Cricket South Africa’s transformation policy means the national team operates with a target of selecting six players of colour in their XI, with two of those being black Africans.
Bavuma held down one of those slots for 39 Tests but injured his hip in the run-up to the victory in Centurion last week, with his fellow black African Lungi Ngidi also ruled out for the series.
The decision to replace Bavuma with Rassie Van Der Dussen, while also preferring Dwaine Pretorius over Andile Phehlukwayo, meant the Proteas missed their target by two.
Bavuma is now fit again but the decision has been made to stick with Van Der Dussen, who scored a second-innings half-century on debut.
Bavuma’s record of just one hundred in 65 Test knocks, coincidentally scored against England in Cape Town four years ago, threatened to pitch cricketing and cultural concerns into conflict.
Du Plessis came to the decision alongside head coach Mark Boucher and chief selector Linda Zondi and explained the reasoning they had used during his pre-match press conference at Newlands.
“We don’t see colour and I think it’s important people understand that opportunity is very important. Opportunity for any colour,” he said.
“Temba is fit, he passed his fitness test. But we feel it’s the right thing to do to stick with Rassie. Any player needs a bit of time, that’s how you’d like it in any format, to get an extended run.
“Temba will be the first guy to acknowledge that he got a very good opportunity. Temba was injured before the start of the series but it was a chatting point before the series: which positions do we need to make sure there is more competition for? When I mention Rassie, it’s about having consistency when it comes to opportunity, being fair to every player.”
Du Plessis also confirmed Pieter Malan would make his debut at the top of the order, replacing the injured Aiden Markram.
“It’s the perfect script for Pieter at his home ground,” he said.
“Dean Elgar would have liked less opening partners, he talks about that all the time, and Aiden with Dean was the partnership that we were looking for.
“But Pieter is a proper Test opener, he is a grinder and he will bat for a long time.”