PRETORIA – Phakama Siya Kolisi, ixesha lifikile! (Stand up Siya Kolisi, your time has come!).
Not since last year’s ANC Elective Conference at Nasrec has that song been sang as loud in the minds and hearts of many rugby mad South Africans, particularly black South Africans.
The appointment of one 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 South Africa’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 ascension and has breathed new life and ignited 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 has come in time to restore the dignity of a team that has now become the skunk of the rugby world and more importantly the dignity of black people, who have never been recognised as equals in South Africa’s chequered rugby history.
While many feel that Kolisi should have been made captain of the Springboks a year ago under the tenure of then Springbok coach Allister Coetzee and in Kolisi’s most prolific season in the Green and Gold, this is probably the most apt time for him to rise to the challenge due to the obvious racial division that still mares the sport.
You see, Kolisi, whose form is currently in question, 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 he has defied and overcome the constraints and shackles of a meaningless life that many township children are condemned and ultimately succumb to.
His was not a life of growing up mirroring a father or an uncle that had become a Springbok. Instead, he stumbled upon rugby as an escape from the clutches of poverty while trying to find meaning to a life that was statistically predetermined by race politics and economics due to the wrongdoing of the past.
But Kolisi was not content with 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 amongst an unfamiliar but privileged life at Grey High, he 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 Western Province and the Stormers where Kolisi proved his worth as a rugby player, stepping into the big boots of Springbok legend 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 and 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 he has adopted, Kolisi is the embodiment and living example of the ugly and unjust past our rugby comes from but also the reality of how good a future the game has if everyone is given equal and fair opportunity and 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!