Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples says he will represent anti-apartheid activists at Nelson Mandela's funeral after a growing chorus of voices questioned the absence of Springbok tour protesters who earned the South African leader's recognition.

The Maori Party MP left for South Africa yesterday with Prime Minister John Key, leader of the Opposition David Cunliffe, former Prime Minister Jim Bolger and former Foreign Minister Sir Don McKinnon.

Mr Bolger and Sir Don were part of the National-led Government which approved the Springbok tour in 1981, though Mr Bolger later apologised for his party's stance. Mr Key has previously said he did not know whether he supported the tour, and said yesterday he did not want to re-litigate his position on the issue.

Dr Sharples and his family took part in many of the rugby protests, confronting police despite his role on three police advisory boards at the time. He said he would have selected more women and more frontline activists such as John Minto and Maori leader Toby Curtis to be at Mandela's memorial service.


"I would have liked John [Minto] to be there. But it's not my list, and I will represent him and others who protested in those different decades."

Mr Key said that in the spirit of Mandela, he had picked a united Parliamentary group from both sides of the House. He had considered taking Mr Minto but felt the delegation was "a good blend of those who worked with Mandela".