Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Anti-apartheid conference gets $1000 grant from NZRU

The South African rugby team's visit here in 1981 divided the nation and sparked often violent clashes between activists and the police. Photo / John Sefton
The South African rugby team's visit here in 1981 divided the nation and sparked often violent clashes between activists and the police. Photo / John Sefton

The New Zealand Rugby Union gave $1000 to help fund a weekend conference in Wellington about New Zealand's anti-apartheid movement and the 1981 Springbok tour.

And NZRU board member Graeme Mourie, the All Black captain who refused to play in the 1981 tour, will this morning take former South African Sports Minister Makhenkesi Arnold Stofile to Rugby Union headquarters in Wellington for the first time.

However, the visit is just an informal one - no apology will be made to black South Africans such as Mr Stofile.

In 2005, as minister, he led his country's unsuccessful bid to the International Rugby Board in Dublin to host the 2011 World Cup.

When South Africa was knocked out, he put his country's weight behind New Zealand's bid, citing the role it had played in the anti-apartheid movement.

The Wellington conference of mainly former protesters who loathed the rugby union in the apartheid era applauded the union for its support of the gathering.

NZRU public affairs general manager Nick Brown said the donation was "in recognition of rugby's links to the history which the conference was commemorating" and because of the involvement of some rugby personalities.

At the conference yesterday, Mourie joined former All Black Bob Burgess and former champion runner Ann Hare in a session chaired by Labour MP and former Sports Minister Trevor Mallard to talk about their refusal to be selected to compete against South African teams during the apartheid era.

Mourie said there were several reasons he wouldn't play against South Africa. He believed it was not in the interests of New Zealand and or of rugby, but his stand was mainly because of issues of morality.

The conference was held to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the African National Congress (ANC).

The conference was subject to a silent protest itself after clashes between police and miners in South Africa last week left 34 dead, most of them strikers.

Veteran Wellington left-wing activist Don Franks and three others marched silently around the conference venue at Victoria University with signs protesting the killings.

In Auckland, protesters threw red paint bombs against the building housing the South African consular offices.

Mr Stofile told the Herald yesterday that South Africa was shocked, embarrassed and frustrated at what had happened.

"Murder is a crime in South Africa irrespective of who perpetrates it and so if the presidential inquiry points at individuals who made it the painful experience it is, they must face the bulk of the law."

In the 1980s, Mr Stofile, a leading ANC activist, spent four years in prison shortly after returning to South Africa from New Zealand, where he appeared as the key witness in the successful legal bid to stop the planned 1985 tour of the republic by the All Blacks.

He had been sentenced to 11 years in jail for his activities in the ANC.

Mr Stofile was released shortly after Nelson Mandela was freed in 1990 and was elected to Parliament in the country's first democratic elections in 1994. He is now South Africa's ambassador to Germany.

Former Appeal Court judge Sir Edward Thomas spoke about how he and other lawyers such as current Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias and Justice Rodney Hansen won the interim injunction to stop the 1985 tour.

Two other special guests at the conference were NZ Anglican priests (members of the ANC) who both lost limbs in letter bombs.

John Osmers is now Bishop of Eastern Zambia, and though he has never lived in South Africa he was chaplain to the ANC in Lusaka. He lost his right hand in 1979.

Father Michael Lapsley lost his arms and the sight in one eye when a letter bomb sent to him in Zimbabwe in 1990 exploded. He is now NZ's honorary consul in Capetown.

- NZ Herald

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