PRETORIA, September 2- A South African judge on Wednesday criticised the country’s slow pace of racial reform as he heard an application to block the Springboks from going to the Rugby World Cup in a row over a lack of black players.
More than 20 years after the end of apartheid, South Africa’s fraught race relations have been highlighted by anger over just nine black players being named the 31-man squad for the tournament in England.
A little-known group, the Agency for a New Agenda (ANA), brought the urgent court application to try to prevent the side flying out to the event, which starts on September 18.
“Transformation is grinding very slowly,” Judge Ntendeya Mavundla said at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital.
Mavundla, who declared racial transformation to be a matter of “national interest” in South Africa, briefly adjourned the hearing for the ANA to organise legal representation.
The case cites Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and the country’s rugby union SARU as respondents.
South Africa’s rugby administrators have set a target of 50 percent black players in the national side by 2019, but many critics say the sport has failed to recruit and develop young black players.
“We had 21 years to change this, we’re not going to wait any longer,” ANA president Edward Mokhoanatse told AFP.
Traditionally a white Afrikaner sport, rugby became a symbol of national reconciliation when president Nelson Mandela donned a Springbok jersey and presented captain Francois Pienaar 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 fans that the team will be weakened.
An Afrikaner party this week lodged a petition with the British High Commission 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.