Even by today’s reality TV standards, this has been a pretty schizophrenic week for Springbok captain Siya Kolisi.
As he took to his social media platforms to canvass votes for his nomination for the Laureus “Best Sporting Moment of the Year” for running out as the first black Springbok captain last year, the majority of the people he would have counted on to do his bidding for that award were positively at war with him.
Most of the country – Black Twitter to be exact – was in typically vitriolic mode over comments made by the Bok captain while recently on a trip to Japan, while the right wing element that’s always been at the core of white rugby support in South Africa was heartily congratulating him for his “honesty” for the very same utterances.
So much for “Uniting The Rainbow Nation”, as the Laureus Foundation captioned the video depicting Kolisi’s big moment at Ellis Park.
Said comments were something along the lines of (there has been so much wilful misinterpretation on both sides of the divide that defines our rugby that one almost forgets what Kolisi actually said) Nelson Mandela wouldn’t have supported the quota system; that you can’t put a number on something like transformation; and that he wouldn’t want to be picked based on the colour of his skin.
Apart from the rookie error of deigning to know the late Madiba’s thoughts on transformation, the only other mistake Kolisi made was being inarticulate in making the statement to the point where it was open to almost libellous interpretation by bandwagonists and self-appointed real blacks.
As a result, Black Twitter took turns labelling him weak, possessing zero political acumen, an Uncle Tom and a sellout.
The main bones of contention have been the “quota system and numbers” comments, the counter rightly being that had there been no minimum numbers imposed on rugby we wouldn’t even have the unsatisfactory integration we have.
There is no doubt that if the vast majority of our rugby coaches were left to their own devices with regards to playing black players there would be little, if any, movement on that front.
If you want proof of that, consider that of all the SA coaches that have been hired by clubs in the UK, Japan and France over the years, not one has ever signed a black South African player – suggesting they wouldn’t pick them if they didn’t have to.
But the same quota system people are embracing at Kolisi’s expense has systematically and consistently belittled black players and made it permissible for white fans to glibly dismiss great black rugby players as quotas.
This is the same system that decreed that a Gcobani Bobo could be an SA Schools captain on merit but once he turned professional he was officially a “quota”, while some of the white players he would have captained at school were presumably the “real deal”.
So how is it that when Kolisi suggests a system which relies on box-ticking and threats of punitive measures to work is flawed we all gang up on him?
The most disappointing thing for me has been the accusations that now that he’s supposedly on top of the pile, Kolisi kicked away the ladder that got him there with his comments.
The visit to Japan was to find a way he and his sponsors Panasonic could do more for the underprivileged to go with the fact that he still provides kit for his Primary School from Port Elizabeth and his old club African Bombers, paying their travel costs out of his own pocket.
Add the fact that he’s adopted his own siblings so they can grow up in a family unit, as opposed to the foster system, and you have a 27-year-old with a far greater sense of responsibility than the so-called grown-ups holding up his being married to a white woman to question his blackness.
By the looks of it, we were happier when the first black Springbok captain sang a mean Gwijo and minded his own business, but the moment he displayed real leadership by saying what he really thought we want him back in his box.
Kolisi may be a reluctant leader who does not fit the identikit of a Springbok captain because he neither looks nor sounds like any of his predecessors, but we shouldn’t mistake that for a lack of leadership ability.
Besides, since when have words been louder than actions?