By Robson Sharuko
Harare – The player South African rugby authorities settled on to end 127 years of history to become the first black man to officially captain the Springboks was always going to divide opinion, on both sides of the races, in a country where racial divisions run deep.
And a nation where rugby remains a deeply divisive sport despite creating a picture of a sporting discipline that represents all of South Africa’s people.
The selection of a black man to captain the side made headlines around the world. Siya Kolisi was this week named as the first black captain of the Boks for the high-profile three-Test series against England, which gets underway this month.
The Springboks host England at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on June 9, before matches in Bloemfontein and Cape Town on the following Saturdays.
As fate would have it, Kolisi was born on June 16, the very day the Rainbow Nation remembers the uprising by the students of Soweto against the apartheid rulers leading to the massacre of scores of them in the ensuing crackdown by the military of that racist regime.
Kolisi turns 27 on June 16.
Pieter-Steph du Toit will captain the Boks for their match against Wales in Washington before Kolisi takes over for the three Tests against the English.
“It’s a huge honour to captain the Springboks and Siya and Pieter-Steph are two honest, hard-working men who enjoy the respect of their fellow players,” coach Rassi Erasmus said in a media release from South African Rugby on Monday.
“I believe both of them will do a good job as captains. My philosophy is that each player must take responsibility for his position and must, therefore, work extremely hard with that one goal in mind – to make the Springboks successful again.”
Kolisi’s appointment has been warmly greeted in some quarters, who feel that it represents a monumental shift in the history of the game in South Africa. But the move has also been condemned by other factions of the racially-divided country.
Questions on whether the player was not being used as a window-dresser to try and send a false message that things were changing in the game, have surfaced. Kolisi’s credentials are being questions because he grew up in grinding poverty in the Eastern Cape, before finding a way to stardom through his brilliance as a rugby star,
The timing of Kolisi’s appointment has also raised some eyebrows given that it came after days when South Africa had to deal with the damaging row which erupted after a fallout, live on television, between a black SuperSport pundit and his two white colleagues.
“I unfortunately can’t celebrate fake nomination of Siya Kolisi as the captain of Springboks,” said @LuthoZA on Twitter, which has become a battleground these days.
“Knowing white people they intentionally selected him to quell racism in rugby as non-existent. South Africa’s rugby should be filled with black players in all positions on the field.”
And, that Kolisi married a white woman, Rachel, whom he wedded two years ago at a glitzy vineyard ceremony before they came to Victoria Falls for their honeymoon, hasn’t helped either.
“South African whites love black men that are married to white women, i.e. Siya Kolisi, Mmusi...,” said @uSifundo on Twitter.
Mmusi Maimane is the leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, which some South Africans view as a party that represents white interests.
Of course, Maimane, who is also married to a white woman, was one of those who wished Kolisi all the best in his new role as Springbok skipper.
“Wishing @Siya Kolisi great success as he captains the Springboks,” he said on Twitter.
Breyton Paulse, a former South African rugby player, also took to Twitter to salute Kolisi.
“Congrats Siya Kolisi who will Captain them Boks for the incoming Tests vs England, Welldone to Pieter-Steph Du Toit who will Captain the Boks vs Wales, now let’s support these Warriors, so happy for them.”
Byan Habana, who recently retired from international rugby after a stellar career in the Boks’ colours, also took to Twitter to congratulate Kolisi.
“You’ve come a long way my friend!!! Captain Kolisi!!”
However, there was also fury in some white quarters with a number of people struggling to adjust with the reality that, after more than a century, the Boks will now be led by a black player.
“Just another quota player…SA rugby pushing transformation, why don’t they just make the whole team black and one white player,” said @abdomichael1 on Twitter.
Kolisi’s wife Rachel has also been the target of abuse from some racists, from both the black and white wings, for her decision to choose a black rugby star as her husband.
She went to the extent of posting some of the hate messages she has received from some racists.
“Why do white h**s think they can f**k n*****s? F**k your own kind. Leave [Africa] and go back to [Europe] and leave our good men to our own beautiful black women,” was one of the messages she posted on her Twitter account.
“Don’t need you here stealing our men.”
And one respondent said she deserved it.
“Yes Rachel Kolisi, if you want to be married to a savage and have half breed kids, you deserve all the bad that will come your way,” went the response.
She even spoke about a time when she decided to stay away from her Facebook page after getting married to the new Springboks captain.
“It has become monotonous. It is the same thing. They just don’t have anything different to say. And it is not just one race – people from all race groups also say negative things,” she told News24.
“It’s pretty sad. [Trolls] like this make others fear just loving someone. It goes for gay and lesbian people as well. Not just interracial couples. They are not helping us move forward.”