People were left bloodied and bruised, friendships ended and civil unrest hammered our nation during the Springboks 1981 tour. But 40 years on, Neil Reid reports the sporting event which divided New Zealand had a positive legacy globally.
When the ground announcement was made to cancel the Springboks' clash against Waikato a fiery chorus of "We want rugby" boomed around Hamilton's Rugby Park.
The screams of anger only amplified as the 300 spectators who had earlier stormed the ground were led off the field and into a barrage of full beer cans, punches and kicks from incensed rugby fans.
More than 11,600km away, the noise created by inmates on Robben Island – including ANC activist and future South African president Nelson Mandela – on hearing of the match's abandonment was also deafening.
But the noise they made – including hitting the doors of their cells with whatever objects were at hand – wasn't out of anger.
Instead, it was out of joy that the sporting team which was viewed by many around the world as the ultimate symbol of white rule in South Africa had been tackled by everyday Kiwis.
The moment was shared Mandela during his presidential visit to New Zealand in 1995, when he told those who had been at the frontline of anti-tour protests that when news of the events in Hamilton reached the stark prison of Robben Island it was "like the sun came out".
Among the gathering was long-time activist and Halt All Racist Tours (HART) leader John Minto who had suffered numerous cuts and bruises while protesting during the 1981 tour.
He said that comment had made any physical pain he endured on the frontline of protests during the tour worthwhile.
"Nelson Mandela said when he was here that it was like 'the sun came out' when he heard this game had been cancelled . . . that people on the other side of the world had used civil disobedience to cancel a game," he told the New Zealand Herald.
"That was really reinforcing for me . . . the impact was enormous."
During his meeting with leaders of the anti-tour leaders 14 years on from the divisive sporting event, Mandela also stated: "You elected to brave the batons and pronounce that New Zealand could not be free when other human beings were being subjected to a legalised and cruel system of racial domination."
New Zealand and successive governments had gone on to "stand tall as one of the most committed supporters of the anti-apartheid cause".
Hitting South Africa where it hurt the most
Rugby has provided both the biggest bond and rivalry between New Zealand and South Africa.
The two nations had done battle on the rugby field since 1921. Staggeringly, it wasn't until 1956 that the All Blacks finally secured a series win over the Springboks.
The biggest strike New Zealand could make against South Africa's racist apartheid regime was via cutting all rugby contacts with the nation.
In the year leading up to the tour that was a line which was heavily pushed by an ever-growing anti-tour movement; which included opposition MPs, human rights campaigners and everyday Kiwis.
But in the face of increasing protests, the New Zealand Rugby Union controversially pushed on by issuing an invitation to their South African counterparts in late 1980 for the Springboks to tour the following year.
Previous tours by the Springboks to the UK and Ireland in 1969-70 and to Australia in 1971 had led to huge protests in those respective nations. When it became clear the 1981 tour would go ahead, protest leaders here vowed to do all they could to ensure the Boks would be considered too unpalatable to compete against until apartheid was scrapped.
That also required everyday white South Africans who were obsessed by the Springboks to lobby for change; something which Patu Squad protest leader and futuer MP Hone Harawira said was achieved by the level of protests in New Zealand – including two matches being cancelled due to security issues.
"Rugby was an absolute religious force in South Africa," he said. "Just after God, or it might have been right up alongside God, for white South Africans was the Springboks.
"And they would choose a Springbok jersey over a selection to go Oxford University. That is how important rugby was to them."
Minto said HART was proudly part of an international campaign "to isolate South Africa" with its actions protesting the tour.
One of the motivations of the local actions – which culminated with the violent clashes outside Eden Park on the day of the third and final test – was for it be "very hard for the Springboks to leave South Africa after our protests".
But while on the frontline of protests around the country – where he had pain inflicted on him by both police batons and the fists of rugby fans – he never imagined the magnitude the stance he and his colleagues would have in South Africa.
"We knew it would be significant, but it wasn't until I went to South Africa for the first time in 2009 that it really hit home to me," he said.
"I had black, white and coloured South Africans talking to me about this and talking about the huge watershed moment for South Africa after the game in Hamilton had been cancelled.
"It shouldn't be surprising because rugby links with South Africa were the most important thing for white South Africans and in terms of rugby here, the most important link here New Zealand had to the rugby world."
Springbok captain: "Good" came out of tour violence
The Springboks never expected to face the wave of protests and hatred that were directed their way while in New Zealand.
