Cape Town - SA Rugby president Mark Alexander on Monday paid tribute to former African Springbok captain Welile James “Bomza” Nkohla, who passed away in Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth on Sunday morning after a long battle with cancer, aged 71.
Nkohlo, who was born on 22 February 1946, leaves behind his wife, Bella, six children, a twin sister Welekazi, and a brother Mzimkhulu.
“’Bomza’ was not only a legend in Eastern Cape rugby communities, but a legend of black rugby prior to the days of unity in our game, and until his passing this weekend,” said Alexander.
“Unfortunately he did not have the opportunity to display his vast talent on the international stage, because of the political situation in our country, but he is a former national captain and will be remembered as an uncompromising loose forward who had a huge love for South African rugby.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this time of grief.”
Nkohla, who played No 8 for the Oriental Rugby Club (“The Blues” - established 1894) and Eastern Province, was a veteran of the Partons and Zonk Cup Competitions of the SA African Rugby Football Board.
He made his provincial debut at the age of 21 and his debut as an African Springbok and captain of the side against the SA Coloured Rugby Football Board National XV in May 1968, a match his team won by 8-5.
This was followed by six more Tests between 1968 and 1969. Contemporary newspaper reports reported in the aftermath of his second Test: “James Nkohla played tightly and was in the van of most forward rushes.”
In the August Test, he contributed a try to the African Springboks’ 22-9 victory over the Coloured Springboks.
In the run-up to the 1969 Test series, Imvo Zabantsundu reported in its preview: “Bomza Nkohla will be a tower of strength”. He also contributed to Phildon Kona’s try during the May 1969 Test after sending a well-placed tactical kick through which the speedy winger dotted down behind the goal line.
In 1973, Oriental - by all accounts the second oldest African rugby club in Port Elizabeth - together with eight others broke away from the SA African Board to establish the Kwazakhele Rugby Union (KWARU), that subsequently joined the non-racial SA Rugby Union.
As a member of KWARU, he joined the SA Cup Competition where he led the team with distinction. The wily Nkohla concluded his playing career in this competition that was once the pride of non-racial rugby and always regarded fellow SA Cup players and national opponents such as Salie Fredericks and Winston Petersen, both of Western Province, as amongst his greatest opponents.
In 2004 Nkohla together with fellow stalwarts Salie Fredericks, Cassiem Jabaar, Fagmie Solomons received the SA Rugby President’s Award for their contribution to rugby.
In further recognition of his stature in South African rugby, Bomza Nkohla’s handprints (together with that of other living national captains) were cast in bronze and in 2014 installed at the Springbok Experience Rugby Museum at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.