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Black professional threatens political action

SUN CITY, South Africa - South African golf is in danger of becoming embroiled in similar race rows to those affecting cricket and rugby union.

Vincent Tshabalala, 57, a veteran black professional and winner of the 1976 French Open, has hit out strongly at what he termed "anti-black sentiment" in the game and threatened to take the matter to the Sports Minister Steve Tshwete.

Tshwete has been involved in similar battles with cricket and rugby, calling for the introduction of more black players into the respective national teams.

The golf issue came to a head during this week's Dimension Data Pro-Am at Sun City.

Two of the Southern Africa Tour's leading black professionals, John Mashego and Solly Sepeng, were given six-month suspended sentences by the tour's players' committee following a bitter personal dispute between the two.

Mashego is both a player and a director on the board of the South African P.G.A., and represents the interests of the black professionals.

He was given a mandate by the previously all-white tour to award five black exemptions into all of their tournaments as he sees fit.

The exemptions exist as part of the tour's development initiative, and were given to Mashego to handle to avoid any allegations of racism.

But Mashego was allegedly threatened by the 59-year-old Sepeng, who accused him of being biased towards certain players in his awarding of the exemptions.

Now Tshabalala has accused Mashego of being a "token black used as a pawn by the tour, who have told him what is good for blacks.

"When the Tournament Players Association (which represented the interests of blacks in the game during apartheid) merged with the S.A. P.G.A. in 1991, John agreed to certain things not in line with unity," Tshabalala told Reuters.

"For example, he agreed that the 10 black exemptions should be reduced to five. We are now saying those 10 spots should be reinstated."

However, the exemption issue has often been criticised as misdirected development of overaged black professionals as opposed to their younger counterparts.

But Tshabalala believes age should not be a factor.

"The game of golf has nothing to do with age. Of course we acknowledge that there are up-and-coming youngsters who should be given a chance.

"But age should not be a factor. Any player who can make the cut in a tournament should be considered."

Despite the tour's policy of paying a large proportion of the travelling expenses of various black professionals in the interest of development, Tshabalala has claimed that a racist element still exists.

"There is still a lot of anti-black sentiment on the tour and it will take a long time to break down those racial barriers because of certain attitudes."

Tshabalala, who claims to have the support of the black players on tour, has also warned that their disatisfaction is on the verge of erupting into active protest.

"The unfortunate thing about blacks in this country is that they keep quiet for too long. But when they do take action, there is nothing that can stop them.

"There is no way we can avoid this issue any longer, just like apartheid could not be ignored."

The S.A. Tour has declined to comment.