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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Siya Kolisi has the recipe for true equality but needs the ‘Model C’ ingredients to cook

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Cape Town – The lush and perfectly manicured sports fields of Grey High School in Gqberha may as well be a world away from the barren and patchy surface of Dan Qeqe Stadium in Zwide.

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But they’re not … It’s barely a 20 minute drive between the two, but the scenery quickly changes from posh, neat and green, to poor, broken and dusty.

But these worlds have been brought together by Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, whose journey started at the home of black rugby – Dan Qeqe Stadium – and flourished at Grey, who, for at least for the next 100 or so years, named their main rugby field after Kolisi.

Kolisi played tour guide in his home town to ahead of the pre-screening of his much-anticipated documentary ‘Rise, The Siya Kolisi Story’ in Zwide, where members of the community, media, corporates, SuperSport, friends and family were given a first glimpse of the documentary.

The tour started at Grey with the World Cup-winning Springbok captain showing us around in between stopping for hugs with former teachers and posing for pictures with learners and parents who were out on the cricket fields to support their kids.

We eventually made it to the Siya Kolisi Field, the school honouring their former star with the ultimate gesture. To put it in context, the cricket field is called the Pollock Oval, named after batting legend Graeme Pollock, who also attended the school. It’s a very, very big deal.

Siya Kolisi poses at the Siya Kolisi Field. Picture: Richard Huggard

We then travelled to a part of Gqeberha which was a far cry from the leafy suburbs Grey call home.

The traffic lights were broken – literally, and not because of load shedding. The rubble along the road was a constant theme, with the plastic bags sitting snug against the fences as the famous – or infamous – Bay wind greeted us with some fury on a rather hot afternoon.

Suburbia was replaced with shacks, narrow roads with potholes, while the Dan Qeqe Stadium looks like it’s been neglected for far too long – an injustice to the great man.

But this is how Kolisi grew up, the best – and the worst I suppose – of both worlds.

Of course, and after getting a glimpse of the documentary and seeing all obstacles he faced growing up, it’s easy to assume that if Kolisi hadn’t gone to Grey High School he wouldn’t be the man he is today. Or even be alive to tell this remarkable tale.

Kolisi, though, believes otherwise. “I would like to think that I would have turned out the same if my grandmother was still alive or if I had the support of my family and the community.”

But the Springbok captain knows that having the support from family and friends is not enough to give the kids in the townships a fighting chance to reach their dreams. Maybe even becoming the next Springbok captain.

It’s why Kolisi has and wife, Rachel, have another big, big dream they want to realise.

It’s on list they drafted in Japan ahead of the 2019 World Cup final, and many things on that piece of paper have already been ticked off, such as starting their Kolisi Foundation, which has already made such an impact around South Africa, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic and, of course, the Bok captain lifting the Webb-Ellis trophy.

The next ‘BIG’ goal is to build an actual ‘Grey High School’ in the middle of Zwide, with the same facilities so that more kids get opportunities to enjoy top facilities to fulfil their potential, but also keeping them in the township to be role models in their own communities. An ‘iron sharpens iron’ scenario.

“It’s going to take a lot of work and patience, but what we saw at Grey is basically what we want for the township,” Kolisi said.

“During my time, three of us were taken to Model C schools. I wasn’t even the best back then, it was just a case of the right place at the right time for me.

“So we get taken out of the township, and we get the best opportunities. But you’re now taking the cream of the crop out of the township, whereby here the kids can look up to us and see us (as role models in their own community).

“We love it here – in the township – we enjoy being in this environment. To take resources to the community is what is needed, not always the other way around.”

Kolisi, though, knows the scale of the project. It’s going to take a a lot to achieve what is the last remaining item on their wish list.

Siya and Rachel Kolisi get ready for the screening. Picture: Richard Huggard

But this is a man who overcame one-in-a-million odds to become an inspiration to the country. If you watch the documentary, it becomes even more apparent how remarkable his journey actually is.

“It’s a massive project, that’s why it hasn’t been done, but that is what is needed to change and give even more kids the opportunity to be successful. That will bring true equality.

“Taking kids one by one is only fixing a crack, it’s not repairing the whole problem.”

The late, great Nelson Mandela once said ‘it seems impossible until it’s done’. And you wouldn’t bet against Kolisi to pull it off, because he has already shown us ‘impossible is nothing’.


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