Berlin – For well over four months now, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi has been traveling the globe and telling the story of what 2019’s Rugby World Cup win meant for South Africa.
It is the captivating account of how a rugby team united a nation divided and Kolisi has been the man tasked with delivering the message.
Even in Berlin at the 2020 Laureus World Sports Awards, where the Boks were crowned Team of the Year on Monday night, Kolisi commanded attention when he entered a room. What the Boks did in Japan was one of the great South African sporting moments, and the world knows it.
On the night before the awards, Kolisi and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk attended an intimate media function at a Berlin restaurant where they were invited onto a small stage to share a few memories of the World Cup.
“Please welcome on stage Springbok captain ‘Sisi’ Kolisi,” the host said, much to the amusement of the South African journalists in the room.
Kolisi had a quiet whisper into the ear of the man with the microphone, who was visibly embarrassed.
Then, he told the same stories he has hundreds of times since the November 2 final in Yokohama.
It is a message that Kolisi has mastered.
Yet, somehow, every time Kolisi addresses a room he does so powerfully. Every word is taken in and every gesture is noticed. He is representing his country on the grandest of stages and doing so with class, respect and in the pursuit of sparking change in South Africa.
They may be the same questions repeatedly, asked by different people, but Kolisi has embraced a responsibility to take his message to as many as possible. It is a responsibility he has taken seriously since the very beginning.
“I’m speaking from the heart. I’m speaking about the South Africa I want to see one day,” he told Sport24 on Monday in a quiet corner of the Mercedes-Benz head office.
“I married Rachel because I could love whoever I wanted and that’s the South Africa I want to see. I believe that one day we’ll get there. It might not be in my time, but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that people hear the message.
“All I want to speak about is how amazing we are when we are working together as a country.
“I don’t plan what I want to say, I just speak what’s on my mind and heart at the time.”
There have now been numerous speeches and interviews where Kolisi has achieved more in a couple of minutes than most politicians will in their entire careers, and at the State of the Nation Address (SONA) last week, the television cameras panned to Kolisi, who was looking on in his Bok blazer.
He, like most, was shocked with the chaos that unfolded, but those hoping to see the skipper make the move into politics one day will be disappointed.
“We all have our calling and ways in which we should be making a difference, and I don’t think that’s my way,” he said.
“The stuff that I’m doing now and the fields that we’re building … that’s how I want to try and make an impact.”
Kolisi is heavily involved at a township level in both Paarl and the Eastern Cape community of Zwide, where he is from. It is something that is close to his heart and he has spoken numerous times on using his platform to help change the lives of children on the ground.
That community work was also a major part of the reason he opted against signing a lucrative European deal following the World Cup. Instead, he has committed to the Stormers for two more seasons and is desperate to win Super Rugby this year in what is the franchise’s final season at Newlands.
“I’m doing a lot of work in the townships and I can’t do that if I’m not at home,” Kolisi added.
“I really want to push now while I’m here.
“I also have to think of my wife and my kids. It’s not just me. Rachel’s business is doing well so it would need to be a conversation.”
Kolisi acknowledges that life since the World Cup has been “crazy”, but all through that hysteria the message at heart has never changed. Even in Japan, when the ‘Bomb Squad’ story broke and South Africans tried to find a way to create division, Kolisi and his men stood firm.
“Our unity as a team was so real … I know each guy in that team,” he said.
“There were incidents that happened at the World Cup and I sit there and think ‘you don’t know, man’. I know each guy and while we’re all different, we love South Africa so much that we give everything.
“I think people should focus a little bit more in understanding each other instead of looking at someone and judging them.
“We had to put our differences aside and focus on South Africa and it worked out well. If we can do that in the sporting world, then surely we can do it everywhere else.”
Kolisi is currently out injured with a knee injury and he is only expected to be back in action in around six weeks. He is expected to be fit by the time the Boks host Scotland and Georgia in June.