‘Death became normal’ – Cheslin Kolbe

Cheslin Kolbe, a two-time South African Rugby World Cup winner, has shared his experiences of growing up amid gang violence on the Cape Flats. 

Speaking to The Guardian, he remembered witnessing shootings and the brutal murder of a friend just before winning his first World Cup medal in 2019. Despite the trauma, Kolbe has risen to become one of rugby’s top players.

Kolbe’s journey from impoverished Kraaifontein to global rugby success is a testament to his strength. 

In the interview, the 30-year-old player stressed the sport’s power to inspire hope, highlighted by the welcome the Springboks received after their World Cup victory last year.

“We saw unbelievable scenes … all the smiles on people’s faces. From young to old, rugby brings so much joy to South Africa. For us as players, having that impact and those memories will last forever,” Kolbe said. 

“The World Cup only happens every four years so we have that responsibility to use our platform so that there is hope and inspiration every day.” 

Reflecting on his upbringing, Kolbe spoke about how gang violence and personal encounters with danger became normalised. 

These experiences, while scary, grounded him and motivated his commitment to giving back to his community. 

“Whenever I’m at home, I try to spend as much time giving back to the community. Hopefully, with the foundation my wife and I are setting up we can do much more,” he said. 

Kolbe’s story also touches on the challenges he faced due to his stature in rugby, often being told he was too small to succeed. 

His move to France in 2017 marked a turning point, offering acceptance and the chance to prove his ability. 

Today, Kolbe plays professional rugby for Tokyo Sungoliath in Japan’s Rugby League One and balances his career with efforts to support his homeland. 

He says of his visits to the Cape Flats when he is back in South Africa: “If I can reach out, talk and change one person’s life it’s not just an achievement that lightens my day but it can rub off on so many others. We have to keep trying to help.”

Pictured above: Cheslin Kolbe. 

Image source: X


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