On Saturday June 9, Siya Kolisi made history when he ran out at Ellis Park, South Africa’s spiritual home of rugby, to become the first black captain to lead the Springboks in a Test match. The fact that Siya was donning the number 6 jersey, the number famously worn by Nelson Mandela at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, just added significance to the remarkable moment for the Springboks and South Africa as a nation.
Siya’s story is one of overcoming adversity and succeeding against the odds. He was born in the township of Zwide near Port Elizabeth, and his young mother and grandmother struggled to put food on the table each day. “Times were tough when I was little and often there wasn’t food. I would go to bed starving,” Siya said.
The 27-year-old’s incredible rise from poverty to captaining his country is proof that with hard work and determination, anything is possible. “I don’t shy away from where I have come from and I’m aware that my story is a typical South African story in some ways. It’s my motivation,” said Siya. “Yes, being a professional sportsman can be tough and occasionally you question if it’s all worth it. But then I just think about where I’ve come from and about the people that look up to me.”