South Africa could be forced to miss the Rugby World Cup because of a lack of black players in the squad.
The Agency for New Agenda (ANA) party will take the South African Rugby Union to court this week in Pretoria to seek an order that would prevent each member of the squad and staff from travelling to England to compete in the World Cup, which begins on Friday 18 September, due to having their passports seized.
The ANA party is claiming that the Springboks have not met the government’s policy on transformation after naming nine players of colour in the 31-man squad.
Head coach Heyneke Meyer claimed that he had met the minimum quota of 30 per cent. However, ANA president Edward Mahlomola Mokhoanatse has claimed that the North Gauteng high court should launch a judicial enquiry into “the lack of transformation in South Africa rugby”, adding that it is important to do so in order to banish the country’s historical links with apartheid.
“The action is a public duty to defend our constitution and to consign to the rubbish bin of history all vestiges and remnants of racial bigotry, racial exclusion and discrimination,” said Mokhoanatse.
He added: “Although much has been done to transform the country, the national team’s rugby selection criteria are racially exclusionary and biased in favour of whites. Fikile Mbalula [the sports minister] has failed to transform rugby and any argument SARU presents to justify is failure to do so should be treated with disdain. It has betrayed the trust of millions of South Africans, continues to resist change and should attract the severest sanctions possible.”
As part of the attempt to prevent the South African squad from travelling to London, Mokhoanatse has also written to World Rugby, the sport’s worldwide governing body, in order to ask them to “take a stance and condemn, unreservedly, the continued exclusion and marginalisation of black South Africans from the national team”.
South Africa are due to get their campaign underway on Saturday 19 September when they take on Japan at Brighton’s Amex Stadium, and the court case is unwanted pressure on Meyer who is already on the back foot after losing all three of South Africa’s Rugby Championship games to New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, which resulted in the Springboks dropping out of the top three of World Rugby’s rankings and a victory over the Pumas one week later saved them from dropping to a joint-worst ranking of sixth.
However, Meyer has been backed by record-breaking wing Bryan Habana – one of those nine players that help reach the quota of black players – who wants to relive the triumphant 2007 Rugby World Cup success to help unite the nation, just as it did in 1995 when Nelson Mandela used a home World Cup to bring South Africa together as one.
“This is unfortunately something that is always going to be a part of South African rugby,” said Habana. “I’m fully behind Heyneke’s standing in the situation and wanting to make this World Cup a successful one for South Africa.
“I hope as players we can play our part in making his job a little bit easier. Having won the World Cup in 2007, I know that when we are successful we unite the nation.”