As the victorious South African national rugby team prepare to return home to a hero’s welcome, one player’s life story has continued to capture the world’s imagination — and it’s that of team Captain, Siya Kolisi.
Kolisi has been on an extraordinary journey. Growing up in an extremely poor township outside Port Elizabeth, his mother died when he was just 15 years old and his family struggled to get him a decent education.
“Sometimes we didn’t have enough money to pay my primary school fees, which were only R50 ($4) a year,” Siya told the Guardian.
Relying solely on his talent and a relentlessly positive attitude, Siya was eventually scouted for his athletic talent after being spotted playing a sports game with his friends. He earned a scholarship to the prestigious Grey High School in Port Elizabeth. The rest, as they say, was history.
Fast forward to Saturday night in Tokyo and this extraordinary player, the first black man to captain the South African national team, was lifting the Webb Ellis trophy aloft, his proud family looking on. Siya’s father, who had never left the country before, was flown out to see his boy lead the team to victory. “I’m really happy that I could organize for him to come”, the 28-year-old captain said in Tokyo on Saturday, according to Wales Online. “It’s his first time overseas so it’s something different for him.”
“When I was a kid, all I was thinking about was getting my next meal,” Kolisi said following the victory. “There are so many people in SA who just need an opportunity – I got my opportunity and I took it with both hands. There are so many stories that have been told like this in South Africa.”
He’s also an extraordinarily compassionate man, spending 18 months embroiled in a tough legal battle to gain custody of his half-brother and sister, who had been taken into his care after his mother’s death.
“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,” he told the Guardian. “In 2012 when I was in camp with the Boks, I went to Zwide to look for them because I hadn’t seen them in years. I had to go through a legal process, which I started after that holiday. It took about 18 months, but I finally legally adopted them.”