Johannesburg - Sports minister Makhenkesi Stofile says the country's rugby union federation should apologize to Maoris in New Zealand for excluding them from tours during the apartheid era for being nonwhite.
Stofile wrote a letter, published on Sunday in New Zealand's Sunday News newspaper, saying the South African and New Zealand rugby governing bodies should say sorry on behalf of their predecessors.
"An apology to those who were the victims of racial discrimination is in order," Stofile wrote. "This cannot harm anyone who genuinely accepts that racial prejudice was an injustice then as it still is an injustice now.
"I do believe that both the NZRU and the SARU should apologize for the folly of those who came before them. We cannot be expected to simply forget where we came from and the pain it caused many people."
Maoris were not allowed to tour with All Blacks teams in 1928 and during the apartheid-era series of 1949 and 1960, because South Africa wouldn't allow nonwhites to play against the Springboks.
Stofile wrote that South Africa and New Zealand were the "biggest culprits" during apartheid for excluding deserving players from national teams based on race. He said it was sad that the New Zealand Rugby Union "cooperated" when South Africa refused to allow nonwhites to play.
SARU said it had "taken careful note" of Stofile's comments and would release a statement Tuesday after meeting the NZRU at an International Rugby Board session in Ireland.
"The South African Rugby Union will make a formal statement on the subject once I have had the opportunity to share our position with my counterparts from the New Zealand Rugby Union," SARU president Oregan Hoskins said.
It would be a landmark decision for SARU, formed during South Africa's shift to democracy, to take responsibility and say sorry for the policies of rugby administrators during apartheid.
SARU was formed in 1992 and is a union of the formerly whites-only South African Rugby Board and the South African Rugby Union. It is made up of many nonwhites who were discriminated against during apartheid.
Rugby is closely connected to South Africa's racist past, as it was the sport of the apartheid government and caused black people to support visiting teams over the all-white Springboks.
But post-apartheid it has tried to shake off those connections.
South African rugby's most poignant moment came in 1995 when new president Nelson Mandela wore the green-and-gold jersey of the Springboks at the Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg, endorsing the national team and the sport's new nonracial setup. New Zealand, ironically, was the team South Africa went on to beat in the 1995 final.
New Zealand's rugby union has twice asked the Maori Board if it should apologize for excluding Maori players from tours to South Africa, but Maori officials have said an apology is not necessary and they would rather focus on the future.
New Zealand celebrates 100 years of Maori rugby this year, and may mark the occasion with a match between a Maori team and a South African side.