Springbok captain and philanthropist, Siya Kolisi’s rise from humble beginnings inspires hope for South Africans and people the world over



Springbok 2019 Rugby World Cup-winning captain Siyamthanda ‘Siya’ Kolisi, recently launched a poignant autobiography, titled ‘Rise’, inspired by his late  mother’s name Phakama, which translates to the book’s title.

Born on June 16, 1991, in the township of Zwide, Gqeberha (formerly known as Port Elizabeth) in South Africa, Kolisi’s lived experience is a universal outlook many can relate to – regardless of race, gender or creed. Not only does his story resonate with countless people from disadvantaged backgrounds, it also lays bare the umaginable struggles that many endure.

Born to teenage parents, his grandmother made the decision to raise him. At 9 years old, she passed on leaving his aunt as his next legal guardian.

Kolisi recalls how the family would often struggle to make ends meet and go hungry for days, with no money for basic human needs.

Violence was also a regular occurrence in his environment. “People in my community fought with each other all the time. Men fought with men, men beat women, children got beaten by their parents – even my mother was subjected to this when she was still alive. People were generally angry, turned to alcohol and would resort to violence at the drop of a hat. Many nights I would wake up to screams and gun shots,” he writes.

His first big break came when a local rugby coach saw potential in him, and took it upon himself to mentor Kolisi and other boys in the Zwide community. This led to him being sought after by rugby coaches. He ultimately received a sports scholarship to attend the esteemed Grey High School. His transition from extreme poverty to being surrounded by privilege was not easy, but he quickly realised the opportunities it presented. He vowed to seize his lucky break but never forgetting where he came from.

Following a successful high school rugby career, Kolisi went on to represent the Stormers, a Western Province rugby franchise. He later joined  South Africa’s National Rugby Team, affectionately known as the ‘Springboks’, where  he was soon named  captain – the first black  captain in Springbok history – 2018. This was a significant accomplishment, considering Kolisi’s background, not to mention the discriminatory history of South African rugby, which used to exclude black players. He went on to lead the Springboks to victory against England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Through it all, Kolisi never forgot where he came from and he never lost hope in his country and her people. He says, “despite South Africa’s many socio-economic challenges, we are a great people, and we are kind, generous, passionate, fun-loving, open, talented, creative, driven, resilient. People work hard in the week and on the weekends love nothing more than to meet up with friends and enjoy their company. History has battered our country time and time again, yet we still endure.”

Rise comes out at an important time, when South Africans are grappling with unemployment, poverty, inequality and gender based violence. The book is a much needed reminder that, if we support one another, we can rise above the odds.

In April 2020, Kolisi and his wife Rachael founded the Kolisi Foundation through which they want to positively contribute to issues facing our country. These include poverty alleviation and putting an end to gender based violence. The majority of the proceeds from the book are going to the Foundation to ensure that its vision of changing people’s lives is realised. What a truly inspiring South African story!

Visit www.kolisifoundation.org to find out how you can get involved in making a change in the lives of the disadvantaged.

About Brand South Africa

Brand South Africa is the official marketing agency of South Africa, with a mandate to build the country’s brand reputation, in order to improve its global competitiveness. Its aim is also to build pride and patriotism among South Africans, in order to contribute to social cohesion and nation brand ambassadorship.

About Play Your Part

Play Your Part is a nationwide programme created to inspire, empower and celebrate active citizenship in South Africa.  It aims to lift the spirit of our nation by inspiring all South Africans to contribute to positive change, become involved and start doing. A nation of people who care deeply for one another and the environment in which they live is good for everyone.

Play Your Part is aimed at all South Africans – from corporates and individuals, NGOs and government, churches and schools, from the young to the not-so-young.  It aims to encourage South Africans to use some of their time, money, skills or goods to contribute to a better future for all.

About the Kolisi Foundation

Siya and Rachel Kolisi established the Kolisi Foundation in April 2020. The Foundation was birthed through Siya and Rachel’s desire to change the story of inequality in South Africa, responding with compassion and courage to the challenges faced by our nation.

Proudly rooted in their home country, Siya and Rachel are compelled by a strong conviction that every little small act of change matters. With hearts willing to respond, hands ready to serve, and heads ready to learn, the Kolisi Foundation team is committed to the vision of changing the narrative of inequality in South Africa.