JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Silas Nkanunu, who has been called the ‘Mandela’ of South African rugby, has died aged 87, a South African Rugby statement said Friday.
An attorney based in eastern coastal city Port Elizabeth, he was formerly president of SA Rugby, chairman of SANZAR (South Africa New Zealand Australia Rugby) and vice-chairman of the International Rugby Board (IRB).
Nkanunu led SA Rugby for five years from 1998, resigning after the Springboks made a quarter-finals exit from the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
He took over at a challenging time after South African rugby regions rebelled against the confrontational leadership style of Louis Luyt.
Luyt had clashed with the government, a national umbrella sport body, and took Nelson Mandela to court for a case he lost after the head of state ordered a probe into alleged racism, graft and nepotism in rugby.
Current SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said: “You might say he was rugby’s Mandela in that he was a force for good and was able to completely steady the ship in his time in office.
“Silas had many great qualities and skills as an attorney but perhaps the greatest tribute you can pay is that he was simply a good man.
“He had none of the ego, malice or aggression that sometimes characterises our world and he was an immensely calming and consensual influence at a very difficult time for rugby.
“No one who met Silas will be able to do anything other than remember him with great affection.
“Players talk about leaving the jersey in a better position than when you received it. Silas was certainly able to say that.”
Former IRB (now World Rugby) chairman and Ireland forward Syd Millar hailed the South African as “one of the most distinguished rugby administrators in the world”.