The Thando Manana Autobiography on sale from July.

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The Thando Manana Autobiography as told to Sibusiso Mjikeliso

The Book

One of the forebears of African Springbok rugby players, Thando Manana was the third African black player to don the Springbok jersey after unification in 1992 when he made his debut against Argentina ‘A’ in a tour game in 2000 under then coach Harry Viljoen.

A career that began in the humble township of New Brighton in Port Elizabeth took him to Kimberley where he became the first African black player to represent Griquas in the union’s 130-year history. There he played with the likes of World Cup-winning Springbok Victor Matfield and SA Under-20 coach Dawie Theron.

This book appeals to rugby enthusiasts who are thirsting for fresh rugby stories that aren’t afraid to skate controversy to tell the truth about the game in South Africa. The foreword is by Springbok coach Allister Coetzee, who taught Thando Manana at Gelvan Park Primary School and coach him at the SA Under-23 team.

The book features some of the most topical sporting names of Thando Manana’s generation: Victor Matfield, Dawie Theron, Ashwell Prince, (convicted serial murderer) Joseph Ntshongwana, Allister Coetzee, Andre Vos, Lawrence Sephaka, Quinton Davids, Geo Cronje and many others.

Manana represented the Bulls in Super Rugby in 2001, during the year Phil Pretorius replaced Heyneke Meyer briefly as their coach. Bulls fans might be intrigued to find out the inner workings of the franchise during some of their lean years that preceded success.

Transformation is the most topical issue in South African rugby at the moment and Thando Manana’s story addresses why there’s a burning need for the sport to transform and what has gone terribly wrong in the process in the last 24 years since rugby unity.

Thando Manana and Jody Hendricks talking Rugby with Robert Marawa on Metro FM

For a player that picked up the game at the age of 16, Manana’s rise through the rugby ranks, while earning a reputation as a tough-tackling lock and later openside flanker, was quite rapid. Within two years from picking up the rugby ball for the first time he represented Eastern Province at Craven Week (Under-18 elite provincial rugby tournament) in 1996. By the year 2000 he was a Springbok.

He infamously refused to be initiated by his Springboks teammates during the tour of Argentina and the British Isles in 2000, an incident that not only caused a countrywide media storm but raised questions about the archaic, marginalising practices inside the South African national rugby team’s dressing room.

Thando Manana’s story is a unique tale of a boy raised by a single mother and grandmother through strangling poverty and then having to deal with the race dynamics inside the inner machinery of South African rugby.

The area Manana grew up in is home to some of South Africa’s greatest sporting heroes of the pre-unity days like Temba Ludwaba, Dan Qeqe, Toto Tsotsobe, Khaya and Gerald Majola, Vusi Pikoli, Lulama Masikazana and Mtutuzeli Nyoka.

Gelvandale, Port Elizabeth, where Thando Manana attended high school was an area that has produced sporting talents such as Ashwell Prince, Leroy Newton, Robin Peterson, Daine Klate, Ronwen Williams and Kermit Erasmus.

It is the first memoir of an African black Springbok – a candour and candid story that will take the reader to the depths of South African rugby from a black man’s eyes. Manana was, however, one of the lucky players who made it to rugby’s pinnacle despite constantly being marginalised from the game, through the lack of distrust of black rugby players by white (mostly Afrikaner) coaches who had the proclivity to pick white players over black ones.

It’s also a tale that dispels rugby’s preconceived notions of that day of black players being inferior to white and sometimes colours players.

For a guy that was signed by Griquas to fulfil the three-black-player quota for the Vodacom Cup, Manana earned six man-of-the-match awards in his first season in Kimberley and was named “Defender of the series” at the end of it.

Former SA Rugby CEO Rian Oberholzer called him “one of the players that paved the way for current black Springbok rugby players”.

After retirement, Manana became a radio rugby commentator for the SABC and is a crusader for transformation in the sport.

His weekly Sunday rugby show “Rugga Talk” is the best listened to sports show on the stations Radio 2000.

He is also part of the critical three-man rugby panel called “Room Dividers”, hosted by Robert Marawa on Metro FM, a station that has six million listeners per week.

The Author

Sibusiso Mjikeliso is one of the country’s most talented sports writers. He’s written rugby for the Times Media Group – which includes titles like the Sunday Times, The Times, Business Day and Daily Dispatch – for more than half a decade. He has also spent time as an exchange sports reporter at the UK’s Sunday Mirror in London, where he got to cover some of the world’s best sporting events like Wimbledon 2014, the Barclays Premier League and the Aviva Premiership. This is his debut work of non-fiction.