One of the best parts of hosting a talk show is listening to stories that reignite your hope in a world that all too often seems hell bent on self-destruction.
From the astonishing Pieter du Preez becoming the first quadriplegic to do an Ironman, to Ashwin Willemse’s escape from life as a gangster to become a World Cup winner, I’ve heard dozens of stories that lift the spirits and renew faith. But I’m not sure any of them have been quite so heart-warming as the tale of Siya Kolisi’s family reunion.
Kolisi has forged a reputation as a strong, hard-working loose forward, and after his dazzling footwork against the Lions a few weeks ago, a player with the sort of flair we don’t see nearly enough of in local rugby. That you’ll already know; you may also be aware, if you’ve heard him interviewed, that he’s a warm and genuine man with a ready sense of humour, frequently at the expense of close mate Scarra Ntubeni.
But what you probably don’t know is the story of Kolisi’s family. He has 2 younger half siblings, now 14 and 9, who’d moved away with their father; he subsequently passed away, and the kids ended up in social services, and out of contact with their big brother. Kolisi had no idea where they were – until a cousin of his found out where they were, and passed the information on to an up-and-coming young rugby player who’d just been included in the Springbok squad.
Kolisi duly set off for the Eastern Cape, tracked down his little brother and sister, and re-introduced himself. His honest recollection of that moment brings tears to the eyes (in Kolisi as well): his little sister was scared of him at first, but then reached out and touched his face, and from there the strongest of bonds took root very firmly.
The reunion itself is a beautiful story, but it’s what happened next that reveals Kolisi as a real giant of a man. He kick-started the long, administratively fraught process of becoming legal guardian to two kids who’d probably given up hope of being part of a family again. With the intent we’re used to seeing on the rugby field, Kolisi stuck to the task, and his siblings are now in Cape Town, living with their big brother, his partner Rachel, and their son Nicholas, the Kolisi tribe now happily united.
“I can’t go out all night with Scarra any more,” Kolisi reflects with a rueful smile, as he discusses the life he finds himself living now – but there’s no sense of regret. Instead, there’s a quiet pride that, coupled with the obvious joy of having his brother and sister with him, speaks volumes of an enormously mature and level-headed man. A man who, lest we forget, is just 24-years-old.
It’s a big year for the Stormers loose forward: he’s getting married in August (“it’s a bring and braai,” he says with a very straight face), but before that he’s hoping to add to his collection of Springbok caps against Ireland. He’d be a shrewd inclusion in Allister Coetzee’s first squad, not just for his immense rugby talent, but for the leadership qualities he wears so easily as well.
But whether he’s in a Stormers jersey or a Springbok one, the qualities of Siya Kolisi the man stand above all else: big brother, guardian, father, husband-to-be, and example to all of us of the importance and value of family.
Catch The Dan Nicholl Show at 7pm on SuperSport 1 on Wednesday nights, and follow Dan on Twitter at @dannicholl.