A virtually unknown South African political party has made an urgent court bid to try and block the Springboks from flying to England for the Rugby World Cup, arguing the squad has too many white players.
The Agency for a New Agenda (ANA), which says it broke away from the ruling ANC party in 2013, lodged the application last Friday, a few hours before coach Heyneke Meyer named a record nine black players in the 31-man World Cup squad.
The team was “built on racially-exclusionary and racially-biased criteria”, which was unconstitutional, said party leader Edward Mokhoanatse.
“So we are asking the court to stop them from going (to England) and order them to surrender their passports,” Mokhoanatse told AFP.
The case, which cites Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and the country’s rugby union SARU as respondents, is due to be heard in the High Court in Pretoria on Wednesday.
Traditionally a white Afrikaner sport, rugby became a symbol of national reconciliation when the country’s first black president Nelson Mandela famously donned a Springbok jersey when presenting captain Francois Pieenar with the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.
But the racial composition of the Springboks has remained an emotive public issue, with calls for racial quotas raising fears among some white fans that the selection of players on anything other than merit would weaken the national team.
On Monday, the mainly-Afrikaner Freedom Front Plus said it planned to petition the British High Commission in Pretoria to protest against “political interference in sport in South Africa” – an apparent reference to what it sees as the inclusion of black players on a racial basis.
“It is unacceptable that South Africa is denied the opportunity to send its best team to the Rugby World Cup” the party said in a statement.
“This type of interference on a racial basis led to an international sport boycott against South Africa under the previous regime.”
Britain, the former colonial power, was a leading force in an international boycott of South African teams over racism in sport during the apartheid years.
The two opposing views of the latest team selection appear to reflect the extremes on both sides, however, with some commentators apparently satisfied with the latest team selection and efforts at racial transformation.
While the Freedom Front Plus is represented in parliament, the ANA is not, and has never contested an election.
Party leader Mokhoanatse refused to state the size of its membership.
He said the party has also written to the international rugby union asking it to suspend the membership of South Africa, a major contender in the global showpiece from September 18 to October 31 in England.
Coach Meyer has saturated the squad with experience saying it “has a great balance between youth and experience, keeping together the core of the team that did the country proud in the last few years.”