The century-old Springbok emblem of South African rugby that has been a source of pride to some and alienation to others is to be replaced by the country’s national flower.

South African Rugby Union bosses told sports minister Makhenkesi Stofile on Tuesday that they would comply with incoming legislation obliging national teams to wear the king protea emblem on the left side of the jersey.

Stofile said the Springbok symbol won’t be axed completely, although its size and position on the jersey are still to be finalised.

“The minister also advised us that the commercial emblem of national sporting federations – in rugby’s case, the Springbok – can be utilized as federations deem fit, so long as that use does not compromise the national emblem,” SARU president Oregan Hoskins said in a statement.

Hoskins will convene a special meeting on December 1 to determine the details on the new emblem, which is already used in other sports.

The Springbok – a swift-footed antelope – has long caused mixed feelings in South Africa. Its supporters say it evokes pride and passion, while its detractors say it is a source of humiliation and disgrace.

For years, rugby symbolised sporting supremacy for white racists, who said black South Africans would never be allowed to wear a Springbok jersey and should stick to playing football.

The country’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, famously sported the Springbok jersey in a poignant gesture of racial reconciliation when South Africa won the 1995 World Cup at home following the abolition of apartheid.

Former president Thabo Mbeki also donned the green-and-gold shirt when South Africa won the World Cup last year in France.

Although the Springboks currently have a non-white coach, the team remains dogged by racial rows.

Critics say there are too few black starting players, and there have been some ugly incidents at games, including an attack by white male fans on a black woman.

At a national sports convention last month, the outspoken head of parliament’s sports committee led a chorus of speakers who said the Springbok symbol should be dropped altogether because it was too divisive.

Stofile stopped short of that, but he caused waves by suggesting that the government owned the Springbok emblem and could do what it liked with it.

Hoskins said the ownership of the Springbok emblem was not discussed on Tuesday.

South African flanker Luke Watson, the son of a white anti-apartheid activist, fuelled controversy over the emblem last month when he allegedly told a students’ meeting that he wanted to vomit on the Springbok shirt because it symbolised oppression.

Watson, who didn’t deny making the remarks but insisted they were said to a private audience, was hauled before a disciplinary committee after SARU received a copy of the comments. But the case was dropped on a technicality because of a legal loophole.