Sunday, April 01, 2007

"The Tour." 25 years ago…

July 18, 2006

    "The ensuing public protests polarised the New Zealand population as no other issue has in the nation's history."

With the stumbling Springboks travelling to New Zealand for their Tri-Nations test against the All Blacks this Saturday, the New Zealand Herald looks back 25 years when the Bok tour almost ripped a nation apart.

Protests a turning point in the history of New Zealand

New Zealand Herald
Saturday July 8, 2006
By Ruth Hill

When police in visored helmets and swinging batons, ran on to the field at Hamilton's Rugby Park, something came unstuck in New Zealand's self-image as an open, tolerant society. [...]

The Springboks arrived on July 19, 1981, and for the next 56 dramatic days, New Zealand headlined news bulletins around the world.

In scenes reminiscent of South Africa itself, protesters clashed with police and enraged rugby fans; rugby grounds resembled war zones, barbwired and barricaded.

During the final test match at Eden Park, Auckland, a low-flying light plane disrupted the match by dropping flour-bombs on the pitch. (Pilot Marx Jones served six months' jail for the stunt.)

Public confidence in the police was battered when riot police were filmed beating unarmed "clowns" and bare-headed protesters at a sit-down.

The repercussions were even felt within Robben Island Prison, where future South African president Nelson Mandela and other prominent African National Congress (ANC) leaders were imprisoned.

Mandela was quoted as saying that "the sun shone through the dark corridors of the cells" when he heard about the protests in New Zealand. [...]

Not only did the protests show black South Africans that New Zealanders felt solidarity with their struggle, but it dealt a serious psychological blow to white South Africans.

"As a result of the protests here, no other major rugby-playing country would accept the Springboks until apartheid was gone. We closed down South African rugby for 10 years."

Then Auckland Rugby Union chairman Ron Don, who was also a member of the NZRFU Council, says he "wouldn't change a thing".

"Like almost every rugby person, I was pro-tour and nothing that has happened since has altered my opinions," he says.

"I think I speak for all sports in New Zealand, when I say we didn't then and we don't now inquire into the politics of any nation we were playing against, either home or away."

Don denies there was much division within rugby circles at the time, despite the fact that then-All Black captain Graham Mourie stood down, with veteran centre Bruce Robertson.

Prominent former All Blacks, including Ken Gray, Bob Burgess, Mick O'Callaghan, Chris Laidlaw, John Graham, Bevan Holmes and 1960 captain Wilson Whineray, plus coaches, administrators and referees also spoke out against the tour.

Whole article.

  • More good background info at wikipedia.

  • TVNZ has a 24-minute documentary broken into three separate small javascript video clips of the tour (each about 8-minutes long; the "flour bombing" is on the 3rd clip.) Definitely worth a look!

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