Siya Kolisi - Against All Odds

14 March 2013

by Callan Smith

If you bump into him on the street, he’ll greet you with a smile and crack a joke; in his own words, he likes to keep everyone happy, making sure the people around him are talking and laughing. Siyamthanda Kolisi plays as a loose-forward for the DHL Stormers and this is a short story on his life. 

He sees himself as one of the “clowns” in the DHL Stormers squad but don’t let his jovial nature fool you, Kolisi’s life up until now is a true underdog story; it takes something special to persevere through the hardships that he has had to endure.
 Kolisi knew he would get somewhere in life. That might sound clichéd, but he insisted that he was confident he would accomplish something; otherwise he would not be the happy-go-lucky person that he is today. “I knew I was going to make a success of my life, I was determined to.” He was born in Port Elizabeth on Youth Day, 16 June 1991, and did not enter the world with a silver spoon in his mouth. “It was tough; my parents had me when they were really young and they were not ready for a child. I think my father was in 
matric. I was raised by my grandmother on my father’s side for the majority of my childhood because my mother’s family did not want to look after me and my father left for Cape Town shortly after my birth.”
On some days Kolisi would not eat anything because there was no money to buy food. His grandmother could not afford the R50 a year fees at the township school he attended in Port Elizabeth, and he said that on occasion the school would bar him from attending because of the lack of payment. His grandmother would clean kitchens to earn money and ask friends for bread to put food on the table. “I’m grateful to her, because she did everything she could to give me a life.” He remarks that often his grandmother would go without food so that he could eat. 
When his grandmother fell ill, Kolisi had to stop his schooling to look after her. When she passed away, he went to live with his aunt, who passed away soon after. He then stayed with his mom for a while, until she passed away. At the time of his aunt’s death he was attending Grey PE and living in their hostel.
 With all the afflictions he faced, he remained undaunted, “There were people in worse situations than myself, my family provided for me as best they could and I definitely did not take anything for granted. I made sure that I was always smiling and determined to make the most of any opportunity that was given to me.”
Asked how he got enrolled at Grey PE, he said, “When I was in Grade 6 I went to my first rugby trial and I made the Eastern Province u/12B team. I played in a tournament in Mossel Bay, where I must have impressed because I got given a full scholarship to attend Grey PE.” Kolisi had a passion for rugby, an abundance of raw talent and the rugby field was a place where he felt secure in tumultuous periods in his life. Rugby gave him the opportunity he needed to make something of his life.
 Kolisi credited his close friend for helping him while he lived in the hostel at Grey PE. “I couldn’t speak a word of English when I first attended Grey PE, but my mate Nick Holton, who stayed in the hostel with me, taught me how to speak English and helped me with homework. He is at the University of Cape Town now and I see him often.”
He was thrust into the DHL Stormers starting lineup against the Hurricanes in the opening fixture of the 2012 Super Rugby season, following an injury to Schalk Burger, and the youngster took the opportunity with both hands. “It was sad to come on for our injured captain, but that aside, when I ran on I was fired up! It was always a dream of mine to play at Newlands and the fact that we won in front of the Faithful made it even better.”
Kolisi has become a familiar face amongst the Newland’s Faithful and he is aware of the privilege and opportunity he has to be in the DHL Stormers setup, under Allister Coetzee and the coaching team. Kolisi and Duane Vermeulen both agreed that Coetzee is seen as a “father-figure,” someone that the team look up to and want to impress off and on the field.
 The rugged and bold loosie has overcome many obstacles in his life and he did not let the immense adversity affect his outlook, according to him “it only made me stronger.” With the help of influential people like his late grandmother, the opportunities that rugby provided and a permanent smile on his face, he has managed to achieve so much and make a home for himself at the DHL Stormers.