Siya Kolisi arrives for his first practice session as the Springbok captain in Johannesburg. Photo: Kim Ludbrook/EPA

It’s been a momentous week for two outstanding South Africans, Siya Kolisi and Wayde van Niekerk.

Being appointed Springbok captain by Rassie Erasmus left Kolisi speechless, while Van Niekerk took great joy out of launching a documentary about his career while in his prime as a world-class athlete.

And these are two moments in our sporting history that should be celebrated.

Who would’ve thought that Kolisi would’ve become the Springbok captain one day? Not even the man himself...

Kolisi started playing rugby at the African Bombers club in Zwide township in Port Elizabeth, and had a tough upbringing that was only changed by a rugby scholarship at Grey PE school.

His mother died when he was a teenager, and he lost contact with his two siblings, whom he was fortunately able to reunite with a few years ago.

Kolisi made the big leap to join Western Province and move to the Cape after school, and hasn’t looked back since, culminating in Monday’s announcement as the Bok skipper for the three-Test series against England.

Van Niekerk’s mother Odessa Swarts was also a top-class sprinter in her day, but never got the chance to compete on the international stage due to a lack of opportunities during and after the end of apartheid.

Fortunately for her, Wayde was able to do so, despite a number of obstacles in his way too.

In fact, being born at just 29 weeks meant that Van Niekerk had to fight from day one of his life. He has spoken about being bullied at school, while as a slightly-built boy, he was often outweighed in rugby too.

Van Niekerk also had to leave his Cape Town friends and family behind once his mother moved to Bloemfontein in 2005.

Odessa Swarts with her son Wayde van Niekerk at the premiere of his documentary. Photo: @WaydeDreamer via Twitter

He experienced serious adversity in the early parts of his post-school athletics career due to injury, to the point that he nearly gave it all up.

What you may not know is that prior to the unbelievable 43.03 time he posted in the 400m final to win gold at the Rio Olympics, Van Niekerk was worried about a niggling back injury.

Now he has had to deal with a knee injury from a tag rugby match at Newlands last October, but he was beaming at the premiere of his documentary ‘43.03: The Wayde van Niekerk Story’ this week, and is positive that he will return to the track later this year.

Wayde van Niekerk addresses the audience at the premiere of his documentary at the V&A Waterfront on Tuesday night. Photo: Ashfak Mohamed

In a democratic South Africa that is just 24 years in existence, the successes of black South Africans such as Van Niekerk and Kolisi should never be shied away from.

Of course, many citizens may say “Why must you bring race into it? We are all South Africans”.

Perhaps Kolisi and Van Niekerk may feel that way too.

Siya Kolisi, RG Snyman and Duane Vermeulen pose with the kids at a coaching clinic in Soweto. Photo: SA Rugby

But in the current sporting landscape of this country, it needs to be highlighted, celebrated and cheered from every corner of our beautiful land, as it provides hope and inspiration to millions of kids of all races.

Can you imagine what the effect of Kolisi being the Bok skipper is going to have in townships?

Unfortunately, there are still not enough standout black sports stars being produced in Mzansi, despite it already being 2018.

In many ways, it was sad to hear Ashwin Willemse say that he was “labelled a quota player for a long time” during the SuperSport walkout incident, as there should be no doubt among honest rugby analysts that the former Springbok wing was the furthest thing from being a quota player.

Remember that he was even officially recognised by being chosen as the 2003 SA Rugby Player of the Year.

Yet he felt so undermined by Nick Mallett and Naas Botha in studio that he had to walk off.

Willemse was a top-class Springbok, but he didn’t feel he was given the necessary respect as a black person when he said: “I worked hard to earn my own respect in this game”, and he wasn’t going to tolerate being “patronised by two individuals who played in apartheid – a segregated era – and come and want to undermine...”

The sentiment from Willemse is that even though he had to prove himself way more than his white counterparts as a player and now TV analyst, he still didn’t receive the same respect as them.

Part of the reason for that is that not enough of a fuss is made of black South African sports stars who have “made it big”.

Hashim Amla immediately springs to mind. Jacques Kallis, and now the recently-retired AB de Villiers, are regarded by many South Africans as the two finest cricketers produced by this country.

Hashim Amla holds the South African record for the highest score in Test cricket. Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

But do you know how many records Amla has set in international cricket? The major one is the SA Test record score of 311 not out.

Yet Amla is not spoken of in the same breath as a Kallis or De Villiers. Why is that?

While there have been a lot of moans and groans about the 45 percent transformation target in the Springbok team this year – and grumblings of Kolisi being a “political appointment” – South Africa as a sporting nation is still very far from being truly transformed.

So, to paraphrase Willemse, I do not want to keep the order here, and I don’t mind being ridiculous.

Kolisi and Van Niekerk have walked their own unique, winding roads as black sportsmen to get to where they are today, just like Willemse.

Siya Kolisi and Aphiwe Dyantyi were part of the Springbok delegation that visited Mandela House in Soweto on Thursday. Photo: SA Rugby

Van Niekerk said: “Normally when I watch something (a documentary), it’s the story of this one or that one, and here I’m watching my own story out there.”

He has decided to create his own narrative instead of worrying about people who may question why he is doing a documentary on his career when he is in the midst of his peak.

So, when the likes of Van Niekerk and Kolisi break through barriers, as they have this week, let’s rise up and applaud them...

 

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