EXCLUSIVE | Jonathan Mokuena chats to Sport24

Former Blitzboks captain Jonathan Mokuena during The Captain's Table, 20 years of Blitzboks Sevens, at Cape Town Stadium on 13 December 2019.
Former Blitzboks captain Jonathan Mokuena during The Captain's Table, 20 years of Blitzboks Sevens, at Cape Town Stadium on 13 December 2019.
Shaun Roy/Gallo Images
  • Former Lions and Griquas loose forward Jonathan Mokuena talks about transformation in a South African context and creating a level playing field.
  • The ex-Leopards and Varsity Cup-winning coach shares the experiences from his coaching journey and how he has had to fight for everything in life.
  • He also reveals that Peter de Villiers has served as a source of inspiration and defends the former Springbok coach, who he feels was treated unfairly.

Sport24 asked: How does Black Lives Mattert apply within a South African context?

Jonathan Mokuena: In South Africa, people are not always open to listening. The Black Lives Matter movement has been highlighted at the moment and it's not to say that black people are looking for shortcuts or freebies. In a South African context, it's about getting to a point where we can move together in the same direction. When the word transformation is uttered people immediately think it's about getting the black guy to the front of the line without standing in the queue. However, it's not that but rather about thinking differently about things and applying yourself in alternate ways. For me, transformation means an equal playing field for everyone. Rassie Erasmus summed it up perfectly by saying that when some people hear the term transformation they get emotional. It shouldn't be about getting emotional but rather understanding what it takes to get the best group of people to the forefront. In South Africa, we also need to transform our minds in terms of eradicating violence against women and children. Transformation should not only be tagged to black people. For me, it's all about transforming our minds to create a more harmonious society.

Sport24 asked: How would you asses your transition into coaching?

Jonathan Mokuena: Firstly, I need to commend the Leopards Rugby Union and NWU for giving me the opportunity to do something that I love. Owing to the success I managed to achieve with my management staff, I really paid them back. However, I don't think there are enough coaches of colour coming through the South African pipeline and not many people are willing to afford them the opportunity to assume head coaching roles and take charge of the system. In 2020, it's worrying that there aren't enough coaches of colour emerging. I believe SA Rugby can do more in this regard but the problem doesn't lie solely with the mother body. It's the unions that need to make the right decisions to ensure that they get the correct person on board rather than someone they think they can have better control over. It's difficult for the mother body to make the final decision for the union because it doesn't work that way. SA Rugby has a plan in place to fast-track coaches but my question is: Will it only be for coaches of colour and what other issues will that bring to the forefront?

Sport24 asked: Where are you now in your coaching career?

Jonathan Mokuena: I felt it was time to move on and go after the next opportunity. After last year's Varsity Cup, I started getting into discussions with unions. Some seemed keen but at the moment I'm not hearing anything from them... Two years ago, there were'’t a lot of coaches doing well at the time and hence SA Rugby went for Bafana Nhelko to become the SA under-21 head coach. If afforded the opportunity to coach the Junior Springboks, I would definitely have taken it with both hands. It would have been an awesome opportunity to get involved and grow but at the time I don’t think it was meant for me. As we speak, I'm not contracted to any union and if an opportunity comes up I will definitely avail myself. I don't mind starting off at Currie Cup Premier Division level as an assistant coach and working my way up from there. Even though I have been head coach at Varsity Cup and Currie Cup First Division level, working under someone like Jake White would be perfect for me. He has a master rugby brain and I could learn so much from him. Last year, I spent some time with the Hurricanes and Springboks and next year the plan is to learn from the British and Irish Lions coaching team. As a coach, I'm always open to grow and learn from the best who have been at the highest level. Most recently I have been assisting Richard de Jager, who formed part of the Sharks set-up and is now based in the UK, with coaching clinics from under-7 to the senior sides. I conducted a clinic with the Czech Rugby Union before Covid blindsided us.

Sport24 asked: What is your ultimate ambition in coaching?

