'Siya Kolisi: Against All Odds' giveaway

Hier kom die Bok-ography! One lucky reader can win a copy of Jeremy Daniel's biography on Siya Kolisi - simply read the extract and answer the question

29 October 2019 - 12:07
By Jonathan Ball Publishers
'Siya Kolisi: Against All Odds'.
Image: Jonathan Ball Publishers 'Siya Kolisi: Against All Odds'.

When Siya Kolisi leads the Springboks out onto the field at the Rugby World Cup in September 2019, it will be the crowning glory of an incredible journey that began on the impoverished streets of Zwide, a township outside Port Elizabeth. As the first black South African to captain a Springbok rugby team, Kolisi’s remarkable story is unique and deserves to be heard.

His mother was a teenager when he was born. She left him in the care of his grandmother who brought him up until she died (in his arms) when Siya was twelve. He found love and acceptance playing junior rugby with the African Bombers club until his talent was spotted by the prestigious Grey High School who offered Siya a full scholarship that changed his life.

He adapted well to the posh private school, but it was on the rugby field where he excelled. Siya was rewarded with a call-up the SA schools team and a contract to join the Western Province rugby union.

Author Jeremy Daniel tracks Siya’s journey from running wild on the streets of Zwide, through some crucial games in high school, into the Western Province rugby set-up and his fight to become Springbok captain. He goes deep inside the systems that identify junior talent, the characters who shaped his journey and the moments where he showed who he really was. Siya never forgot where he came from, and ultimately adopted his mother’s other two children after she died when he was in high school.

His life has not been without controversy, and his marriage to a fiery young white woman was a lightning rod for racial politics. But he is a shining beacon of hope for South Africa, he is massively popular and there is a huge appetite from the public to know about his life and to support him as Springbok captain.


Growing up, Siya had never had a real home of his own. He had been welcomed in dozens of homes around the country, but always as a guest or a visitor. Creating a home with Rachel was a tremendously healing process for him. Of course, he had loved his time in digs with his rugby brothers and his school friends, but those days were over and he was thriving on a renewed sense of purpose and mission towards his family.

The couple used to tease one another about which of them was the more romantic, and they would often set up elaborate dates and outings together, so it was no surprise to Rachel when ‘he came home from training one day with a huge bunch of flowers and made me breakfast in bed, and told me to pack a bag’. She thought that he had probably booked a hotel for the night, but in fact they went straight off to a helipad for a helicopter trip over Cape Town. It was the first time either of them had been in a helicopter, and Siya was having second thoughts by the time they finally took off.

‘Siya was freaking out. His hands were sweating and shaking,’ Rachel told City Press. But there was no turning back, so they climbed in and held on tight as the chopper took off. The views were spectacular, and were almost enough to cancel out the butterflies that were churning in Siya’s stomach, both from the helicopter trip and from the engagement ring he was carrying in his pocket. ‘We’re going to crash. This thing is going to fall,’ he told himself.

Up there above the clouds, looking out over the city that had embraced him, and that he had been proud to represent for the last three years, Siya pulled out the ring and proposed to Rachel. He was ‘shaking like a leaf’, but she accepted. In the video taken by the pilot, you can see Rachel laughing with delight as Siya puts the ring on her finger, and then they fall into one another’s arms and kiss in a classic fairy-tale moment.

They couldn’t wait to tell Liyema and Liphelo, and upon seeing their reactions to the news, Siya knew immediately he had made the right choice for a wife.

Rachel was under no illusions about the difficulty of being married to an international rugby player who was travelling around the world for months at a time.

‘It is not so normal trying to raise children with someone constantly travelling. And it’s tough to just stay at home. But these are sacrifices I have decided to make,’ she told City Press. But she was also quick to acknowledge that they had been blessed by the opportunities that rugby had given them, including the means to bring up two children. ‘Rugby has always been a part of Siya. It came before all of us – me and the kids.’

 The family spent a happy December together, secure in the knowledge that they were committing themselves to a life together. As 2015 rolled around and thoughts turned to the new season, Rachel and Siya were delighted to find out that they could expect their first child in September of that year.

* * *

(Note: During their engagement, Siya injures the ligaments in his ankle in a game against the Waikato Chiefs)

Siya and Rachel had imagined their wedding day hundreds of times since their engagement. None of the scenarios they envisaged involved Siya walking up the aisle on crutches wearing a controlled ankle motion boot, also known as a ‘moon boot’, to protect his ankle. But that was the reality, and so they just rolled with it.

There was a threat of rain hanging over the Cape Winelands that weekend in August 2016, but it did nothing to dampen the excitement at the Molenvliet Oosthuizen Family Vineyards as the big day dawned. Siya had asked Nick Holton to be his best man, while team-mates like Scarra, Nizaam and Eben were among the groomsmen. There was plenty of playful banter and teasing as the men gathered hours before the ceremony and got dressed. Siya wore a regal deep-blue tuxedo that contrasted nicely with his groomsmen, who were wearing classic black suits with white shirts.

Rachel’s dress had been designed by Jenny le Roux and the team at Habits Fashion in Claremont. They had created a stunning gown complete with French Chantilly lace and Italian jewels. The white gown contrasted with the sleek black dresses worn by Rachel’s bridesmaids, and the symbolism of black and white coming together in a joyous occasion was lost on no one.

Liyema, Liphelo and little Nicholas were super-excited and they charged around the wedding venue in their custom-fitted suits. ‘It’s a big step forward for all of us,’ Rachel told the TV magazine show Top Billing. ‘It’ll be good for them and bring more security to their lives.’   

The 200 guests crammed into a small old wine cellar, with oak barrels lining one wall, and waited for the bride to make her entrance as the rain fell outside. Siya had always been good at keeping his emotions in check on the playing field, but when he saw his bride walking towards him, something inside him cracked open and he struggled to keep it together.

There were tears all around as Rachel’s dad walked her down the aisle and the ceremony began.‘Siya’s not normally an emotional guy,’ Eben told the TV journalists, ‘but I think seeing the love of your life coming down the aisle – any man will get emotional.’

The ceremony was beautiful and so was the party afterwards.

Everyone could see the love and commitment that the couple felt towards one another and it infused the weekend with warmth and happiness. This was one of the few times that Siya was able to bring all the elements of his life together – his family from Zwide, his school friends and his teammates from Western Province and the Springboks, as well as Rachel and the whole Smith family.

The best part for Siya was ‘seeing friends and family come together, people who’ve never met before, and for my brother and sister to see what this life is about, which is something I never had.’ Many of the guests stayed the whole weekend and partied with Siya and Rachel into the early hours of the morning, watching as he tried his best to half-dance with one good leg.

The wedding was big news all over the country. For better or worse, everyone was interested in the Kolisi wedding. As a multiracial couple in a country still struggling to reconcile its feelings about race, Siya and Rachel began to attract comment from the best and the worst of people. Rachel was on the receiving end of some truly hateful comments, but she took it all in her stride and coped in her usual no-nonsense way.


One lucky reader can win a copy of Siya Kolisi: Against All Odds. Enter by answering the following question: what is a controlled action motion boot better known as? Email your answer to Mila de Villiers (mila@book.co.za) by Monday November 4.