Weekly column by Kāpiti Mayor K Gurunathan
During Nelson Mandela's 1995 visit to New Zealand, then Governor-General Dame Cath Tizard recalled what he told her: "... he would never forget the day the game in Hamilton was called off".
The anti- 1981 Springboks Tour organiser, John Minto, reported on his own Auckland meeting with the charismatic South African leader. Mandela was in prison in 1981 when the Springboks were touring NZ.
"He said when the prisoners heard protesters had caused the game to be called off, all the prisoners rattled the doors throughout the jail. He said it was like the sun came out".
Last Saturday, July 25, 200 people gathered in Hamilton to mark the 40th anniversary of the nationally significant event when about 300 protesters invaded the 30,000-capacity stadium and forced the game to be called off. Claire and I made a last-minute decision last Friday to attend the anniversary.
It was 40 years ago when, as part of the protest group that had earlier pulled down the stadium perimeter fence, we invaded the pitch. Locked arms and huddled in a tight group. As the stadium crowd cheered, the police trooped in to drag out protesters.
There was a stand-off.
When the decision was made to call off the game, the rugby crowd went berserk. They started to throw projectiles including beer bottles and cans. As the angry rugby crowd started to move into the pitch the police, caught in the middle, had formed a gauntlet to create an escape route for us to get out of the stadium. Projectiles came thick and fast. Some of us were pulled out of the escape route and pummelled. The police were also targeted.
As I put a protective left hand over Claire's head and covered my own head with other, I saw the projectile in slow motion. A fist-size rock sailing down. It hit the head of the person in front and bounced. His head wobbled as he staggered and collapsed, blood streaming out. It was John Minto, the lead organiser of Halt All Racist Tours (HART), a broad coalition of progressive groups. Claire and I grabbed him by one arm while another protester picked John up on the right. We stumbled out and delivered him to a van outside with a Red Cross sign. The angry crowd was pouring out of the stadium and fights were breaking out as anyone who looked like a "protester" was set upon. We fled to our car to get out of town.
Last Saturday, at the anniversary, we met John and Michael Law. Michael, back in 1981, was the deputy chairman of HART.
"Over the years, whenever John and I reminisced about that day, we often wondered who the other person was who helped us. It's great that after 40 years we get to meet you both," said Michael.
Also at the anniversary was Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt. Back in the 70s and 80s he was a legendary figure. An orator with a razor-sharp wit that diced the establishment politicians.
There is also an interesting Kāpiti side story to tell. Last triennium, around the council table, there were three lenses that viewed the 1981 Hamilton game. While I was on the pitch as a protester, councillor Mike Cardiff had been a rugby fan sitting at the grandstand watching the drama unfold. Also from the grandstand in the press gallery was councillor John Howson reporting the drama for Radio NZ.
Saturday's anniversary of the past had a twist of relevance to the present and future. The anti-tour movement in NZ was a leading global movement against the political, social, and economic oppression of apartheid.
That movement is now being given oxygen through what John Minto is campaigning on - Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people. In keeping an open mind I'm being asked to listen to South African Nobel peace laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu, the veteran anti-apartheid activist. In an article to the Huffington Post in 2014 he said: "The sustainability of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people has always been dependent on its ability to deliver justice to the Palestinians ... I know first hand that Israel has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation. The parallels to my own beloved South Africa are painfully stark indeed."
Why would a respected Christian like Bishop Tutu say that, and is he wrong?