Threat to deport 'the Beast'
By Bronwyn Gerretsen
Sharks star Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira faces possible deportation to Zimbabwe instead of another Bok cap, while Pakistani spinner Imran Tahir is unlikely to represent the Proteas, should a senior ANC MP have his way.
National Assembly sports committee chairman Butana Komphela was adamant yesterday that only "bona fide" people should represent South Africa in its national teams - not foreign players.
Komphela vowed to have SA Rugby charged for "illegally" fielding Mtawarira and to deport him to Zimbabwe.
The Mtawarira issue was brought back into the spotlight after Tahir was called up to the South African national cricket team last week, and then dropped a day later because his permanent residency was not granted.
But Komphela is adamant that Tahir should also not be permitted to play for South Africa - even if his residency application is approved. He must either become a South African citizen or Cricket SA must state that there are no South Africans with his particular skills who could be included in the national team.
This would be in line with the the Sports Act of 2007, Komphela said. "We have no problem with foreign nationals, but there should be conditions on their inclusion.
"The government is going to punish rugby. We are going to charge SA Rugby for fielding a foreign national without proper requirements. The portfolio committee has inquired as to why the Beast is still playing (for the Springboks) if he is a foreign national. If this is the case, then it is a contravention of the laws."
However, SA Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins denied there had been any violation of the laws, saying that Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile had "okayed" Mtawarira's inclusion in the Bok squad last year.
Mtawarira, 24, is in the country on a skilled work permit obtained by the Sharks, but Komphela said permits allowing players to represent clubs did not permit their inclusion in national teams.
"They (the government) will deport Beast to Zimbabwe. He is here on a work permit and he is flouting that work permit... We have no problem with him playing for the Sharks... the Sharks keep on renewing his contract, but this doesn't mean he has acquired citizenship."
Home Affairs Department spokesman Siobhan McCarthy said that regardless of whether foreign nationals were in the country on work or study permits, or married to South Africans, it took five years before permanent residence could be applied for and a further five years for a citizenship application to be made.
However, applications for "exceptionally skilled" individuals - the visa which Tahir holds - could be speeded up.
Hoskins said he had met Mtawarira several times over the festive season and was preparing a presentation to the government.
"I remain positive about the situation. I do not believe that it (Mtawarira's inclusion in the Bok squad) is a lost cause."
Hoskins said it was possible that Stofile had not yet briefed Komphela on developments, but said he would meet Komphela in a few days and would inform him.
"We are going to try and sway the government to look at this as a special case, which is not unprecedented in other countries... the Beast has shown his bona fide colours. He has been here since just out of school and has given his life to rugby... and has a lot of support from a lot of people in the rugby word.
"I am going to make sure I cover every nook and cranny, and maybe even go with him to Zimbabwe to make sure we have covered all the bases so we can make the application thoroughly. I am going to dig deep for him and make sure we comply with the immigration laws of South Africa."
Tahir also remained optimistic that his residence application would be approved soon, and that he could work his way back into contention for the Proteas.
The 30-year-old, who married his South-African wife almost two years ago, said his application had been that long in the process, but that his lawyer was trying to speed it up.
"I had been told that it was to be granted in November, so I am hoping it won't take much longer."
Tahir, who looks set to join the Dolphins next season, had his hopes lifted and dashed in just 24 hours, when he was called up to join the Proteas squad and then dropped a day later because he was not eligible.
"I was obviously very excited and looked forward to playing if I was given the opportunity, but unfortunately it was turned down."
Cricket SA spokesman Michael Owen-Smith said Tahir's initial inclusion in the squad was a "misunderstanding" by selectors.