The idea of John Key, Don McKinnon, Jim Bolger and their minders trapped aboard a slow jet to South Africa, ear-bashed all the way by John Minto, has a certain cruel appeal, but the Prime Minister's decision to leave the veteran protester out of the official Mandela funeral group was surely the right one.

How embarrassing for New Zealand if midway through the funeral service, Mr Minto was to whip out his bullhorn, and before a worldwide audience of zillions, do a Mark Antony: "Friends ... I come to bury Mandela, not to praise him." Then launch into a long critique of his failure to usher in the Marxist revolution to liberate South Africa.

The Princess Di-ification of Nelson Mandela that has swept the world, particularly by right-wing politicians and newspapers that once attacked the man as a terrorist, has been breathtaking. And would have no doubt have amused Mr Mandela, who from all accounts had a fine appreciation of the ridiculous.

Still, a polite silence, or expressions of contrition for past errors, would have been more timely. Similarly, there's a time and place for giving a hero, who hasn't delivered all the expectations you'd placed upon him, a kicking. And in his coffin waiting burial, isn't it.


At least Mr Minto has consistency on his side. In 1995 during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Auckland, he criticised his hero face to face. The South African President met anti-apartheid protesters in St Matthews-in-the-City Church, central Auckland, to thank his "comrades in struggle" who had "elected to brave the batons" for his people. In response, Mr Minto, a leading anti-1981 Springbok tour opponent, told the President of his dismay that South Africa was bringing in the same free market reforms introduced in New Zealand in recent years.

That the Prime Minister should lead the funeral party was correct, even if Mr Key can't recall what his thoughts were, as a university student in 1981, as the bottles and the batons rained down on Mr Minto and his anti-tour warriors. But exactly why former Prime Minister Jim Bolger and his deputy Don McKinnon are along for the ride is another question.

Before leaving, both said they were against the 1981 rugby tour at the time. Sir Don was on TV3 saying "I was very anti-tour." Yet at the time Sir Don was junior whip in the Muldoon Government that backed the tour to the hilt. Mr Bolger was a minister from 1975.

As Prime Minister in 1996, Mr Bolger publicly admitted the tour was a mistake to Mr Mandela and the world, at a state banquet in Cape Town. Labour leader Helen Clark immediately panned the statement, claiming "in 1981, Mr Bolger sat without dissent in a National Cabinet which, to its eternal shame, milked the Springbok tour for political advantage ... the result was the defeat of Labour, which opposed the tour".

She was backed by independent MP Ross Meurant, the leader of the infamous police Red Squad used to control protesters in 1981, who said Mr Bolger made him "bloody sick". He said "we never heard a bo-peep from Jim Bolger in 1981. He was happy to stay in the Cabinet that made the decision ... and get the votes from provincial New Zealand that the Springbok tour won for National".

Merv Wellington, a National Cabinet minister alongside Mr Bolger in 1981, also told the Herald he had "no recollection of Mr Bolger speaking against the tour at that time".

Jump forward to 1988, two years before Mandela's release from jail, and Mr Bolger became Prime Minister, and National MPs were still attacking Mr Mandela.

As a 70th birthday present, the Lange Government had announced a new Mandela Scholarship for a nominee of the African National Congress. National's education spokesman Dr Lockwood Smith said his message to any ANC student was "either do a short course or don't bother coming. When I am minister in 1990, I will assuredly send you home." He said he would not tolerate someone from a "terrorist organisation" at a New Zealand university.

National's Whangarei MP John Banks said New Zealanders "were sick to the back teeth with this government crawling and snivelling to the tune of the African National Congress ... a communist-sponsored terrorist organisation".

Still, right-wing New Zealand politicians are hardly the only ones becoming born-again Mandelians. British Prime Minister David Cameron says Mandela is "a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death, a true global hero". But in 1989, when he was about the same age as our forgetful Mr Key, Mr Cameron visited apartheid South African on an all-expenses paid "fact-finding tour" funded by a pro-apartheid lobby group.

Then there's former US President George Bush. As he flew out to the funeral he said the former South African President was one of the "great forces for freedom and equality of our time".

Yet in 1989, the US Defense Department publication, Terrorist Group Profiles, listed the ANC as among 52 of the "world's more notorious terrorist groups". Mandela was named as a leader.

Mr Mandela remained on the State and Defence departments' "terrorism watch list" until 2008, when he was aged 90 and nine years after he'd left office.

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