Prime Minister John Key has defended his decision not to take anti-apartheid campaigner John Minto to Nelson Mandela's memorial service after the activist's absence was questioned by the Opposition.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said this morning that if he was Prime Minister he would have taken Mr Minto, who led protests against New Zealand-South Africa rugby tours during apartheid.

Mr Key and Mr Cunliffe leave today for South Africa as part of a New Zealand contingent which also included Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, and former Foreign Minister Sir Don McKinnon.

Mr Key said the Leader of the Opposition did not raise the inclusion of Mr Minto with him when he spoke to him about the delegation.


"In the end, I believe that in the five people we're sending to South Africa we've got a good blend of those who worked with Nelson Mandela from New Zealand's perspective."

The Prime Minister said he considered taking Mr Minto and raised it with officials.

"In the end, the decision was made that the grouping we had was the right one. There are lots of potential names that were put into the pot. We think we've got it right."

Asked whether he personally wanted Mr Minto to go to South Africa, Mr Key said: "I wanted to raise and canvas a whole range of people and I did that."

Mr Key was also questioned about his stance on the 1981 Springbok tour. He has previously said he could not remember whether he was for or against the tour.

He told reporters this morning: "I'm not going to go and revisit that because if I do I'll spend all day talking about it and I can't be bothered."

He added: "As I've always said, I didn't go to protest against the tour and I didn't go to any of the games. I was 19 years of age and had lots of other things going on at the time.

"I'm strongly opposed to apartheid, but I'm not going to make up stuff that wasn't the case 30 years ago and try and reinvent history because it's inconvenient for the left."


Mandela, South Africa's former president and anti-apartheid hero, died on Friday after a lengthy illness.