Mujati felt like window dressing

In a rare, revealing interview with the Daily Mail, Brian Mujati talks about the reasons why he left South Africa, including being made to feel like window dressing.

In an intriguing interview with Chris Foy, Mujati, who has 12 Springbok caps to his name, yet is certainly by no means universally loved here in South Africa, opens up on the quota system and claims of his father’s land grabs in Zimbabwe.

Mujati’s last Test appearance was against England at Twickenham in 2008, but as a black player in a predominantly white team, he believed that he was being picked to satisfy a racial quota system.

‘We played against Scotland, Bismarck du Plessis got injured in the first minute and I played the rest of the match,’ he said. ‘We won, then our last Test of the tour was against England. On the Monday, I came down to breakfast and found out they had flown in Jannie du Plessis from South Africa. I thought, “All right, he is here as cover”, but in training Jannie was doing all the drills, then they announced the team and Jannie was starting. I felt really let down.

‘South Africa pick guys because of their race, because they’ve got to have two or three black guys in the squad. It became clear I was one of those selections. I called my agent and said I wanted to leave.’

When playing for UK club side Northampton, he had a clear agenda. ‘I wanted to play well and have them come and beg me to play for the Springboks again,’ he added. ‘It was a stupid thing to think!’

There were also alleged rumours of gambling debts that needed to be settled, but another reason for Mujati’s exit from South Africa were the actions of his estranged father, who was accused of taking part in the campaign by followers of Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, to seize land from white farmers. He became weary of being stalked by unfair innuendo and implication, hence his determination to avoid media exposure.

But in this interview he chose to address the matter. ‘From the time I was finishing school, my relationship with my father was cut,’ said Mujati. ‘I went to South Africa, and he went his own way. He started getting involved with farms and stuff like that in Zimbabwe.

‘The story broke in South Africa that my father had been involved in land-grabs and was using that to fund my career. A guy whose farm was taken by my father wrote about what happened. He had a son who played rugby.

‘In the week leading up to my first Test for the Springboks, he was saying that there were so many opportunities his son could have had if my father hadn’t taken his farm. I didn’t even know where my father was. I tried to let it blow over, but it escalated. So when I left South Africa I was relieved and thought that everyone would just leave me alone.

‘As time wore on, I realised that there was nothing I could do. I haven’t seen my dad in over a decade, but somehow he was supposed to have been funding me! I have stopped being angry about all that.’

In 2011 the Boks approached Mujati about a Test comeback at the World Cup. He was told he would be given a starting place, but new rules meant he needed a South African passport and, despite input from Government ministers and the union’s best efforts, he was denied one.

‘For me, that was the end of the road with the Springboks,’ he said. ‘Mentally, I had to give up on it. But in a way, knowing that they wanted me back was enough.’

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