Kolisi opens up on tackling key issues

In part two of our exclusive interview with Siya Kolisi, the Springbok captain shares the importance of speaking out against gender-based violence and engaging in difficult conversations.

In a snippet from the latest SA Rugby magazine, Siya and wife Rachel chatted to JON CARDINELLI about the inspiring work of the Kolisi Foundation and important issues in South Africa they are passionately addressing.

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PART 1: ‘We have a platform to make a difference’ – Kolisi

The Kolisis joined a march in Cape Town recently to show their support for the fight against gender-based violence. Both hope that more will join the cause and that real progress will be made soon.

Siya points out that he’s in a position to make a difference on various levels, whether he’s challenging a teammate or educating his son.

‘I used to be the quiet guy in the corner,’ he says. ‘I’ve never spoken out about this kind of stuff. I’ve got to a place now, however, where I believe you have to stand up and say something. Those who don’t are almost saying that GBV is OK.

‘It’s not up to women to take up this fight alone. We’ve got to admit that men are the problem and we’ve got to look at how we can be better. Education is so important. There are a lot of things that we need to unlearn in terms of how we treat women and even how we speak to women.

‘I’m talking about education at home as well as at school. Nobody told me that it was wrong when I was younger. When I saw the abuse, in my community and even in my own home when I was a boy, there was no one to say, “This is fundamentally wrong”.

‘Even on the field, the coach should say, look, this is not who we are. This is not how we treat women. I have to go around to my circle of friends and take people on. I’ve got to tell them that they can’t treat women this way because that is not what I’m about. It’s easier to tell people you don’t know what you think.

‘It’s a lot harder to take on people you know. But these are the hard conversations we have to have if we are going to make real changes. I’ve got to make it clear that I can’t be mates with anyone who treats women that way.

‘I’ve also been hard on my son Nicholas [5] about this,’ Siya continues. ‘They say you should educate your son rather than protect your daughter. I’ve almost been too hard on him but I want him to realise how important this is.

‘If I educate him, I won’t have to protect my daughter. If that’s happening on a bigger scale, we can feel safer about our daughters as a community. If we are all educated, we will make better choices in life.’

The mission of the Kolisi Foundation is wide-ranging, aiming to help individuals and groups that are experiencing various challenges. Bryan is a young man who was shot in the head when he was three years old. Now 17 and bed-ridden, he lives in a small house with his mother, who was also injured in the same gang shooting.

*The Kolisi Foundation initiatives and projects can be followed on social media, while to donate, visit www.kolisifoundation.org

The Kolisis have raised money to improve Bryan’s living conditions and to help with the costs of basic needs, like food.

‘We’ve renovated his house,’ says Rachel. ‘The milk they feed him through a tube costs R200 and lasts for two days. His mother gets a grant of R1800 per month. We’re hoping to help them further, to get Bryan a wheelchair so he can get out of the house more. It’s been months since he’s been able to do that.’

It’s hard to listen to Siya and Rachel’s stories without becoming angry or despondent. What kind of emotional toll does it take on those who interact with people such as Grace and Bryan on a daily basis, those who are at the coalface of a crisis that predates Covid-19?

Siya doesn’t hesitate to respond. ‘It hurts,’ he says. ‘I went out to Limpopo to drop off some food and I was shocked by how people were living. Even now, in 2020, people are sharing drinking water with animals. The kids are using that water to wash. I saw a lady go to the same source to get water for cooking. She was carrying a baby on her back. My heart was broken.

‘I went to the North West. There are no buildings or facilities. I was pushing a wheelbarrow full of stuff through the township. There is absolutely nothing happening, and ultimately nothing for kids to enjoy or aspire to. It made me think, what are we doing as a nation? How are we letting this happen?

‘I think more people can help,’ he says emphatically. ‘People need to go out into the communities more and speak to those who are struggling. When they see how some are living, that will spark something inside. That will encourage a sense of responsibility. This pandemic is terrible, but it’s also an opportunity for everyone to see what kind of difference they can make in this world.’

How does one tackle a job this big? Rachel says it’s important to help as many people as possible, but to simultaneously acknowledge that different individuals are experiencing different challenges.

‘We gets lost of social media messages from people who have lost their job and don’t have food,’ she says. ‘We organise food vouchers for those individuals. The slogan for the foundation is “Remember the One, One By One”. We carry that close to our hearts, as it reminds us that every person matters no matter their situation. We want to help those people in really desperate situations, but we also want to help those with problems that may not be as bad by comparison.’

*The full version of this article can be found in the latest SA Rugby magazine.

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Photo: Chris Joubert/Black Bean Productions

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Craig Lewis