Jonathan Mokuena: My ultimate goal is to become part of the Springbok coaching setup by the age of 46 or later. On many of my social media posts you will see #46. I want to make it public so I challenge myself to get there. I've put that out into the universe and I'm willing to work my butt off to get there. As the first ever Springbok coach of colour, I draw inspiration from Peter de Villiers. The way he was treated was just unfair. You cannot treat a successful Springbok coach like he was treated. He is not your typical coach with the perfect image, lingo and character in front of the camera. Peter is unique in his own way and I believe we need to transform our minds to get to a point where we understand people who are different to the norm. My dreadlocks are part of me and what make me different but it doesn't have any bearing on my coaching ability. We don't want robotic coaches who think and look the same. My aim is to inspire kids on the Cape Flats to also dream big and achieve their goals. I sometimes return to Lavender Hill and walk around the area because I don't want to ever forget where I come from. But at the same time I need to encourage, uplift and make a change. Benni McCarthy is another sportsman who made it big from the Cape Flats and we used to play soccer against each other. As someone from the Flats, nothing has ever been given for free to me. Looking back in my life, I've always had to fight for what I wanted to achieve. Even now in pursuit of my next coaching job, I am knocking on doors and speaking to agents. Fighting for what I want, what I believe in and what's right is in my DNA.

Sport24 asked: What Springbok loose trio would you select?

Jonathan Mokuena: If I was tasked with selecting the Springbok side, I would opt for Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi and Kwagga Smith as my loose trio. Kwagga has an unbelievable work-rate and a never-say-die attitude. When you have a player like Kwagga, you release Duane more in terms of carries and he doesn’t have to be all over the park because he is now on the older side. Kwagga and Siya can definitely make up for it with their youth. Duane has the ability to fetch but isn’t an out-and-out fetcher, who can slow the ball down and get a turnover. I think the role of a fetcher is even more crucial now with the new rules.

Sport24 asked: Your take on Cecil Afrika's Blitzbok exit?

Jonathan Mokuena: I think the difference between Frankie Horne and Cecil Afrika is that the former was approaching his sell-by date, whereas with the Covid-19 break the latter could have got another two years out of his career. I have watched Cecil over the last few years and I haven’t seen any game in which he was average or below-par. If I had to coach a team now I would definitely pull Cecil in because he is one of those players who has such a low error-rate. I would have kept him in the Sevens system for another two years, especially given the fact that the Cape Town and Dubai Sevens legs have been cancelled due to the pandemic. Now would have been an ideal time for Cecil to get proper conditioning done along with gym work. I haven't spoken to Cecil directly, so I don't know if there are other factors at play behind the scenes but I believe it wasn't the right time for him to walk away.

Sport24 asked: Who would your three dream dinner guests be?

Jonathan Mokuena: As a Liverpool supporter, the first guest on my list would be Jürgen Klopp. I fell asleep watching Liverpool’s last game but I heard my neighbour kept his son up until 2am celebrating their maiden Premier League title! Klopp has created the right culture at the club, has forged a family unit and has enabled a sense of belonging. Something which Steve Komphela said to me, which has always stuck in my head, is that in terms of your players you have to "love them to lead them". Klopp has clearly adopted that approach and is reaping the rewards on Merseyside. From the film and entertainment industry, Denzel Washington would definitely crack an invite. He is very smart and boasts the ability to switch roles seamlessly. I would also have loved to have had late statesman Nelson Mandela around for dinner. Had I met him, it would have been one of the ultimate moments in my life. I draw from Mandela’s humility, fairness and the way he treated everyone around him.

Previous chats:

Tonderai Chavhanga

DTH van der Merwe

Demetri Catrakilis

Joe Rokocoko

Tim Swiel

Grant Esterhuizen

James O'Connor

Clyde Rathbone

Eugene Eloff

Werner Swanepoel

Joe van Niekerk

AJ Venter

Brian McMillan

Kirsten Landman

Scott Hamilton

Wayne Fyvie

Wynand Olivier

James Dalton

Jacques Rudolph

Marco Wentzel

Neil de Kock

Os du Randt

Andre Pretorius

Lloyd Harris

Justin Gatlin

Christian Stewart

Schalk Burger

Jacques Burger

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