Rodney Hide: Sorry, but I'm on the 1981 fence

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Anti Springbok rugby tour protesters make their point during a march.
Anti Springbok rugby tour protesters make their point during a march.

It's confession time. It's not going to be easy, so, please, bear with me. I have no right to ask but I am hoping for a little understanding. And, perhaps, too, a little forgiveness.

I was always worried in Parliament that it would come out and prove politically awkward and damaging. But I am free from public life now and I think it will do me good to get it off my chest.

So here it is (please, be gentle): I don't know if I was pro-tour or anti-tour. There! I have said it. Phew. And, umm, I still don't know. It feels good just to have written that.

For more than 30 years a Kiwi's position on the 1981 Springbok tour has proved a political litmus test and a determinant of whether you are a good person or a bad one.

To be agnostic has not been an option. That implies you were on the wrong side of history and now lack the courage to own up and repent. That the political litmus test still applies was evident with the brouhaha about who should and shouldn't have represented us at Nelson Mandela's funeral and the commentariat's bewilderment over Prime Minister John Key's refusal to declare whether he was pro- or anti-tour.

I have an excuse of sorts. I wasn't here. I was travelling back from Europe. I had no interest in what was going on in New Zealand and, of course, there was no internet. At the time I was in a pokey Bangkok hotel delirious with some kind of blood poisoning picked up in what was then Burma.

The doctor I finally saw wanted to hospitalise me but I wasn't keen. I distinctly remember the frightful trip across Bangkok on a crowded bus. My vision was blurry and I could have sworn that back in the hotel reception another guest had said the pictures on the little black-and-white TV of violent protest were from New Zealand. I thought I must be sicker than I had realised. Such violent riots never took place in New Zealand.

I recovered and some months later made it home. I found friends and family totally polarised. I was desperate to find out what the tour was all about but couldn't. The subject was taboo. Friends, family, workmates found the only way they could get along was by refusing ever to discuss it.

Of course, I was against apartheid. That's the essence of libertarianism: the law should apply equally to all regardless of skin colour. That's why I oppose the Maori seats. They are our little bits of race segregation.

I was also not that keen on rugby. (That's two politically embarrassing admissions in one column.) I certainly would not have gone to the tests and doubt I would have watched them on TV.

But I also don't like violent confrontation, the madness of crowds, and the anti-tour leaders anxious to foment civil disruption at every opportunity.

I have never been sure about trade and sporting boycotts. There's not a government in the world that I agree with and I don't know where in the scale from Bad to Worse to draw the line of trading and sporting boycott. Also, it always seemed hypocritical that some very oppressive regimes such as the former USSR were deemed acceptable, but others not. I also can't help but wonder if the causes of freedom and democracy aren't best promoted by open demonstration through business, cultural and sporting contacts and that boycotts, on balance, are perhaps counter-productive.

And so I remain agnostic. And if Mandela could forgive his jailers then perhaps you could forgive me for not being sure on which side of the barricades I would have been on in 1981 - or whether I would have bothered to have been there at all.

- Herald on Sunday

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