On July 25, 1981 when 300 protesters tore down a boundary fence at a packed Hamilton Rugby Park (now FMG Stadium) invading the pitch shortly before the Springbok vs Waikato game was due to kick off, it put South Africa's apartheid regime in the centre of global attention.
The match was stopped before it even started. Political activist John Minto who led that protest says it was a special day although they did not realise at the time how significant it was.
"It is a great day in history because New Zealand made an impact - internationally. The Hamilton protest didn't end apartheid, but I would say it helped to end it quicker," Minto told Waikato Herald this week as he prepared to return to Hamilton next week to mark the 40th anniversary with a reunion lunch and a march through the city to the rugby ground that was the scene of so much chaos, anger, and sadness.
Minto, the former national organiser of Halt All Racist Tours (HART), says that when he went to South Africa in 2009 he was amazed how almost everyone he spoke to said it felt like the protest in Hamilton put the apartheid in the global spotlight.
He says the protest in the middle of the field was the most dangerous part. The group linked arms in the middle of the field while the rugby crowd threw bottles and other objects. Police arrested about 50 demonstrators.
"But it was also international solidarity at its finest. I went to the hospital twice that day to get stitches. There was an attack on the house where we were staying and lots of people were bashed on Hamilton's streets. It was pretty awful," he says.
"We were provocative, but sometimes you have to be if the issues are important. What we were saying then was that the rights of Black South Africans were more important than New Zealand's right to watch rugby. We can be proud of what we achieved, not only for South Africa, but also for New Zealand."
Apartheid in South Africa prohibited white, black, and coloured athletes competing against or playing with each other. South African rugby authorities selected Springbok players by race. The 1981 rugby tour divided New Zealand with protests across the country.
"With the Springbok vs All Blacks rugby, New Zealand had an important link to South Africa, more than anyone else in the world. So I thought, we could have a better impact on the issue.
"In South Africa, the Hamilton game was the first ever live broadcast, people got up in the middle of the night to watch it. When they saw the protest, they went out on the streets to celebrate. And the Springbok captain said he later realised that if people in New Zealand protest for something on the other side of the world, South Africa had a big problem.
"I met Nelson Mandela, when he visited New Zealand in 1995. He said when he heard of the protest, it was as if the sun had come out. Mandela spent his 16th year in prison at that time and he said the warders wanted to watch the game and told him what was going on. He said he could hardly believe it."
Minto says the Hamilton protest was also a wake-up call for New Zealand to look in its own backyard of colonial history.
He is "very much looking forward" to coming to Hamilton next week, celebrating the achievement. He will visit Waikato Museum's exhibition of photos from the 1981 protests, and attend a reunion lunch at Anglican Action. At 1.30pm he and supporters will march from Garden Place to FMG Stadium where there will be speeches to commemorate the day.
"Something important happened here. It won't be a huge march, I expect a couple hundred people."
Three of the speakers next Sunday are linked to those who spoke in Hamilton in 1981: John himself, Ripeka Evans and Angeline Greensill, daughter of well-known Maori leader the late Eva Rickard, who spoke in 1981.
Minto's visit to Hamilton is the second stop on a nationwide tour following the 15 places where the Springboks played in 1981, including Gisborne (July 22), Dunedin (August 11) and Timaru (August 19). After Hamilton, Minto will visit New Plymouth on July 29.
Minto, who is also chairman of Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa, said there will also be a Palestinian speaker at the commemoration.
"There are similarities between apartheid in South Africa and Israeli policies against Palestine. We have had human rights groups saying that Israel is an apartheid state and we think it is New Zealand's time to react. We want the New Zealand government to boycott and treat Israel like we treated South Africa back then."
Meanwhile, Waikato Museum is collaborating with Hamilton City Libraries to unearth the names and stories of people who took part in the Springbok protest in 1981. The day was captured through the work of local photographers which has been put together in the exhibition titled 1981 that opened in June.
Waikato Museum curator Nadia Gush said the exhibition sheds light on what was a divisive time for Aotearoa.
"Regardless of the side of the rugby fence people might have been on, the significance of that game's cancellation is an important part of Hamilton's history.
"The names and stories of the people in those photos are at the heart of this exhibition, and Waikato Museum would like to hear from anyone who attended the candlelight vigils, marched to Rugby Park, or paid to watch a rugby match that never eventuated."
If you have first-hand memories of the protests in Hamilton that you are willing to share, please visit Waikato Museum to view the exhibition, or contact the Heritage Floor at Hamilton's Central Library to arrange a time to record your story through an interview.