Naively, they thought as a sports team they wouldn't be brought into the highly-charged political debate over the repugnant apartheid regime that ruled their homeland.
No sports team has ever operated under the conditions that face them; they were guarded around the clock by police, it was deemed unsafe for them travel in small groups with team issue gear on, and on the eve of the final two tests of the tour they slept in function rooms at Athletic Park and Eden Park to avoid contact with protestors.
Despite the turmoil, the side's captain Wynand Claassen doesn't regret the decision to go on tour as the "impact on South Africa was as much positive as it was negative in New Zealand".
"The system slowly started to turn after that. It was the start of the final change, because after that South Africa was totally isolated in terms of sport," he said in the book, Springbok – The Official Opus.
"If we look for positives, it was the 1981 tour that encouraged change. It wasn't great but then you can't deny the good that came out of it."
And the tourist's only non-white player, Errol Tobias, said the determination adopted by protestors – including those who continued to fight the tour despite being left bloodied and bruised - ultimately proved to be a "catalyst" for South African law makers to start a reformation process.
But it did take time. Apartheid wasn't fully revoked until 1994.
"Today, the tour and the resistance it was met with are seen as the most important catalyst in the struggle against apartheid in South African rugby," Tobias wrote in his autobiography, Pure Gold.
"Fundamental change was non-negotiable, although it only followed a decade later."
Forty years on, Harawira said there was no doubt the anti-tour movement in New Zealand had played its part in getting rid of apartheid.
But he said in reality protestors here had been playing a support role for brave human rights activists of all colour who risked their lives in their native South Africa to fight apartheid.
"It took a lot more action in South Africa, and not here, and more people dying before it became clear to the authorities that, 'Do we even have enough white people if this goes to war'," Harawira said.
"In the end the decision was entirely South Africa's. But we had a role to play, as did Cuba who supported black South Africans by supplying them with money and arms, and other countries like Libya."
"It changed New Zealand forever"
When the All Blacks lined up for three test series against the Springboks two prominent names were missing from the team.
Captain Graham Mourie and 102-match veteran Bruce Robertson had made themselves unavailable for the clashes on moral grounds.
Mourie went public with his stand eight months before the Springboks flew into New Zealand; basing it on what happened off the field on previous Bok tours, his own research into apartheid and fears of what could eventuate here.
Mourie wasn't engrossed in the action on the field during the tour. Neither did he make his presence felt at protests.
Instead, he watched on from afar as his worst fears were played out around New Zealand.
The 1981 tour became synonymous with violent clashes between protestors and police wearing riot gear and grandstands at club grounds targeted by arson attacks.
Passive protest actions included teachers refusing to coach rugby, while thousands of parents stopped their children from playing the sport.
"What happened [in Britain and Australia] was to a degree a forerunner of what was to happen here," Mourie said. "We managed to top them pretty easily . . ."
"Could you have seen it [the fierce protests] coming? Probably not to the degree that it was. But it [anti-tour anger] was certainly part of the discussions I had with Ian Fraser and a couple of other people . . . what they thought the outcome would be."
Forty years on, Mourie said the Springbok tour was an event which he now viewed as a nation-changing event.
"If you want to look at events that evolved New Zealand . . . things like [the Springbok tour] changed how we viewed the world. In my mind, it certainly changed New Zealand forever.
"We suddenly had police out there in riot gear and we had a change with ways we dealt with issues forever."
Minto also said the tour changed the mindset of our nation forever – and for the good.
While the focus of protests had been on apartheid's mistreatment of non-white South Africans, it had also shone a spotlight on New Zealand's own racial issues.
"New Zealand is a very different place to what it was then in all sorts of ways," Minto said.
"The lasting legacy of the tour has been on race relations here. It pushed the debate about Maori and pushed New Zealanders into a bi-cultural frame of mind.
"I think that has had a huge positive impact."
Harawira also heralded positives to New Zealand's own race relations following the tour.
He said it wasn't just the plight of non-white non-white South Africans that motivated many protestors to take to the streets before and during the tour.
Protests had also provided the chance for Maori and Pasifika a platform to air their own grievances on how they felt mistreated.
"We got the apartheid thing, we understood that," Harawira said. "We were pissed off like everybody else that the New Zealand Rugby Union didn't give a s***.
"But there was also that whole racism in New Zealand. It was a double-edged sword for us. We were fighting apartheid in South Africa and striking a blow against racism in New Zealand as well."