Read of the Week

Being a Black Springbok: The Thando Manana Story

Sibusiso Mjikeliso

Pan Macmillan South Africa

Review: Mzoxolo Budaza

Former Springbok loose forward Thando Manana is a straight-talking and socially conscious rugby analyst who is sometimes misunderstood. In fact, Manana tells author and journalist Sibusiso Mjikeliso, right at the beginning of Being a Black Springbok: The Thando Manana Story, that people know him as a black rugby player who refused to be initiated after making his Springbok debut in a tour against Argentina in Buenos Aires back in 2000.

“They assume I’m merely a troublemaker, a shit-stirrer, a truant,” he said.

The reality, however, is that the “initiation” process, called Kontiki, was against Manana’s principles as a traditionally initiated Xhosa man. Besides, as Manana relates, the whole process had players being spanked with pool sticks in front of their teammates.

Describing the process, he says: “What I was witnessing went against everything I held as a man. I believed in earning everything you got, in life and in sport, the right way; that every man must be respected for his views and opinions, despite cultural difference. I also believe that conforming to norms set by others, which made zero sense to me, was not something I was prepared to accommodate.”

Many die-hard rugby fans, on the other hand, know him as a member of the hard-hitting Room Dividers – a trio that consists of Lawrence Sephaka, Kaunda Ntunja and Manana. They are either controversial or straight-talking, depending on which side of the fence you are on.

One thing that is for sure though is that they have kept Metro FM listeners on the edge of their seats with their no-nonsense analysis. They stepped on people’s toes, too, including those of former Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula.

Manana, a fierce advocate of transformation, is also critical of those black rugby administrators he believes have betrayed many young black players by failing to mentor them when they entered the Springbok fold. He does name names, too.

Manana traces his journey from the streets of New Brighton, a vibrant Port Elizabeth township where he was born and attended his first primary school, to Gelvandale, a so-called “coloured area” where he completed his primary education.

This is also where one of his class teachers was Springbok coach Allister Coetzee. He met some inspirational people as well as dodgy characters along the way too, and all of them contributed to the person he is today. He speaks highly of Uncle Mel, who opened his Gelvandale home to Manana when he was still a youngster.

Among the the dodgy characters he met was one Sticks Orie, a drug dealer who befriended the young and naive Manana. They parted ways when Manana almost got caught with drugs in the car he was driving.

Manana, amazingly, only started kicking a rugby ball in anger when he was 16 years old and six year’s later, he was a Springbok.

Those early years saw him play for New Brighton’s Spring Rose , and, when he was still 17, the team travelled to Namibia, and Manana used a fake passport because he was under-18. That decision came back to haunt him later. He also played for The Griquas in Kimberley, among other teams.

As much as the book is about Thando Manana’s life and experiences, it also speaks to anyone who wants to understand what it is like for a person from humble beginnings to negotiate their way through life’s obstacles to make it to the top.

It is a must read for those who want to understand what it is like to be a black Springbok.