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In South Africa, bridging rugby's racial divide

Denis Farrell / AP

Elliot Mau, makes off with a ball past dummies during a team exercise at a rugby clinic, at the Emthomjeni Community Center in Zandspruit, South Africa. A group of white rugby fans in the Johannesburg area is trying to close the racial divide and rid rugby of its prejudices. In recent months, members of the Panorama sports club began working with the community to develop rugby playing talent with black kids, some of whom have never touched a rugby ball, in a sport that has had a predominantly white Afrikaner following.

Denis Farrell / AP

Rugby hopeful, Shaun Pule, makes off with a ball during a team exercise at a rugby clinic, at the Emthomjeni Community Center in Zandspruit, South Africa. The team are topless to differentiate between the other as no kits are affordable in the poverty stricken township.

AP reports -- Sport, like so many other aspects of life, was divided along racial lines in apartheid South Africa.

White rugby fans in the Johannesburg area are trying to close the divide that endures 18 years after apartheid's end. Panorama sports club members have been working with community development organizations in some of the townships set aside for blacks under apartheid, neighborhoods that remain predominantly black and poor. Sixteen black players are now on Panorama's junior rugby team.

Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon, made a dramatic gesture of reconciliation when he attended the 1995 World Cup rugby final wearing a South Africa jersey. Mandela said without words that sport could be for all South Africans. The Panorama Cobras are trying to make that vision real.

Denis Farrell / AP

Rugby coaches Karl Vorwerk, left, and Troy van Es, third from left, perform a war cry after a rugby clinic, at the Emthomjeni Community Center in Zandspruit, South Africa.

Denis Farrell / AP

Rugby hopeful Mashudu Netshidoroni from nearby Zandspruit blocks a ball while attending rugby trials at the Panorama Sports Club in Wilgeheuwel, South Africa. The trials were held to whittle down from 32 to 16 the numbers of players who will benefit by becoming fully paid up members of the Panorama Cobras Junior Rugby Club.

Denis Farrell / AP

Rugby player from nearby Zandspruit, Mashudu Netshidoroni, makes off with the ball to score a try, as he is cheered on by an elderly spectator during a friendly match at the Wilgeheuwel Primary School, in Roodepoort, South Africa. The Zandspruit players in red jerseys underwent workshops and trials to benefit by becoming fully paid up members of the Panorama Cobras Junior Rugby Club.