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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

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Siya rises to the occasion on and off the field

Published Oct 18, 2021


As a literary project, Siya Kolisi’s book Rise is a microcosm of what good literature should be. Everyone who worked on it did a splendid job; the editor edited, the proofreader proofed and read.

Lifting the Webb Ellis Cup was the highlight at the Rugby World Cup was the highlight of Kolisi’s career. Picture: Christophe Ena (AP)

All it has to do is sit on the top-seller shelves of the bookstores - where it is deservedly headed, and those who worked on the aesthetics of the cover have surely selected the best picture of this specimen to lure buyers, and the book will undoubtedly fly off the shelves.

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Kolisi is the epitome of what has become possible for the youth of South Africa. Picture: Peter Cziborra (Reuters)

It is the sort of book that shows the subject - more the man, than the topic -who is well loved and is surrounded by good people, who wish him well.

Kolisi has achieved what many can only dream of accomplishing in their lifetime. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko (Reuters)

Of course the game of rugby has its faithful millions!

There are no passenger words throughout the 302 pages (his personal statement at the back stretches the book to 307 pages). Every word is deployed like a rugby player to do a particular job on the tale being told here.

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There’s a cliche in the book world which goes: if it reads easily, it took hard work to write.

This applies to Rise, a title that derives from the Springbok rugby captain’s own mother’s isiXhosa name, Phakama.

If you read the book as I did - like a man on the wrong side of 50 who was 25 donkey’s years back, you will marvel at the wisdom of this new generation of twenty-somethings that Kolisi represents. He dabbled in the debauchery of youth and was swiftly out before he could be a statistic.

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The highlight of turning a new leaf - and becoming a better man, in his words, was giving his life to Christ.

At 25 I was personally busy with other things, far removed from inching me closer to fulfilling my God-given talent and potential.

But Kolisi was precocious enough to appreciate that his family life in Zwide township, near what is now called Gqeberha, was unfortunate and led only to a cul-de-sac. His sure way out was his only talent.

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He writes about family and community, warts and all. This is the maturity of someone who knows who they are - where they come from and where they are going.

This mindset makes it easy for Kolisi to appreciate his good fortune and the opportunities that opened up for him. He knows - we all know - many gifted sports stars who did not live up to their potential and gave in to substance abuse.

Today they tell a very different story to what is contained in Rise.

The argument is that rugby has good nursery programmes that sees to the holistic development of a player, as opposed to soccer. This school of thought holds that the likes of Kolisi would succeed because rugby leaves no room for failures. But if you read this book, you will soon detect that there was no way Kolisi could have turned out differently. He has always been hungry, literally and figuratively, for success, and to leave the life of crime and grime in Zwide behind.

Of course, he will return now, as part of the Kolisi Foundation that aims to lift others as they rise.

I do not care very much about rugby. I know about the feat of the 1995 Rugby World Cup because Madiba and Francois Pienaar were the toast of the country at that kumbaya moment. I know about Chester Williams and other black guys because they represented a departure from the segregated past.

I have no interest in finding out what a ‘try’ is and how goals are tallied in rugby.

But a book like this brings you closer to the game, just as the tale of the Number 6 jersey did in 1995 to spark interest in the game of rugby.

This is a book about rising against all odds.

What makes it even sweeter is that it is the life story of one of our own, a son of the soil whose idea of a united South Africa is so refreshing.

[Auto] biographies are like the aristocrats of literature. This is one fine example of the genre.

As an old dog, I’ve certainly learned new tricks by paging through this masterpiece.

The book is published by HarperCollins and sells for R320