- Springbok captain Siya Kolisi has broken his silence on the Black Lives Matter debate, explaining that he needed to take his time to reflect.
- The 29-year-old has arguably been affected by the movement dominating discourse in SA sport more than most given his immensely challenging upbringing in extreme poverty.
- Kolisi has implored South Africans to "have the difficult conversations" and move out of "comfort zones".
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi took his time to speak out on the Black Lives Matter debate sweeping through South African sport because "to me it's been about more than sport".
The 29-year-old flanker, who has played an integral part in the national team's ability to unite the country, has more reason than most to ponder a response to the global movement as his life of initial hardship perfectly exemplifies what it's about - anti-racism, equality and justice.
"My mentality was always about survival," Kolisi said in a video posted on his Instagram account, in reference to the extreme poverty he had to endure as a youngster.
"I felt my life didn't matter when I was a kid growing up in the townships. This debate has been about everyday life for me."
Kolisi highlighted having to sell fruit as an eight-year-old to ensure he didn't go to sleep on an empty stomach as well as being a bartender at 16 to make ends meet.
Even from a rugby perspective, Kolisi grappled with the sport's more subtle inequalities.
Despite earning a scholarship at Grey High in Port Elizabeth, he had to essentially learn English from scratch and didn't enjoy the benefits of a stable family environment as many of his schoolmates.
"I was an A-student in the townships and then had to adapt to a culture that wasn't mine. I felt so stupid when I was failing because I didn't understand the language," said Kolisi.
It was only when one of his hostel friends, Nick Holton actively started giving him English lessons that he managed to make headway.
His initial foray into international rugby - he made his debut in 2013 under Heyneke Meyer - was also a challenge.
"Everything was done in Afrikaans. The calls were in Afrikaans and I couldn't speak it. It affected me, I felt stupid again," said Kolisi.
"The culture just wasn't there. I didn't feel like I was representing my country, it felt as if I wasn't valued enough and that I should just be grateful being there."
It was only in 2018, when Rassie Erasmus took over as national coach, that Kolisi saw things change for the better, with Erasmus "immediately and honestly addressing the issue of transformation".
The rest, as they say, is history.
Kolisi reiterated that he understands that many people's view on BLM is perhaps down to unwitting ignorance because of the "bubble" they live in.
"I just want to encourage people to step out of their comfort zone, to have those difficult conversations," he said.
"There is no time to be scared or silent. I will no longer keep quiet."
- Compiled by Sport24 Staff