Retired Human Rights Lawyer, and former SARU Rugby President, Silas Nkanunu dies at the age of 87

Retired Human Rights Lawyer, and former SARU Rugby President, Silas Nkanunu dies at the age of 87

Port Elizabeth, 9 November 2020 – Retired Human Rights Lawyer, and former SARU Rugby President, Silas Nkanunu dies at the age of 87

It is with deep sadness that Sila Nkanunu, a giant in Sport and in the legal fraternity has passed on.  He died peacefully after a long illness at his home in Port Elizabeth on 06th of November 2020.   He was born in Mqanduli on the 20 of July 1933.  He went to Healdtown for his secondary education and then migrated to Port Elizabeth where he established himself.  From humble beginnings as a petrol attendant, then worked for Barclays bank Embizweni in New Brighton in Port Elizabeth.  

He then studied law through UNISA, and joined the following Attorneys firms respectively, JBZ Mbuqe, Kondile and Somyalo and Hebert Fisher Attorneys respectively.  

As a Human Rights Lawyer:

Si as he was affectionately known was first a member of the Non-European Unity Movement under the tutorship of the likes of IB Tabata and Wycliffe Tsotsi that is where he cut his teeth before throwing his weight behind the ANC. He excelled in defending political activists and was instrumental in facilitating the movement of comrades to the underground movement, working directly with the late Mono Badela, Thozamile Botha and Chris Hani in Lesotho. He was more than a Human Rights Movement lawyer, he worked directly with the ANC underground structures at great risk to himself and his family.  Amongst the cases he defended are the 474 group and the group of three including Dan Hatto, Gibson Njenje, the late Brigadier General Lungile Magxwalisa.  He played an instrumental role in defending political activism in Port Elizabeth, including the 1976 group for comrades like Vuma Makeke, Mandisa Hashe and others, in a case that presided under George Bizos and Hebert Fischert. After several appeals against; these comrades left the country to join Umkhonto We Sizwe in exile. Much of the years saw him deeply involved in activism and formation of sporting federations and clubs to advance the black consciousness as a philosophy to defend the struggle through sport. He was a key player in rallying behind human rights abuses though his legal practice in Port Elizabeth. He was instrumental in the use of sport as a catalyst for political activism.  In 1988 he joined an ANC delegation in Sweden that was exploring a new legal system for a new South Africa.

In Sport politics

He started in Eastern Rugby club where he cut his teeth in sports administration.  He was the biggest contributor in club meetings and was never really interested in positions, he was happy to be a delegate at conferences. The clubs were used as the policy formulation and key decision-making bodies.  This is the time when non-racialism in sports started as a concept.  He was a champion of this cause.  He was a strong member and a delegate of the Eastern Ruby football Club to the Eastern Province African Rugby Board.  In 1971, there was a split which led to the formation of KWARU, where he served as one the first executive members of this club. He was instrumental in the formation of KWARU (KwaZakhele Rugby Union, an organization he formed with the late Dennis Siwisa, Dan Qeqe and Mono Badela; who was the first President.  This organization was formed specifically to change the face of politics through sport as a transformation tool. He was the president of KWARU in 1976 at the time when civic participation started in Port Elizabeth, with the Dan Qeqe stadium, as the first to be built by people for the people of Port Elizabeth. It was during this time that the black consciousness philosophy was adopted through sport.  Organizations like Ford and MACWWUSA were formed to promote the agenda for the struggle of the black people in South Africa. In 1992 there was a push for sport to unify in preparation for independence, he served in the committee for unity between the diverse integration of the of SA Rugby Board and SA Rugby federation and SA African Rugby Board. In 1994, after the unification of sport in the country he became the first African President of the Eastern Province Rugby Union based in Port Elizabeth; he also became the member of the executive of South African Rugby Union (SARU).

He led the delegation of SARU in 1998, to the unification process of provinces with the South African Rugby Board, an election he won without contestation against Louis Luyt, a position he contested with Ronnie Masson of the Western Province where he represented the Eastern province and he became the first African President of South African Rugby Football Union. 

