Canceled rugby tour reminds S. Africa of its isolation

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

South Africa is taking a battering over apartheid, its policy of strict racial segregation. Hardly a day passes without news of some protest over the country's race policies. So routine has this become, that many white South Africans shrug it off because it does not seem to affect them directly.

But yesterday something happened that touched just about every South African -- and brought home to many of them how isolated their country is becoming.

A simple news flash stated that the national New Zealand rugby team had been denied permission -- by an order from that country's high court -- to tour South Africa. The reason for the order? South Africa's racial policies.

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Now rugby is not just a game in South Africa. It is an obsession. Players selected to represent the country are regarded with awe. And for weeks the best have been battling in selection matches to win places on the national team.

Their progress and proficiency have been analyzed in public and private. Huge rugby football stadiums have been booked weeks in advance for the games to be played against the team from New Zealand, known as the All Blacks. Traditionally New Zealand is South Africa's greatest rugby rival. Matches between the two teams are savored as though they were epic battles between Titans.

The tour had been hotly opposed in New Zealand by supporters of the international ban on sport contacts with South Africa, as well as by the New Zealand government itself.

But New Zealand rugby football administrators and most of the players decided to go ahead in spite of opposition, including warnings of possible violence.

Plans were made to take the New Zealand team to South Africa secretly, via South America. Players were already assembled when opponents filed and won a last-minute court case.

The cancellation, apart from causing considerable gloom among most white South Africans, will also mean the loss of several million dollars for local hotels, travel, and ticket agents.

It will also serve to emphasize other international moves to isolate the South African government because of its race policies.

South African businessmen are anxious about the increasing anti-South African attitudes many say they are finding among their overseas customers.

At a time of deep recession, sky-high interest rates, and a weak national currency, all these factors are combining to increase pressure on the government to speed the reforms that are needed to change South Africa's image in the world.

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