The upset over a perceived act of racism towards Makazole Mapimpi is instructive for the Springbok team and South Africa as a whole. Picture: Shuji Kajiyama/AP
SPRINGBOK coach Rassie Erasmus and wing Makazole Mapimpi have spoken out in an effort to douse the upset over a perceived act of racism against the three-quarter player.

They offered public assurances it was not so and explanations as to what happened there, and why six white Boks huddled on the field after Friday’s World Cup victory against Italy.

To many observers, it looked as though Mapimpi was shooed away as Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Francois Louw and Frans Steyn clinched briefly to celebrate the triumph.

Erasmus felt it necessary to deny this, as did Mapimpi. Their responses were perhaps prompted by a realisation that race and racism remain acutely sensitive issues in South Africa - alas, even 25 years after the dawn of democracy, and with reason.

The specific scrutiny of rugby in this regard remains as intense, too. It also happened on the day that the South African Human Rights Commission lodged a case with the Equality Court against Bok lock Eben Etzebeth about a claimed racist fracas - claims the player has denied.

So the issue of racism, especially in the rugby connection, was probably more brittle than ever on the day of Mapimpi’s perceived snub.

Many critics who believed they knew exactly what went on there, that the rejection was driven by prejudice, have probably known that prejudice themselves.

But in the absence of more substantial evidence, Erasmus and Mapimpi’s versions and denials must be given the benefit of the doubt.

The incident is instructive for the Springbok team, however, and South Africa as a whole: With our history, super-sensitivity about racial discord and racism is very much alive, and culprits will be found out and dealt with. They should be.