• Kolisi: We have a platform to make a difference

    In part 1 of our exclusive interview with Siya Kolisi, the Springbok captain discusses the inspiration behind the Kolisi Foundation and how joining Roc Nation Sports can help inspire further change.

    In a snippet from the latest SA Rugby magazine, Kolisi and wife Rachel chatted to JON CARDINELLI about the inspiring work that they have passionately thrown themselves into since the Springboks’ whirlwind World Cup campaign last year.

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    What would you do if you had the power to change the world?

    Siya and Rachel Kolisi considered this question as they sat outside their hotel room in Tokyo on 3 November 2019. Instead of reflecting on the Springboks’ World Cup success, they discussed how they could use the exposure to effect significant social change.

    ‘I travelled to Japan believing that South Africa would win the World Cup,’ Siya tells SA Rugby magazine. ‘We were well aware of the problems in our country and we tried to use that as motivation to succeed. I knew what winning the World Cup could do for South Africa. What’s more, I knew what it could do for the type of work I’m passionate about.’

    Kolisi’s wife Rachel remembers putting the couple’s children to sleep the day after the World Cup final and joining Siya in the hotel corridor. A major celebration awaited the Springboks upon their return to South Africa, as well as a week-long trophy tour. At that point, however, the Kolisis felt that they had more profound matters to explore.

    ‘We made a list of everything that we wanted to change in South Africa. Gender-based violence, equality for youth, sports and skills development … we were determined to tackle the big issues,’ says Rachel.

    ‘We started to look at what it would take to make all of that possible. We realised how important it was to get going. It’s great to be in the spotlight after winning a World Cup, but that doesn’t last forever. Siya will have that influence for only a limited time.’

    The trophy tour was a resounding success. Thousands of fans turned out in Gauteng, Durban, the Eastern Cape and Cape Town to catch a glimpse of their heroes. Siya delivered a rousing speech outside Cape Town City Hall, remarking on the fact that people from all races and walks of life had gathered to celebrate the World Cup success.

    That wasn’t the end of the story, though, but the beginning. That World Cup campaign and the manner in which the Boks conducted themselves in the aftermath inspired people around the globe.

    High-profile celebrities like actor Matthew McConaughey and talk-show host Trevor Noah went out of their way to praise Siya and the Boks after hearing the captain’s heartfelt speech. Then Roc Nation, the entertainment agency founded by American rapper Jay-Z, came calling with a game-changing proposition.

    ‘Jay-Z and many others at Roc Nation come from similar backgrounds,’ Siya explains. ‘They recognised that everything was against me when I was youngster growing up in the township. They wanted to amplify my story and make me an icon. They felt that the way I spoke about hardship was very relevant, and not just to South Africans but to those in similar situations around the world.

    ‘When I met Roc Nation CEO Michael Yormark I told him that I want to inspire kids and I want to make a real change. Ultimately, I don’t want kids to go through what I went through when I was younger. In a sense, I’m tired of being celebrated because I suffered and still managed to make it. No kid should have to face that kind of challenge. I asked Roc Nation, can they help me with that, not just in South Africa but around the world? They told me they were in.’

    Siya and Rachel had planned to launch the Kolisi Foundation in July this year. Then the Covid-19 crisis hit and their quest to help those in need was fast-tracked.

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

    This is not a new idea. Three years ago, Siya told SA Rugby magazine about his ambition to address the inequalities in South Africa and to help those in need. Back then, he’d just been made Stormers captain and was starting to feature regularly in the national team. Now has the means and the backing to fulfil his vision.

    ‘Rachel and I decided, you know what, we have the platform to make a difference. Rugby has helped us. Winning the World Cup has helped us. And when I say “us” I mean everyone who has been part of the journey. Everybody from the coaches to the other players to the supporters who willed us over the line in Japan. We are now in this position to make a difference. I’m certainly not suggesting that I got to this position all on my own, merely that I can use my own platform to make a change.

    ‘There is some pressure involved in this kind of work,’ he adds. ‘You have to give your absolute best in everything you do, because you’re trying to make a difference in someone else’s life. You’re going out there and having the hard conversations. You’re trying to change people’s minds about certain issues.’

    Siya’s social media accounts as well as those of the Kolisi Foundation have detailed the journey from the beginning. The images and videos have painted a bleak and often heart-wrenching picture of the situation in South Africa’s townships and rural areas.

    ‘It’s been an eye-opener,’ says Rachel. ‘Even outside the Covid-19 crisis, this is the reality for a lot of people. When we’ve gone to help at soup kitchens or to drop off food at shelters, they’ve told us that they are grateful for the coronavirus. They tell us that this is the most help that they’ve ever received.’

    *The full version of this article can be found in the latest SA Rugby magazine, while part 2 will be published on Wednesday.

    WATCH: SA Rugby magazine teaser video

    Photo: Chris Joubert/Black Bean Productions

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    Craig Lewis