Anyone who has seen Philani Simamane play rugby will know the feeling: a quickening of the senses as one realises one is watching something special.
I, for one, will never forget the hat-trick of tries that centre Philani scored for the Maritzburg College first XV on a magical winter’s day against Westville on Goldstones back in 2019.
Feature image: Philani’s 2019 first XV rugby jersey. The names of all donors to his appeal are being embroidered on the jersey and he will be taking this keepsake with him when he departs for the States. A lovely reminder of all the people who are part of his adventure and whose best wishes he takes with him.
That College lost a 54-point thriller to a very good Westville side by 2 slender points (26-28) should not in any way detract a Maritzburg College supporter from the fact that this was a magnificent spectacle of KZN schoolboy rugby.
Philani, as is the case with all aspiring young rugby players, be they in-school or recently matriculated, is facing new challenges – but in this instance not of the Covid-related kind.
Andrew Soden, who was head prefect of Maritzburg College in 1991, is one of the directors of the Sikhona Foundation, a local non-profit organisation and has been pioneering an appeal to help Philani realise his dream of attending university and playing rugby in Georgia in the USA – and that dream is on the cusp of being realised.
Philani has been accepted at university but what remains is the nitty gritty of putting together the financial nuts and bolts to make this dream real, and to that end, Andrew (a College boy from 1987 to 1991) put out a recent appeal that is told in a delightful way – and goes to the heart of what Maritzburg College rugby – and being a Maritzburg College Old Boy – is all about.
Here is Andrew’s story in full, as addressed to the writer in an e-letter today (the bold text etc is mine):
“Hi there Jono
“Any theory on why College boys blacken out their boots?
“The generational re-tellings and the hand-me-down stories as to the origin of this tradition may have diluted the reason over the decades.
“But, for me, its real impact has been highlighted in the ongoing appeal for the young lad in the photo below, Maritzburg College Old Boy Philani Simamane (OC2019).
“We have been raising money and support to help Philani follow his dream of a university degree.
“This young man, from a very humble background, worked hard for his scholarships to primary school and Maritzburg College, but we know that the journey is not yet done and it is important to help Philani finish what he started.
“The blackening out of our boots makes us equal; none more important than the rest. It signals solidarity and directs our focus and energy towards a shared cause. It bonds us together, with the tacit acknowledgement that we are there for each other when the need arises.
“Over the past months the inspirational and humbling responses to Philani’s appeal for support has highlighted for me the extraordinary bond that Old Boys of this impressive institution share.
“This show of strength and unity has really restored my faith; a testament that when the situation demands it a College boy will always rise to the occasion.
“Along with Philani we are so very grateful for the encouragement and the support already pledged.
“I would love to share with you some of those interactions that have helped restore my faith:
“One of our supporters, a veteran College Old Boy, well into his 80’s, responded personally with words of encouragement for Philani along with a gift of R500 – which I know is a princely sum for this Old Boy!
“Even though he has never met Philani, or perhaps even heard of him until recently, he is just so excited for this young beneficiary of his support, and has asked us to keep him up to date!
“An Old Boy in the United States has generously offered to provide Philani with the sponsor’s letter which he needs to obtain his student visa.
“Other US expats have offered Philani weekend/holiday accommodation with them, some are helping find vacation work for him while another is putting together a small gathering to welcome Philani to the great state of Georgia!
“An Old Boy and 1st XV winger from 1984 got in touch this past month and offered his support. He has a son and daughter at the same university that Philani is heading to and both are also part of the rugby programme. He ‘is up there most weekends and looks forward to helping Philani out with whatever he needs’.
“In the midst of these offerings of support this familiar quote came to mind:
‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’
“I know that Philani’s journey still seems so ‘far’ but he has received wonderful support from his ‘team-mates’ and with your help he will achieve his academic goal of a university degree.
“If you are still a believer in why College boys blacken out their boots please join in and support Philani’s appeal.
“You can make your contribution through
1. a donation via Direct Deposit (bank details will be emailed to you once your pledge is made); or
2. our verified PayFast platform which allows for CreditCard, Masterpass and Instant EFT donations.
Every contribution, no matter the size, is gratefully received and appreciated.
Stay safe and take care of yourself.
(Blackened out boots from 1987 to 1991)
The above links refer to the (i) Direct Deposit and (ii) Payfast payment options.
Andrew Soden +27 (0)83 456 1092