Mandela would not have backed quotas, says Kolisi

I wouldn’t want to be picked for my skin colour – first black Bok captain

Captain Siya Kolisi knows the Boks need to produce a positive result against Australia on Saturday
Captain Siya Kolisi knows the Boks need to produce a positive result against Australia on Saturday
Image: Gallo Images

Springbok skipper Siya Kolisi has said he does not believe former president Nelson Mandela would have backed racial quotas for the national team.

Speaking to a Japanese news agency during a recent visit to that country, Kolisi said: “I don’t think he [Mandela] would have supported that [quotas], but I don’t know him.

“I would not want to be picked because of my skin colour because that surely would not be good for the team, and the guys around you would know.”

Speaking in deeply personal terms‚ given his own poverty stricken upbringing before a rugby scholarship to Grey High in Port Elizabeth provided opportunities he otherwise would not have had‚ Kolisi said that players needed to be properly prepared for Test rugby.

“If you’re going to talk about transformation‚ you’ve got to start there [in the townships].”

Kolisi‚ 27‚ made the comments to Kyodo News as an ambassador for a large Japanese electronics company.

But his comments‚ suggesting that Mandela would not have supported quotas (SA Rugby has transformation targets and not quotas‚ which is a subtle but important distinction), caused some rumbling on social media.

Kolisi‚ who in 2018 became the first black man to captain the Springboks at Test level‚ said he would not have made it to the top had he not gone to an “English” school.

“Imagine I didn’t go to an English school‚” Kolisi said.

“I wouldn’t have eaten properly. I wouldn’t have grown properly and I wouldn’t have had the preparation the other boys did.

“When I went to the English school [Grey High]‚ I had to compete against boys who had been eating six meals a day‚ each and every single day of their lives. It’s tough.

“So if you force someone into the Springbok team‚ and maybe if they’re not good enough and they have one bad game‚ you probably will never see them again.

“We need to be prepared. At Currie Cup level you could try players out and push them in and see how they do.”

Kolisi‚ perhaps inadvertently‚ suggested that success and forced transformation were mutually exclusive.

“Representing South Africa is tough because people want results and they want transformation‚” Kolisi said.

“Look, the guys that are playing now ... I think the talent is there‚ 100%.

“It’s tough for us as players because when you put a certain amount or number on it [transformation]‚ are you actually there because you’re good enough or ... Even if you are good enough, you [a black player] can doubt yourself.”

Bok coach Rassie Erasmus admitted he had failed to reach his transformation targets in 2018‚ but also told SuperSport that he would not pick a black player just to meet a target.

Under an agreement between South African rugby officials and the government, half the Springbok team at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan should be black.

In 14 Tests in 2018, 67 blacks were chosen in the runon teams – an average of less than five per international instead of the goal of at least seven.

Many South Africans reacted angrily on social media to the comments of Kolisi, who finished his first season as captain with a seven wins-seven losses record.

One theme among critics was that Kolisi owed his place in the national team to the quota system.

Mandela became a major supporter of SA rugby, despite it being dominated by white players and officials when he became president in 1994.

A movie, Invictus, was made about the backing Madiba gave the 1995 Rugby World Cupwinning Springboks, including wearing a replica jersey of captain Francois Pienaar at the final.

The Springboks beat the All Blacks 15-12 after extra time in the title decider at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium.