Becoming a man and leader
Siya Kolisi has had it tough, but has won 100 Super Rugby caps
As a leader I put myself under huge pressure to perform every week
● Siya Kolisi’s milestone in reaching 100 Super Rugby caps yesterday feels humdrum in this age of seemingly endless games and never-ending seasons, but his story is different. That he played one Super Rugby match is amazing; playing 100 is phenomenal.
Six years after making his debut off the bench against the Hurricanes as a replacement for injured Schalk Burger, Kolisi led the Stormers against the Bulls yesterday. It’s been an incredible journey from poverty.
“I never thought there would be another 99 games when I made my debut,” Kolisi says. “It was a bittersweet day for me because I came on as a replacement for my childhood hero Schalk Burger. He suffered a bad knee injury early in the match.
“But Andries Bekker put his arm around me and Jean de Villiers also had a few words. They told me to focus on a few things and do them well. It was a special day.”
Kolisi was born to a 16-year-old mother in the Port Elizabeth township of Zwide and a father who was in matric. After marrying another man and having two more children, his mother, Phakama, died when he was 15.
His father Fezakele, barely old enough to fend for himself, was not active in his life. It was left to his grandmother Nolulamile to raise him.
The story of being a talented kid spotted playing on a dusty field in Zwide, to a scholarship at Grey High in Port Elizabeth, SA Schools and on to provincial and international rugby is not a usual one.
Yet here he is, captain of the Stormers, capped Springbok, husband, father and adopted guardian to two siblings, all at age 26. In every way Kolisi has become a strong man and caring leader.
Married to Rachel, who is white, the couple have faced stinging racial prejudice, yet risen above it.
The Kolisis are a modern family and an inspirational South African story.
“Spiritually I have grown a lot because my wife is a churchgoing person and she has guided me,” Kolisi says. “It was something I struggled with when I was younger.
“Church and spirituality keep me calm and peaceful and my family gives me great joy. When they are happy then I am happy.
“Rachel has been amazing because she took all of this on and has taken some racial abuse on social media, which isn’t easy.
“Honestly, it doesn’t affect me because I know what we have is real, how much she means to me and how much she means to our family.”
One of the things Siya refers to is raising his much younger brother and sister who he legally adopted several years ago.
“In 2012 when I was with the Boks, I went to Zwide to look for them, because I hadn’t seen them in years,” Kolisi says. “I found a cousin who told me where my brother and sister were. They were at school at the time but I came back later and met them. You can imagine how emotional it was.
“My little sister didn’t know me. She had been crawling when I last saw her.
Stability on the field
“I told the woman taking care of them that I was going to take them for December holidays that year, which I did. But afterwards I said, ‘I can’t send them back.’
“But you have to go through a legal process, which I started after that holiday. It took about 18 months, but I finally legally adopted them.”
That home stability has led to stability on the field, which has the added pressure of captaining a Stormers side that is always expected to do well in the competition.
“In 2016 Fleckie (coach Robbie Fleck) said I needed to realise that I was now a senior player in the side. He was blunt. I had to get my act together,” Kolisi says.
“It made me switch my mentality. I realised that I had to stop hiding and acting like a child in the team. I had to man up and show leadership because even though I was 24, I was already quite experienced.
“The captaincy has helped my rugby in a massive way. I’m not someone who gives Braveheart speeches. I’m all about deeds.
“I’ve come to realise that you won’t play well in every game. It’s something I’ve had to learn to cope with because as a leader I put myself under huge pressure to perform every week. I’m learning to deal with that personal pressure and the captaincy.
“Also, things at home have forced me to be a better man and a role model. I want to set a positive example — I want to be my kids' hero and an inspiration for all South Africans.”
Siya Kolisi, captain of the Stormers, won his 100th Super Rugby cap yesterday.