The hope and optimism that came with Ramaphosa’s elevation to ANC president and ultimately president of the country has now engulfed rugby with Kolisi’s appointment
Phakama Siya Kolisi, ixesha lifikile. (Stand up Siya Kolisi, your time has come)
Not since last year’s ANC Conference in Nasrec has that song been sang as loud in the minds and hearts of many rugby-mad South Africans, particularly black Africans. The appointment of Siyamthanda Kolisi as the first black Springbok captain is as significant and poignant as that moment when president Cyril Ramaphosa ascended to the highest seat in SA’s political landscape.
The hope and optimism that came with Ramaphosa’s elevation to ANC president and ultimately president of the country has now engulfed rugby with Kolisi’s appointment. It will ignite a love for the Springboks and rugby last seen in those magical two months during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
And Kolisi has no choice but to accede to the demands of his people and Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus by standing tall and leading from the front because his time has come, in fact it is overdue.
Kolisi’s time has come to restore the dignity of a tarnished Bok team and more importantly the dignity of black people who have never been recognised as equals in South Africa’s chequered rugby history.
Many will feel Kolisi should have been made captain of the Springboks a year ago under the tenure of then Springbok coach Allister Coetzee, especially as it was his most prolific season in the Green and Gold. But this is probably the most apt time for Kolisi to rise to the challenge with his form not at its best and that of the Springboks and the obvious racial division that still haunts the sport.
You see, Kolisi thrives in times of adversity and it is from his humble beginnings in the Port Elizabeth township of Zwide and from having lost his mother at a young age that Kolisi has deliberately defied and overcome the constraints and shackles of a meaningless life that many township children are condemned to and ultimately succumb to.
His was not a life of growing up mirroring a father or an uncle who had become a Springbok. Instead he stumbled upon rugby as an escape from the clutches of poverty and tried to find meaning in a life that was predetermined to have only mattered as a mere statistic of the existence of black people as a majority in the country.
But Kolisi was not content in being just another number and instead used rugby to stand out amongst his peers, which gained him a scholarship to Grey Junior and Grey High School in Port Elizabeth. Even in the throes of an unfamiliar – but privileged – life at Grey High School, Kolisi stood out and made good of his time there, especially on the rugby field, and earned himself an opportunity to join Western Province after finishing his matric.
And it was at WP and the Stormers where Kolisi proved his worth as a rugby player, stepping into the big boots of Springbok Schalk Burger and never looking back.
Of course Kolisi has always been a hero for millions of black rugby fans as he was the poster boy for debunking the myth that often exists in the minds of some of the verkrampte elements within our society.
But there is more to Kolisi then just being a black rugby player. From his man-of-the-match debut off the bench against Scotland in Nelspruit in 2013 to that most complete and dominant performance by an individual in recent history in the second Test against France in Durban last year, Kolisi has proved his value as one of the exceptional talents of his generation.
Along with his wife Rachel, two kids and his two siblings whom Kolisi has adopted, Kolisi is a shining example of how good a future our rugby has if everyone is given equal and fair opportunity and are judged by the talent they bring as a player and a person.
As leader of the Springboks, Kolisi not only has to carry the hopes of repairing a damaged brand in the rugby universe but he is now the symbol of how truly powerful sport can be in changing a country.
Phakama Siya Kolisi, elakho ixesha lifikile