He occupied two key positions in international Rugby Board (IRB), as Chairman of the Regulations Committee, responsible for the interpretation of the rules in Rugby and he was the Chairman of SANZAR (South Africa, New Zealand and Australia) which is now called Rugby Championship. At the time of the IRB Silas was known as the one of the most distinguished rugby administrators in the world. Having done so much in helping South African rugby he gained the respect of the rugby world and was therefore a fitting appointment as Vice Chairman of the International Rugby Board. 

In 2003, though South Africa did not win the world cup, under his stewardship, the process of franchising rugby started. Under Bra Si’s leadership transformation was at the center of rugby development, leveling the playing fields for an integrated rugby as a sport. 

During his time at the South African Rugby Union (SARU) he led the inclusion of black players into rugby in the build up to the world cup.  Bra Si was not afraid to make tough decisions, when he believed in a principle, he stood up for it. He, at the time asked Gideon Sam to stand and be responsible to lead rugby in the buildup to the world cup, a decision he took an impromptu meeting that was called in Plettenberg Bay. As Gideon Sam, puts it “Bra Si was a giant in sport.” He stood up for sports administration.”  He was an international icon, who did not mince his words when tough decisions had to be taken. 

He was the first black president of SARU (South African Rugby Union) during the time of unity a position he held until 2003, when he was succeeded by Brian Van Rooyen. Mark Alexander described him on Friday as a “good person,” not just a good leader. Dubbed as the man with no ego, no malice or aggression that sometimes characterizes our world and he was immensely calming and consensual influence at a very difficult time for rugby. Anyone who met Silas will remember him as a humble man with great affection. 

He was the President of the law Society of South Africa and a member of NADEL for many years with Vincent Saldanha as the secretary. Vincent is now a judge of the high court in Cape Town. 

Ethopian Episcopal Church

He was a staunch member of the Ethopian Episcopal Church.  He served in the following structures of the church i.e. the chancellor of the Port Elizabeth diocese, executive committee “EXCO” as well as the finance committee. 

Ford Beaufort Cricket Club

Silas was a senior member of Ford Beaufort Cricket Club it was found in 1945 by senior members Ray Mali, Lawu Stofile, Dan Qeqe, Silas played a leading role on the 25 celebration 1966  he was elected President of Eastern Province African Cricket in 1968 Ray Mali was his vice –president at the time.  The club linked up with non-racial cricket in 1966 Eastern Province African Board under the leadership of Silas became a member of the South African Cricket Board the founders  attended the SACBOC meetings and he played a key role in the debates to include non-racial cricket.

Western Eastern Cape Black Empowerment Corporation (WECBEC)

Mr  Silas  Nkanunu  was  a  founder  member  of  the  Western  Eastern  Cape  Black  Empowerment  Corporation  ( WECBEC )  .WECBEC  is  one  of  the  first  community  based  investment organizations  that  was  established  in  2009.  Mr  Nkanunu  served  the  organization  as  a  Director  until  his  passing. Because  of  his  passion  for  community  upliftment, Mr  Nkanunu  played  a  key  role  in  the  Corporations  activities. The Corporation will miss his decisive leadership.

Our  sincerest  condolences  to  his  wife,  children  and  extended  family.

In a life that symbolizes the triumph of human rights, he accepted the honor bestowed on him as the legend of the Eastern Cape in 2017 

The family will hold a memorial service for Mr Nkanunu on Wednesday 11 November 2020 at the Nangoza Jebe Community Hall (Centenary) in Port Elizabeth and virtually on different social media platforms. The links will be shared on Tuesday the 10th November 2020 at 17h00. 

Funeral details will be announced on the day of the memorial service.

The Nkanunu family would like to convey their sincere gratitude for all the prayers and messages of condolences received. 

The family have appointed  Mr. Vusumzi Pikoli as the family spokesperson he will be the official contact person for all proceedings regarding  Mr. Silas Ntuthuzelo Nkanunu`s final departure proceedings going forward. He can be contacted on 082 807 1123