29/05/2018 14:51 SAST | Updated 29/05/2018 14:57 SAST

'Slaughter The Springbok Emblem Now'?

It has been a symbol of division for too long, many in the black and coloured rugby community say.

South African president Nelson Mandela wearing a Springbok jersey and cap waves upon arriving at Ellis Park in Johannesburg for the Rugby World Cup final on June 24 1995.
South African president Nelson Mandela wearing a Springbok jersey and cap waves upon arriving at Ellis Park in Johannesburg for the Rugby World Cup final on June 24 1995.

The springbok as emblem of South Africa's national rugby team must be slaughtered, because it remains more a divisive than a unifying symbol.

That's the view of Johann Maarman, senior editor at Afrikaans daily newspaper Die Burger in Cape Town, who drew the ire of may in rugby circles when he made that suggestion in a column on Monday. "Nelson Mandela might have had good intentions when he went against the democratic grain, while the emblem was lying on the altar, ready to be slaughtered, but the springbok is still considered polarising and exclusionary," he writes.

"Slaughter the springbok and bury it. The sooner the better."

Maarman explained to HuffPost that the recent incident — in which former Springbok Aswhin Willemse walked off set during a live SuperSport broadcast because of an altercation between him and fellow analysts Nick Mallett and Naas Botha — led him write what many in black and coloured rugby circles are discussing.

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The "white" Springbok rugby emblem before unity in the sport in 1992.

"It really isn't a new topic, and has been debated in those circles for many years. The deal during the unity talks was that there would be mutual respect and recognition for all the different rugby histories in the country. That hasn't happened.

"The SA Rugby Union (Saru) went around handing out blazers to black and coloured national players, yes. But if they were really serious about unity, it would have gone further than that. Siya Kolisi has now been appointed the 61st Springbok captain. That effectively means the white history in rugby has replaced the black and coloured history, because there were also national captains in those [black and coloured] unions during apartheid.

"Our history has simply been erased. South African rugby administrators have missed the opportunity to truly unify the sport. They weren't honest," Maarman says.

But although he broadly agrees with Maarman's sentiment, Sbu Mjikeliso, sports journalist and author of "Being A Black Springbok: The Thando Manana Story", says he does not believe getting rid of the springbok emblem will change much.

"It won't bring real change. The real issue is much more fundamental, and is about the culture within the sport — which isn't as inclusive and embracing of different cultures as it should be. The dominant culture has been like that for more than a century, and to remove the springbok might even make things worse," he believes.

South African flanker Siya Kolisi, the first black Test captain, who will lead South Africa in a three-Test series against England in June, attends the first Springbok training session on May 28 2018 at St Stithians College in Johannesburg.

Many in black and coloured rugby circles also identify with the antelope as the national rugby symbol, Mjikeliso says. "During segregation there were designs that were different to the 'white' bok, with some unions using just the head, or the bok jumping in a different direction, or the bok with a ball or the protea. Scapping the emblem in 1992 might have made a difference. But not in 2018."

He agrees with Maarman that serious change in the country's rugby culture is necessary. "Afrikaans dominates the system; it dominates as the medium of instruction and the culture. It means those in positions of power aren't able to embrace different cultures. And that leads to problems."

He cites the diversity of rugby administrators at Western Province as the reason why the Stormers under former coach Allister Coetzee was the most diverse and transformed team in the country a couple of years ago.

"If there weren't Muslim administrators that understood why religion is so important to someone like Nizaam Carr, he would never have shone like he did. On this flipside, you had Lwazi Mvovo from the Transkei being instructed in Afrikaans... how is he supposed to perform, if he cannot understand the language?"

Kolisi will be the first black Springbok captain when he leads the national team against England next month — while there is still no clarity on exactly what happened between Willemse, Mallett and Botha.

The springbok emblem was retained at Mandela's insistence, but has since undergone a number of iterations, including being shifted to the right chest on the jersey, with the protea on the left.