Opinion

REVIEW | The uncomfortable truth about ‘Siya Kolisi: Against All Odds’

A month or so ago, award-winning sports presenter Robert Marawa interviewed Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana legend Doctor Khumalo on his MetroFM show, Marawa Sports Worldwide which is simulcast on Radio2000.

Khumalo, as invited by Marawa, was on the show to discuss his latest book which had been written by Olebile Sikwane.

The football legend could not believe that a book had been written about him after he had told Sikwane that he felt the timing of writing the book was not right and that he would decide when the right time for a book detailing his life would be.

“I feel it’s my story and I get to decide when the right time to tell it is,” Khumalo reasoned.

Knowing this, Sikwane set off regardless, writing and publishing the book, describing it as “written unapologetically from a fan’s perspective, the fan who’s also the author, for over twenty years, followed and studied the life of Doctor Khumalo who captivated and thrilled many people during his heyday”.

Which brings us to Jeremy Daniel, author of Against All Odds, the book detailing the life and rise of the Springboks’ first black test captain, Siya Kolisi.

Daniel’s timing was perfect. He launched the book the week the Boks’ 31-man squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan was announced.

Kolisi, however, was quick to clarify that “the book wasn’t written by me or produced with my approval or even knowledge”.

Daniel conceded to this, responding to Kolisi’s statement: “We tried. My publisher spoke to his agent for almost two years and they decided that it wasn’t the right time for him and that he needed to focus on his rugby, so he wasn’t involved officially.”

The uncomfortable truth is that Daniel shouldn’t have written the book, given his liaison with Kolisi’s agent.

Before many take offence to the above statement, let me declare that I am a die hard Springbok supporter and that Daniel tells a well-crafted, well-researched book about a young boy from Zwide who, whenever given an opportunity to make the best of his future, took it.

Daniel is careful in using the people he interviewed and whose stories range from the factual to the anecdotal. He notes: “There was a constant, low-level-anxiety around where the next meal was coming from, and in his immediate environment many children responded to hunger with depression, anger and violence.”

I need not go into how Kolisi responded to these challenges. The trajectory his life took from this moment early in the book to the present is well documented.

People who came into contact with Kolisi were always willing to take a chance on him, support him and invest in him, almost as though they were squinting into the future where they saw the man not only play for the Boks, but also captain them.

Kolisi’s tale, I gather from Daniel’s telling of it, is of a player so destined for greatness, that the South African rugby system in place could not stop him. He is a once-in-a-generation player who carved his path despite the limitations of said system, not because of the system. The latter point is the elephant in the room which needs to be confronted instead of offering up bland platitudes.

I digress.

I’m not privy to Daniel’s motivation for writing the book, but Sikwane made it clear that his was not for any commercial gain. For the “all’s well that ends well” feel to the book, I can’t help but wonder why Daniel didn’t just wait for Kolisi to avail himself and speak about his own life. On his own terms.

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