PORT ELIZABETH, July 25 – The Southern Kings have learnt with sadness of the passing of former KwaZakhele Rugby Union (Kwaru) No 8 and South African Rugby Union (Saru) captain, Welile “Bomza” Nkohla.
The widely respected rugby legend lost a battle to cancer in Port Elizabeth on Sunday at the age of 71.
Nkohla was known as an inspirational leader and a talented No 8 who served as a great inspiration for a number of other rugby players from the region who had watched him play, alongside the likes of other legends such as Peter Mkata and Temba Ludwaba, who also went on to become legends.
Nkohla captained the SA African Rugby Football team in seven matches in 1968/69.
His death comes only weeks after the passing of another former Saru captain, Salie Fredericks.
“We at the Southern Kings are deeply saddened by the passing of a great man such as Bomza,” Southern Kings Chief Operations Officer, Charl Crous, said on Monday.
“Bomza was one of the gems from the Eastern Cape region who have served the game of rugby with great distinction for decades. It is on the shoulders of giants like Bomza and other legends that the Southern Kings are built on.
“As a region we are privileged to have had this calibre of people paving the way for others to flourish like the Southern Kings team of 2017 that did so well in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Nkohla family, particularly Bomza’s wife and children, as well as the rugby fraternity that is mourning this great loss.”
Nkohla is survived by his wife, Bella, six children, twin sister Welekazi and brother Mzimkhulu.
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 after a long battle with cancer, aged 71.
Nkohlo 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 Mr 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 were 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 among 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.