Cape Town - Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has criticised the SA Rugby Union (Saru) for the “tortoise pace” at which transformation is taking place in the national team.
In a letter to the Cape Times, written as the Springboks are preparing to take on Argentina in Salta on Saturday in the Rugby Championship, Tutu says it is also “particularly hurtful” to see the selection of black players as “peripheral squad members never given the chance to settle down and earn their spurs”.
“Now, 20 years later, I lament the tortoise pace at which transformation at the highest level is being effected.”
The country deserved a Springbok team that was representative of the “full spectrum of the rainbow that defines us - not on the basis of quotas or affirmative action or window-dressing, but on merit and for our long-term well-being as a nation”.
Under apartheid, Springbok rugby had symbolised “apartness”.
“When our liberation came, there were many who said we should never call our team ‘Springboks’ again, the very name was too painful. But others, such as uTata Nelson Mandela, recognised sport’s inherent transformative and healing power, famously embracing our World Cup winners at Ellis Park in 1995.
“I too joined the campaign for the retention of the symbol, walking down Adderley Street in a Springbok jersey.”
On Saturday the Springboks starting 15 will include three coloured players - Cornal Hendricks, Gurthrö Steenkamp and Bryan Habana.
The remaining 12 players are white.
Two of the eight players on the bench - Tendai Mtawarira and Lwazi Mvovo - are black, while the rest are white. Tutu wrote that South Africa was fortunate that Mtawarira had left Zimbabwe to play here.
“He has been a stalwart stut (prop) and a splendid Springbok.
“But when ou (old) Beast is not in the team, as is the case in the team selected to play Argentina this Saturday, it creates a considerable gap - not only related to brute force,” he said.
Tutu wrote that people of influence in rugby should have prioritised nurturing and developing such players “beyond the point of allowing them to touch the cusp of team selection, only to be cruelly denied a taste of the glory”.
“Surely, by the 20th anniversary of our freedom from enforced separateness, there are a couple of dark horses out there to run with the browns and the chestnuts in feature races?”
Tutu said the exclusion of Teboho “Oupa” Mohoje from the squad this week was the most recent example of the lack of transformation in the sport.
“The next in line for a starting berth, he was leapfrogged into the team by a paler player,” Tutu wrote.
“Of course, Juan Smith is a fantastic player and by all accounts a very decent South African.
“It’s not his fault he’s been selected; it’s his dream. But spare a thought for Oupa. And he’s not the only one.”
Mohoje was on the bench in the Test against Argentina last week, but was not called on to play.
Prop Trevor Nyakane also did not make it back to the bench this week.
Tutu’s letter follows a comment made by Saru president Oregan Hoskins two months ago.
Hoskins said that “black players, specifically ‘African black’, should be given more chances” in the Springbok team.
He declined to comment on Thursday on Tutu’s letter.
“I know Tutu personally. I will discuss the letter with him personally.”
Former Springbok Chester Williams said he agreed with Tutu. Twenty years after the advent of democracy in the country, it was clear the sport had not transformed because only three black players were in the starting line-up.
“There are good black players at school level. More than half of the teams are black, but when you reach the under-20 sides there are only a few,” Williams said.
“It is simple: black players do not get the opportunity to play.”