In the sixth instalment of a series on black rugby players, GARY BOSHOFF looks back at the career of former Kwaru and Saru flank Makaya Jack.
Makaya Jack was born in Walmer Township, Port Elizabeth, in 1956. He grew up in what was one of the few mixed areas that managed to resist and survive the relocation of black people out of the city to the townships during the 1960s.
He attended John Masiza Primary School in Walmer, where he got his first taste of competitive rugby, at fullback. His father, Mzwandile, was a member of the local Walmer Wales Rugby Club, but it was his great uncle, on his grandmother’s side of the family, who was his rugby role model. Gilman Noqoli, a local legend, was one of the founding members of the club and a former black Springbok: he played for the South African African Rugby Board (Saarb) national side during the 1940s and ’50s. Jack’s eyes light up when he talks about his beloved Walmer Wales, of which he is now the president. The club was established in 1928 and named after the Princess of Wales, who visited Port Elizabeth in 1925.
Jack was sent off to boarding school in Fort Beaufort where he attended Lawson High (now known as Inyibiba). He moved to flyhalf and tried to emulate Peter Mkata, the legendary Kwazekele Rugby Union (Kwaru) flyhalf who also represented the South African Rugby Union (Saru) during the late-60s and early-70s.
He recalls being courted by the local Crusaders RFC, but declined the invitation because of their affiliation to the South African Rugby Board. For the final phase of his high school education he was enrolled at Nataniel Pamla High in Pedi, in the Ciskei.
This was in 1976, the year of the school uprisings. The homeland regime of chief minister Lennox Sebe responded harshly and expelled all non-Ciskeians. Jack, who was 19 at the time, was unable to complete his matric and returned home.
Jack enrolled for a diploma in sales and marketing at Damelin College and later continued his studies at the then University of Port Elizabeth.
He continued to play flyhalf and was selected for the Kwaru Colts side in 1976 and ’77. In 1978 he got his big break when he was selected for the Kwaru B side. It was there that he was spotted by the former Springrose RFC and Kwaru coach Sipho Nozewu. At the time, Jack was the understudy to another great Kwaru and Saru flyhalf, Norman Xhoxho.
The famous coach saw the opportunity to move the multitalented Jack to the forwards. In 1979, he moved to flank, which he described as the best move of his rugby career.
‘I was so comfortable at flyhalf and would never have made the move to flank on my own,’ he says.
In 1980 he gained selection to the Kwaru SA Cup side and still remembers the clash with Uitenhage and Districts Union, his first senior provincial match, as if it was yesterday.
In 1983, Jack joined Springrose RFC in an effort to play in a more competitive environment and forge a renewed sense of purpose among the Kwaru stalwarts of the time.
He spent the next five years representing Kwaru in the SA Cup, playing in 78 games.
In 1985, Jack was selected for the Eastern Cape XV that played against the Saru team at the Adcock Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
The following year he got his first Saru cap when he was selected to play against the Northern Cape XV in Kimberley. In 1987, he was at the peak of his playing career.
‘I was selected for the Saru team to play the Namibian national side in Windhoek and won the inaugural Saru Player of the Year Award that same year,’ he says. ‘It was unbelievable.’
The man they call ‘Sir Jack’ has high praise for many of the great rugby players he had the privilege of sharing a jersey with, but most important for him was the honour of representing his country. He names players like Baba Nolokwe, Lucky Mange, Norman Xhoxho and Mtedile Kondile as teammates for whom he had the highest regard. Some of his toughest opponents were Yagya Sakier (WP), Nazeem Moerat (WP), Rand Marinus (Boland) and Ranky Mbewu (Border).
LIFE AFTER RUGBY
Jack is happily married to Zodwa, who he met at the Dan Qeqe Stadium in 1977. It was where they often met when he came to play for Walmer Wales against Springrose RFC. Zodwa was a Springrose supporter. They have three sons, Lulama, Lubabalo and Athenkosi. The latter is a serious cricketer.
Jack worked in local government for many years, but resigned in 2009 to start his own consulting business. He also works for SuperSport as a Xhosa rugby commentator and is co-host of the popular Phaka, the first black prime time rugby show.
As president of Walmer Wales, he played a prominent role in the recent successful elections at the Eastern Province Rugby Union and is an elected member of the new executive committee.
‘I am thankful to be associated with rugby and able to contribute to the resurrection of the once proud EPRU,’ Jack says.
He firmly believes rugby could again become the force that stimulates social cohesion among the diverse communities of the Eastern Cape.
‘The EPRU executive is intent on reviving the glory days of Eastern Cape rugby, including the old Kwaru and Sedru [Southeastern District Rugby Union] regions.
‘We want to build on the achievements of the Kings and promote unity through excellence,’ Jack says.
These are valiant objectives indeed; objectives that require leaders of the calibre of Sir Jack.
– This article first appeared in the August 2017 edition of SA Rugby magazine