Springboks captain Siya Kolisi is ready to make history

The 16th of June 1976 was one of the most significant and tragic days in South Africa's history.

It was the day when the Apartheid police shot and killed hundreds of children and students who were protesting against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools.

In remembrance of that dark day, 16 June is now a public holiday in South Africa, called Youth Day.

On 16 June 1991, 15 years after that tragedy in Soweto and a few months after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Siyamthanda 'Siya' Kolisi was born in Zwide, a township just outside Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.

On 16 June 2018, the Springboks will play the second Test in their three-match series against England in Bloemfontein. Kolisi will celebrate his 27th birthday and, barring injury, will lead the Springboks onto the field for the second time.

The first time will be this Saturday at Ellis Park, when he becomes the first black captain of the Springboks. This was inconceivable in 1976.

It's been just over a week since new Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus, the man who went to fetch the flank in Port Elizabeth to come and play for the Western Province and the Stormers as an 18-year-old, named Kolisi captain.

Many former teammates, like Bryan Habana and various former Springboks captains, have sent messages of encouragement for Kolisi, while there has been an outpouring of praise and good wishes on social media by everyday South Africans.

Kolisi, however, seems in control of his emotions ahead of the first Test, seemingly unfazed by all the hype surrounding this significant milestone in the history of rugby, in a country that is still trying to fix itself after it was divided along racial lines for many decades.

"I've seen some [messages of encouragement], but I will probably read it afterwards. I know guys like Bryan Habana has said something, I know him very well as his junior for the Stormers and the Springboks. He looked after me," Kolisi told the media on Friday ahead of the first Test against England.

"I have been getting messages from past Springbok captains who say they have my back. It means a lot to me that people are backing me. It takes a lot of weight off my shoulders.

"But the biggest thing is the support of my teammates. They know I don't like talking a lot, and they make it easier for me as captain."

One of the standout things at Test matches in South Africa in the past has been that not all South Africans sing the full anthem. For instance, some white South Africans won't sing the 'Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika' (God bless Africa), an anti-Apartheid hymn, while many black South Africans don't sing along to 'Die Stem,' which was the national anthem during Apartheid.

However, Kolisi says Ellis Park is one of the stadiums where his countrymen sing every word of the anthem with gusto, and loudly support the team for the entire 80 minutes of rugby.

Ellis Park is arguably the Boks' favourite Test venue, and more than 50 000 people are expected to pitch up for the series opener on Saturday. South Africa beat England 36-27 in their last meeting at this venue in 2012 to clinch the three-match series.

"People always ask me what is my favourite stadium. When I play for my union it's Newlands, but when I play for South Africa it's definitely Ellis Park," Kolisi said.

"It's a special field. When the people sing the national anthem, you hear the whole anthem being sung equally. You see the whole of South Africa in front of you, all different races and colours. It's the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

"They always get behind us and for some reason we always bring our best and turn up when playing here.

"This is one of the awesome Test matches. We don't play England as often as we do Australia and New Zealand. It's a special one and why it's such a big occasion."

Kolisi's leading the Boks out will make the occasion even bigger. And somewhere, those who gave up their lives for the struggle on 16 June 1976, will be looking on with a lot of pride.