africa can it change the nation around it. And it certainly did, when Kolisi's Springboks outfit thwarted England in the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup on the 2nd of November.
That Kolisi has made it this far is a story of self-belief. Born to teenage parents in the poor township of Zwide, just outside Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Cape, he was brought up by his grandmother, who cleaned kitchens to make ends meet.
Bed was a pile of cushions on the living-room floor. Rugby was on dirt fields. When he went to his first provincial trials he played in boxer shorts, because he had no other kit.
His father Fezakel was a centre, his grandfather a player of pace too. Aged 12, the young Kolisi was spotted by Andrew Hayidakis, a coach at the exclusive private school Grey, and offered a full scholarship.
His talent was such that he would invariably have been spotted further down the line by another big name school, but there’s no denying that the decision by the Grey High School to enrol him had an unquantifiable impact on his life, and his future.
He was physically a late bloomer and was often one of the smaller players on the field during his Under-14 year, but his small stature worked to his advantage.
His first team years came sooner than expected.
His new, improved physique enhanced his playing performances, and having spent the previous two years thinking his way around the rugby field; he could suddenly compliment those skills with a newfound physicality.
As a result, he blossomed at first-team level, again under the guidance of his mentor, Dean Carelse. Not only did Kolisi cruise into the Eastern Province Craven Week sides in 2008 and 2009, but he was also chosen to represent the South African Schools teams for both those years.
He set a brilliant example both on and off the field, and his work rate and commitment were exemplary. Siya was always a crowd favourite and was worshipped by young boys who often used to follow him around before and after the game.
His impact is far greater than simply what he does on the pitch because of all that has come before. Kolisi stands as a critical link between the past and future. He was born on 16 June 1991, one day before the repeal of apartheid.
It is there to be seen on the faces of the people of the country how much it meant to have Siya as captain. He is a true hero of modern South Africa. When the Springboks won the World Cup in 1995, it brought South Africa together.
But this time around, there are a lot more of black players who are knocking at the Springbok door. And who else but the late Nelson Mandela to thank for this! But now, Siya Kolisi is the quintessential figure of inspiration in South Africa.