In Summary
  • Three decades ago, as black nationalists fought apartheid regime brutality, South Africa's national rugby team was viewed as a symbol of Afrikaner aggression.

JOHANNESBURG

A national tour by Rugby World Cup winners the Springboks begins on Thursday and one of the first stops will be Soweto, a township near Johannesburg where they were once hated.

Three decades ago, as black nationalists fought apartheid regime brutality, South Africa's national rugby team was viewed as a symbol of Afrikaner aggression.

"Sowetans used to say the Springboks were the (governing) National Party at play," recalled Bongani Dlamini, a long-time Soweto resident and retired teacher, in an interview with AFP.

"For black people, the rugby team came to symbolise the arrogance of Afrikaner power. They despised the Springboks.

"Many Sowetans are proud wearers of Springbok (replica) shirts today -- 30 years ago anyone foolish enough to wear one would have put their life at risk.

"The Springboks owe a debt of gratitude to (deceased former state president) Nelson Mandela. He changed the way we viewed the team."

Dlamini will cheer the Springboks on Thursday as they drive through Soweto in an open-top bus and believes many others will do likewise.

"The first sporting love of the people is football with the two most popular clubs in the country (Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates) from here.

"But there has never been more interest in rugby than now. Our national football and cricket teams keep letting us down while the Springboks succeed and offer hope.

"What I want to see is continuity. Black players must be given equal opportunities. That is all we ask. I have no time for racial quotas, just fair selections.

"The captain (Siya Kolisi) and the coach (Rassie Erasmus) have spoken wisely since the final. I pray that our politicians are listening."

Just months after becoming the first democratically elected president of the republic in 1994, Mandela successfully fought to save the Springboks name and emblem.

Elements within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) wanted a name dating back decades and the emblem of the leaping Springbok banished because of its racist past.

For 90 years from the first time the team played in 1891, the South African national rugby team chose only white players.

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