When Siya Kolisi hoisted the 2019 Rugby World Cup trophy, it seemed like the Hollywood ending of an improbable story. Kolisi, who was born into apartheid and raised in a township in South Africa, had ascended to become the first Black captain of the Springboks, the country’s famed national rugby team.
“Honestly I didn’t know what it meant,” Kolisi told 60 Minutes. “I didn’t realize how big it was until it was announced…I saw myself in every single newspaper, the headlines. Turn on the TV, everybody’s talking about it…I was just happy that was promoted captain. And then I spoke to people. They’re like, ‘But you don’t understand, like, representation matters.'”
60 Minutes correspondent Jon Wertheim profiled the 31-year-old Kolisi
Kolisi was four years old when South Africa won the 1995 Rugby World Cup on home turf. It was the country’s first. Back then, the national team wasn’t supported by many Black South Africans. The team’s lone Black player was Chester Williams. It was not until South African President Nelson Mandela famously donned the Springboks’ jersey and handed captain Francois Pienaar the trophy that South Africa’s Black population began to embrace the team.
“The fact that we won was good, but Mr. Mandela saw that sport is such a powerful [tool] because it unites,” Pienaar told 60 Minutes. “When your country performs, or an individual performs, you are that person, or you are that team. You wear the colors; you’re so invested in the emotions. And I never realized how big it would be. Never.”
Pienaar, who remains a national hero, told Wertheim that the country’s victory in 2019 meant more to South Africans than the team’s 1995 win because the Springboks had a Black captain in Kolisi.
“In South Africa and the townships across the land, everybody, again, was proud,” Pienaar said. “They were world champions, and that is what sport does. Nothing else can do that.”
Kolisi told Wertheim that on the night before the 2019 final, he and his wife Rachel discussed how to use their fame and influence to bring resources to South Africa’s impoverished communities.
“We all want these big moments. It can be just a big moment. That’s it…Or you can use it for so much more,” Kolisi said.
Through their foundation, the Kolisis are working to combat gender-based violence, establishing food programs, and plan to build schools in South Africa’s townships.