Siseko Jafta: From near paralysis to KZNRU GM

2016-10-27 10:00
Siseko Jafta (Sharks)

Cape Town - His story has been quite remarkable up until now, and it is only just beginning. 

Siseko Jafta is just 24-years-old, and on Tuesday he was named as the general manager of the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union, replacing 62-year-old Pete Smith, who has held the position for the last 25 years. 

It represents the dawn of a new era in Sharks leadership, with former Springbok captain Gary Teichmann having taken over as CEO from John Smit at the beginning of October. 

Jafta wasn't always destined for administration. 

Up until 2011, he was determined to be a Springbok and was well on course. 

A member of the SA Under-18 squad, Jafta had crafted a reputation for himself as one of the most highly-rated loose forwards in the country and had secured a Sharks contract in the process.

Then, tragedy struck when the then-19-year-old was forced to retire. 

"Throughout my Under-21 season I felt discomfort in my neck," Jafta recalls.

"Then in a semi-final against Western Province I made a tackle and my head was in the wrong position. I had temporary paralysis for about 10 seconds. We thought it was a stinger and nothing serious and I completed the season."

Jafta made it through to the end of the campaign, but at the end of the season team doctor Ewoudt van der Linder sent Jafta off to see a neurosurgeon - Dr. Stefan Joubert. 

"Dr. Joubert diagnosed my condition as Congenital Spinal Stenosis and advised that he could not operate due to the high risk of paralysis from the neck down."

Jafta was told that he would never play rugby again, and if he wanted a future in the sport he would have to seek a different path. 

"It is any individual's dream to represent their country and I was excited about my contract with the Sharks and was looking forward to putting in the hard yards for a long and successful career," Jafta says.

"I had incredible support from my family and the Sharks, particularly Hans Scriba and Rudolf Straeuli.

"Through proper guidance and mentorship, I was committed to making a success of my life outside of playing the game professionally."

Immediately, that is what he set out to do. 

Having already signed with the Sharks as a player back in 2009, Jafta then got to studying and completed his BCom. 

He was then employed in an administrative role at the Sharks where he served as a mentor to the union's young players. He was in the system, and began being entrusted with more and more responsibility.

By 2016 he had made the move into club administration.

This new role, though, is a different level entirely. 

As general manager, Jafta will be responsible for growing the amateur game in the province, maintaining and improving existing development structures, improving the quality of club rugby, growing women's rugby and ensuring that the province develops more quality referees.

The commercial side of his role involves looking to secure funding from key corporates to help make all of those plans possible. 

It is a big ask for anyone, and given his age, there will be many who doubt Jafta's ability to get the job done. 

"I may be 24, but I see that as a positive," he responds.

"Rugby in SA is at a crucial stage where we are witnessing more and more that traditional methods have reached a point of stagnation ... the need for new mindsets and ideas are becoming more prevalent.

"In saying that, I am under no illusions about the role and I know that the changes we want to implement will not happen overnight.

"I subscribe by the term that 'if you're good enough, you're old enough'. With a positive attitude, I look forward to the role with excitement and an eagerness to make a difference."

Jafta will be working closely with Teichmann, who he has a huge amount of respect for.

"From the start of his tenure he has always been approachable and someone I can chat to and bounce ideas off," said Jafta.

"We are determined to align both the amateur and professional arms of the business.

"A huge focus area is working as part of a community and retaining our home grown talent."

Read more on:    sharks  |  gary teichmann  |  durban  |  rugby

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