While South Africa Changes, Its Rugby Federation Appears to Stay the Same

The historical powerhouse that is South African Rugby won the World Cup on Saturday, defeating England 15-6 and bringing pride to this rugby-mad country. But the decision yesterday to drop Soweto from the team’s victory parade itinerary is making people question whether the squad meant only to bring pride to the Afrikaners for whom rugby has been a whites-only tradition throughout South Africa’s tumultuous history.

Soweto, a black township outside of the largest and most populous city in South Africa, Johannesburg, has been the epicenter of social justice movements and a thriving black culture since the first anti-apartheid uprisings, which occurred there in 1976. Despite the fact that South African rugby has historically been a white sport, this year’s World Cup rallied the whole nation behind the Springboks (the nickname of the national team). Said African National Congress lawmaker Tsietsi Louw, “During the finals, the fan parks were filled with black people. The Township shebeens [bars] ran out of drinks with blacks supporting their team.”

South African Rugby Federation officials blamed the omission of Soweto on time constraints and logistics, but this is an unconvincing excuse considering the team’s history of not actively recruiting young blacks or trying to build popularity in the black community. What makes this so ironic is that although the Springboks only have two black players, one of them is Bryan Habana, who was just named 2007 World Player of the Year.

—Andre Sternberg