Springbok Sevens captain Siviwe Soyizwapi defied his mother’s wishes, but ended up making her proud nonetheless. From Nqanqarhu in the Eastern Cape, Soyizwapi leads the most enterprising and successful national team in South Africa.
“My mother hated rugby, she was against the idea of me playing the sport when I was growing up,” says the national asset. “She thought I would break a leg or arms and obviously she thought I won’t be able to focus at school. So at a young age, I had a huge task to convince her that I can do both and still not fail. I think I was good in the sport from a young age.”
It all started in Gqaqhala, the village in which Soyizwapi was born and where rugby is the most played sport. The now 29-year-old played for the Border Bulldogs at the Under-18 Academy Week in 2010, earning a call-up to the South African Under-18 High Performance team. He joined the Eastern Province Kings Academy after that, and had a surprising advocate as he rose up the ranks.
“The decision to play rugby and become professional was hugely influenced by my mother, even though she was against it when I was young. In the few contracts I had received to play professionally, there was only one that was going to take me to school to study. [I would be able to] play and study at the same time. She told me to choose [that one].
“So it’s not always a bad thing to go after what you love and what you want, as long as you will show your parents effort. My parents were not difficult and strict towards me in regards to school, they waited to hear from me what will I be or want to be when I grow up. There was no pressure from them to choose which career, as long as I was studying. So, unfortunately for them, I loved rugby more than anything. It was important to me. Although I did manage to balance them both, my books and rugby, it was the sport that took the lead and caught my attention.”
Injury and inspiration
This didn’t mean, however, that his mother’s concerns were unfounded. Soyizwapi has had a number of injuries in his career, including the current shoulder issue that will see him miss the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town later this year. But this and past injuries only fire him up once he recovers.
“I never thought I would be here today. Bear in mind, I didn’t even know what I wanted to be when I grew up at school. But as you grow up, your eyes slowly start to see. You see your talents, things you are good at,” said Soyizwapi.
“That’s what happened to me, to my life. I have leaders and mentors, people who play a huge role in my life, those who contributed towards my life and career, making me the person I am today. They all made me able to inspire and encourage people where I am from, in my village back at home, especially those who have the same dreams as me.”
Shakes, as he is affectionately known, made his first-class debut in the 2012 Currie Cup Promotion/Relegation series with the Eastern Province Kings. He moved to the Western Cape to join the Stormers on a short-term loan in the 2014 Super Rugby season, as a cover for the franchise at wing and fullback. This was after many injuries to their then regular, Springbok wing Cheslin Kolbe.
Soyizwapi’s crowning moment is the success he has achieved with the Blitzboks, earning 89 caps. He led the side to gold at the World Rugby Sevens Series in 2021, after being named captain in 2019.
A desire for medals
Despite their dominance in the sport, the Blitzboks have twice failed to claim gold at the Olympics. “I don’t have an Olympic gold medal and I don’t have a World Cup gold medal. All the standalone tournaments that I have participated in, including the Commonwealth Games, I don’t have a medal. If I can get those…” he says.
“When I retire, even though I don’t know what I will be doing, I want to be able to say I won this and that. If I can get that – it doesn’t necessarily have to be all of them – but if I can try to get some this year, that would be better.”
Soyizwapi’s biggest accomplishment, though, is getting his parents fully on board with an idea they once frowned upon.
“My parents haven’t stopped listening and watching all my interviews, be it on TV or radio. To them, it’s the best thing ever. They fully support me. Even though they wanted me to go to school, they were not entirely against my first love, rugby. To them, it makes them happy to see me flourish and succeed in life because of rugby and also to see that I have never ignored school.
“They are my pillar of strength, to be honest. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. I know at times we give credit to those who gave us the first chance in our careers, but for me it’s them as they initiated all of this from my primary school days of them going against it.”