CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Six months ago Siya Kolisi led South Africa to Rugby World Cup glory, but is now fighting a new battle as he returns to his roots to help feed those left destitute by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in some of the country’s poorest areas.
That stunning victory in Japan last November shot the Springbok captain to global fame and cemented his place as arguably South Africa’s most recognisable and admired current sportsman.
In a time of crisis for the country, which the National Treasury warned on Thursday could leave an additional seven million people out of work, and the unemployment rate above 50%, Kolisi told Reuters of his new fight to help feed impoverished citizens.
He recently set up the Kolisi Foundation along with wife Rachel, which initially started with the supply of sanitiser and masks for frontline medical workers, but has now moved to filling empty stomachs.
“A lot of people are going hungry, in fact there were a lot before the pandemic, but with people being cut from work and without a job, they can’t even get the little bit (of food) they used to have every day,” Kolisi said.
“We are trying to help out where we can, especially in the township where it is really hard because people don’t have the land to farm. Then in the rural areas, people might have land, but they don’t have access to water. Those are the new challenges that we see every day.”
Thousands of people queued for miles outside Pretoria on Thursday for charity food aid meant to relieve hunger caused by the coronavirus lockdown, showing the extent of need in the country.
Kolisi, who is able to travel during lockdown due to the essential work of his foundation, said one recent trip was particularly harrowing.
“I thought I knew what struggle was until I went to Limpopo, seeing people without water, using water from the side of the road or that the animals are drinking from.
“You will see a little kid actually bathing in that water. It was really painful to watch.”
This weekend he will return to the Zwide township near Port Elizabeth, where he was raised before rugby provided his escape from poverty.
“We are feeding over 1,200 people. We are doing 500 in my township, all the streets that I used to walk and all the people I used to go and ask for bread ... now I am going to go and try and help out for the next couple of months.
“We are also helping out some kids at my old school, that is 85 families, and there are also some creches that we are assisting.”
‘FIGHT FOR HUMANITY’
Kolisi, along with a number of other global figures in sport, has also joined the Pandemic Action Network, an advocate for resources to ensure countries are better prepared for pandemic threats.
“It is an amazing project, it is good to get business people and athletes from different walks of life together. We can learn a lot from each other and I think the most important thing is uniting and fighting for the same thing.
“We can use our platforms to help as many people as we can, because this is a fight for humanity, it doesn’t matter where you are from.”
Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Toby Davis
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