Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi has said he does not believe iconic former South African president Nelson Mandela would have backed racial quotas for the national team.
Speaking to a Japanese news agency during a recent visit to that country, Kolisi said: “I don’t think he (Mandela) would have supported that (quotas), but I don’t know him.
“I would not want to be picked because of my skin colour because that surely would not be good for the team, and the guys around you would know.”
Mandela, who died in 2013, became a major supporter of South African rugby, despite it being dominated by white players and officials at the time, when he became president in 1994.
A movie “Invictus” was made about the backing Mandela gave the 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks, including wearing a replica jersey of captain Francois Pienaar at the final.
The Springboks beat their greatest rivals, the New Zealand All Blacks, 15-12 after extra time in the title decider at a packed Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg.
Under an agreement between South African rugby officials and the government, half the Springboks team at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan should be black.
In 14 Tests last year, 67 blacks were chosen in the run-on teams — an average of less than five per international instead of the goal of at least seven.
– Critics –
Many South Africans reacted angrily on social media to the comments of Kolisi, who became captain last year and finished his first season with a seven wins-seven losses record.
One theme among critics was that Kolisi owed his place in the national team to the quotas system, which is largely supported by blacks and disliked by whites.
Kolisi, a loose forward and the first black Test skipper of the Springboks, was in Japan promoting an electronics company.
“You should not put a number on stuff like that,” Kolisi said in the interview, referring to the South African Rugby-government agreement for the next World Cup.
“If you want to talk about (racial) transformation, you have got to start there (grassroots level).
“Imagine if I had not gone to an English (high) school. I would not have eaten properly, I would not have grown properly.
“Maybe in the Currie Cup (domestic championship) you can try guys out and push people in and see how they do.
“But you cannot just (pick someone in the Springboks side because of his colour). In South Africa it is tough because we want results and transformation.”
During apartheid, blacks were prevented from playing for the Springboks and the whites-only policy eventually led to the national team being barred from international competition.
Progress toward a multi-racial team since South Africa were readmitted in 1992 has been slow with the 1995 and 2007 World Cup-winning teams having only one and two blacks respectively.
In a tour of Europe last November, coach Rassie Erasmus chose four black starters against England, three against France and four each against Scotland and Wales.