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Black Player Joins S. Africa Team

October 25, 1998

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Four years after the end of apartheid, a black has for the first time joined South Africa’s national rugby squad.

Owen Nkumane was named to the world-champion national team known as the Springboks for next month’s tour to the United Kingdom.

``I am still shocked. I really can’t believe it,″ Nkumane told the South African Press Association after he was named to the squad Saturday along with 35 other players. A handful of mixed-race players have played for the team in the past.

Rugby _ a sport traditionally played by the Afrikaner descendants of Dutch settlers in South Africa and hated by blacks as a symbol of apartheid _ has been undergoing a transformation along with the rest of the country since white-minority rule ended with the country’s first all-race elections in 1994.

President Nelson Mandela was determined to use sports to bridge the racial divide, and in 1995 donned the famous green and yellow Springbok jersey after the team won the World Cup.

But allegations of racism, corruption and nepotism in the South African Rugby Football Union began to emerge. In 1997, when Mandela named a committee to investigate, the association tried to block the probe.

The group’s president, Louis Luyt, resigned as a result of the confrontation and on Sept. 1, the union elected its first black president, Silas Nkanunu.

Springbok Coach Nick Mallett said it was now up to Nkumane to prove his ability.

``It’s a good chance to see what he can do in good company,″ Mallett said.

Former Springbok player Balie Swart said Nkumane will have to win the respect of his teammates.

``Now that he is a Springbok all the other guys will be trying to shoot him down and he will have to show he’s got what it takes,″ Swart was quoted as saying in the Sunday Times, a Johannesburg newspaper.

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