[imagesource: Chris Joubert]
Long before Siya Kolisi was a Rugby World Cup-winning captain, and an inspiration to millions around the world, he was a hungry child trying desperately to stop the pains in his stomach.
You may recall the uproar around Jeremy Daniel’s book, published in August 2019, which Siya stated was written without his consent.
In Rise, there is raw emotion and total honesty from the Bok skipper, with parts of his book appearing in The Sunday Times ahead of its release.
First up, his living conditions:
The roof was always leaking, and the curtains were so thin that the house was light as soon as dawn broke. Four rooms might sound spacious enough, but not when you consider all the people who were living there.
There were usually six or seven, sometimes more. It was cramped and we were always on top of each other. My bed was a pile of cushions on the floor, and most nights I could hear the rats running around and feel them as they scampered over me.
Siya’s mother was just 18 when she had him, and his father was 15, so he was raised largely by his grandmother.
Money was tighter than tight, and at times they couldn’t afford his annual school fees of R50.
I did what I could to help: I was selling alcohol and vegetables on the street, and sometimes making bricks too. I can’t have been more than eight or nine…
Once, when we didn’t have enough money to buy me a new pair of shoes, I wore my aunt’s shoes to school, and the other kids teased me about it for months. We were certainly too poor to afford toys. I used to use a brick and pretend it was a car. It was the best thing ever.
Every rugby coach has joked about how their players should skip breakfast on Saturdays so that they’re hungry for the ball.
Meanwhile, in Siya’s world, hunger was a day to day struggle:
During term time, I knew I’d get at least one meal each day at school…
Outside of term time, I didn’t even have that safety net. When there was no food in our house, I would hang out at the neighbours’ places and ask for food. They’d give whatever they could, sometimes allowing me to keep my pride — and more importantly my family’s — by getting me to fetch something from the store and then giving me food as a reward…
It’s hard to explain hunger, proper hunger, to people who’ve never experienced it. Hunger is not just being hungry, the brief sensation of discomfort which lasts only a few hours until the next meal. Being hungry is easy and commonplace. Hunger is different. It’s all-consuming. It was all I could feel and all I could think about. My stomach seemed to twist in on itself, and the more I tried to ignore the pain there, the worse it got.
Siya’s grandmother died suddenly, collapsing in the kitchen.
He actually caught her as she fell, before a pastor who lived next door arrived and told him that she had passed away.
From that point on, Siya says Zwide seemed “an even scarier place than before”:
People fought, all the time. Men fought with men, men beat women — my mother and other women in my family were subjected to violence — and men and women beat children.
People were angry, sometimes they were drunk. When everyone is prepared to resort to violence at the drop of a hat, it becomes totally normal, that was just how it was.
Often I’d be woken in the night by screams and shouts outside, and when I went to the window I’d see brutal beatings happening in the street. Sometimes it was my dad, and the sounds of him crying and screaming used to go straight through me and chill me to the bone.
In another excerpt from his book, again from The Sunday Times, Siya speaks about how his grandmother’s death led to him hanging out with a group of older kids, “drinking, smoking weed, [and] sniffing petrol:
We’d squeeze five rands’ worth out of the pump, shake it up in a plastic bottle and inhale the fumes. I was only eight or nine, thinking I was tough and just wanting to fit in.
If I’d gone much further down that path, I could have ended up a tsotsi, a young criminal, and from there you only have two real options: jail or death. Or both.
Thankfully, both for Siya and for South Africa, sport saved him from going down that path.
He ended up at Grey PE, where he excelled, and the rest is history.
The Springboks are the number one ranked side in the world (which is deserved, despite what some Kiwi journalists will argue), and Siya continues to inspire the next generation:
— Anton Chait (@Jorseb) October 4, 2021
You can order Rise online here.
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