South African captain grew up in a township where bricks were his toys

Victorious South African captain who is the first black man to skipper his country grew up in a township where bricks were his toys

  • Captain Siya Kolisi, 28, would play with bricks in Zwide township Port Elizabeth
  • Life changed when he was awarded scholarship to exclusive private school at 12
  • Rugby scout spotted talent of future South Africa captain at youth tournament 

As a young child growing up in the tough Zwide township of Port Elizabeth, Siya Kolisi would play with bricks because his family couldn’t afford toys.

Yesterday, South Africa’s first black rugby captain had a new favourite possession – the 10lb, gilded silver Webb Ellis Cup.

Born a day after the repeal of apartheid in 1991, Kolisi’s journey from grinding poverty to holding aloft the greatest prize in his sport is every inch as remarkable as the Rainbow nation’s third win in the tournament since 1995.

Kolisi was just four when Nelson Mandela – barely a year after being elected as South Africa’s president – handed the trophy to the country’s blond-haired Afrikaner captain Francois Pienaar in a moment that transcended sport.

As a young child growing up in the tough Zwide township of Port Elizabeth, Siya Kolisi (Pictured left with Prince Harry and Tendai Mtawarira, right) would play with bricks because his family couldn’t afford toys

Kolisi – raised by a grandmother who would scrub kitchens to make money, bedding down each night on a pile of cushions – expressed the hope yesterday that his team’s victory would ‘pull the country together’. ‘Growing up, I never dreamed of a day like this at all,’ he said.

‘When I was a kid all I was thinking about was getting my next meal. A lot of us in South Africa just need an opportunity and there are so many untold stories.’

His life changed when he was 12 and he was awarded a scholarship by an exclusive private school in Port Elizabeth after a rugby scout spotted his raw talent during a youth tournament.

A few years earlier, he had run out for his first ever game of rugby wearing boxer shorts because there wasn’t enough spare cash to buy kit.

In 2007, then aged 16 and with no TV at home, he crowded into a township bar to watch South Africa’s skipper John Smit receive the cup after his side beat England in the final in France.

His life changed when he was 12 and he was awarded a scholarship by an exclusive private school in Port Elizabeth after a rugby scout spotted his raw talent (Pictured: Kolisi with the Webb Ellis Cup)

Twelve years later, he emulated Smit with his proud father, Fezakel, watching in the Yokohama stadium, having left South Africa for the first time in his life. 

As South Africans yesterday celebrated in poor townships and rich suburbs alike, Kolisi, 28 – who was joined by his wife Rachel and children Nicholas and Keziah on the pitch before being congratulated by Prince Harry – said he hopes triumph on the rugby pitch will bring greater unity off it.

‘We are so grateful to the people of South Africa,’ he said.

‘We have so many problems in our country. The team come from different backgrounds and different races and we came together with one goal and we wanted to achieve it.

‘I really hope we’ve done that for South Africa, to show that we can pull together if we want to achieve something.’

His words were echoed by Smit. ‘For me, even as a guy who won it, this was a far bigger occasion because of where we’ve come from and where we’re going,’ he said.

‘I always thought, was it too much of a fairytale to see Siya lift that trophy?

‘It couldn’t have come at a better time. This will have a significant impact on our country.’

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