Forty years ago, the Springbok tour sparked an uprising, with 150,000 people joining at least 200 protests across the country.
As a result, some 1,500 people were ultimately charged with crimes.
To close three months of commemoration, activists who were on the front lines of the protests reflect on how their lives and Aotearoa were shaped by the events of 1981.
* 1981 Springbok tour 40 years later: “1981 was the battle for the soul of New Zealand”
* The Springbok Tour, 1981: Ten days that rocked Christchurch
* 1981 Springbok Tour: Protesters Remember Violent “Battlefields” and Vicious Punching
For Polynesian panther Tigilau Ness, the shattering influence of the protests cannot be dissociated from the impact of the nine months he spent in prison.
Ness joined the Patu squad, signaling that he was ready to go to jail. But after his arrest, he discovered that there was a difference between being prepared for prison and being there.
There was a sense of isolation for the activists who served their sentences, he said.
At first there was a lot of difficulty to overcome. There was no advice. The first treatment took place locked up in his cell at Mt Eden prison.
“When you’re alone, it’s hard to confront what you’ve done.”
Accepting accusations such as riots and illegal gatherings of the reality of the rebellion against authority has taken a long time.
“I struggled with that – was I the wrong one, was I the culprit?
“But then I realized apartheid was the evil beast.”
Making peace by being on the right side of history took time. Ness says that also hardened him; once you realize what the right side of the story looks like, “you can’t stop”.
“When I got out of prison, I was more or less a seasoned and seasoned activist. “
His eyes have been opened to the injustices happening around Aotearoa. He had shown himself ready to go to jail for his beliefs and he used this badge of honor to fight for land rights, welfare, housing, justice, health and other programs of the Polynesian Panthers. .
“It has been a learning thing all along, and I have used that experience to fight for what I believe is right.”
His work continues today with the Polynesian Panthers’ Educate to Liberate program, and he has a message for young people that he has carried with him since his early days in activism.
“Don’t be afraid, and you don’t have to ask permission.
“If you feel that something is wrong, get up and look around – there will be people who will feel the same way.”
Trevor Richards says the 1981 Springbok Tour protests were a “battle for the soul of the nation.”
Richards, along with Tom Newnham, John Minto, Dave Wickham and others formed Halt All Racist Tours (Hart) in 1969 to protest against the proposed 1970 New Zealand tour of South Africa.
The run-up to the tour was “a time of great social, political and cultural upheaval” in Aotearoa, he said.
It was a time of opposition to the Vietnam War and French nuclear testing in the Pacific, Maori battles for rights and demands for the decriminalization of homosexuality, said Richards, Hart’s 1969 national president in 1980.
“If New Zealand couldn’t make the right decision as to whether we should play sports against racist teams from South Africa, what could they make the right decision on?
Since its inception, Hart had “largely cast his anti-racism net,” supporting Maori land rights and the Polynesian Panthers, he said.
“Combined with Maori involvement in campaigns against our rugby ties to South Africa, we have forced many Pākehā to examine the legitimacy of Maori claims of racial injustice within our own society. “
During the tour, “a lot of us did a lot of things that – under other circumstances – we never would have dreamed of doing,” he said.
One of those moments was when Richards, along with 30 other people, blocked an airstrip at Wellington Airport.
“I had been talking about apartheid for 12 years and I really started to feel the need to put my actions where my mouth was.”
Air New Zealand was flying the Springbok team across the country and, as a result, “they were accomplices on the tour and a target,” he said.
“We go through the perimeter fence at the south end of the airport and walk on the tarmac. We move forward and suddenly a car shoots out of the terminal and rushes towards us.
“It was New Zealand’s first line of defense against international terrorism. And of course, shortly after the police arrived … and of course, eventually, we were caught, arrested, and spent time in the cells.
Richards said the tour ended a “racist relationship” not only with South Africa, the “apartheid ambassadors”, but also with a type of New Zealand culture.
“One of the cornerstones of the old post-war“ rugby, racing and beer ”socio-political cultural axis had been destroyed.
Donna Awatere Huata
Donna Awatere Huata was arrested 18 times while protesting the Springbok tour and said she was called “public enemy number one” by then-National Prime Minister Rob Muldoon.
For the former ACT party MP, the protests were an important moment that white New Zealand needed to “look at its own backyard and sort out the racism here”.
“It was the only time Pākehā New Zealand had taken a stand against racism. When did they ever protest against the taking of our land, or against the way our children were beaten for speaking their language? Huata said.
Huata was a central component of the Maori activist group Ngā Tamatoa – whose members included Hone Harawira and Tame Iti – which for nearly a decade earlier had challenged Pākehā over their racism towards tangata whenua.
“We just ended up making the decisions, having the right to run the protests during the tour, to decide where we were going to tear down the fences and so on. And that’s really how I got involved.
A lasting legacy of the tour was that a generation of Pākehā no longer saw Maori as “food for their racism” or that “New Zealand’s colonial past is OK,” she said.
“We now have an army of Pākehā who have decolonized. You can never bring them back, that’s what they are until they die and their children will inherit it.
However, Huata said that despite the gains made since the tour, the Maori continued to be “pushed back”.
“We’ve had a veritable proliferation of superficial changes, but when it comes to the real facts, where it matters, things have not only stayed the same, but got worse.
“What does it take to change this colonial system?
The 1981 Springbok Tour “forever shaped the way the public perceives me,” says John Minto.
Minto, Hart’s national organizer, became notoriously the face of police wrath during the tour – riot squads infamously dubbed their long sticks “the Minto bar.”
Public opinion about him froze forever in 1981: “They see me first as an activist with a megaphone.
He was frustrated with it. In a lifetime of activism, the Springbok protests loom no more than any other work, he says, from opposing massive funding for teachers, defending the Mana Party, and campaigning tirelessly for Palestinian rights.
“The Palestinian struggle is the anti-apartheid struggle of this generation,” he said.
Being remembered as a Springbok activist is first and foremost something he now accepts as part of the “wallpaper of my life,” and he is generous with his time, replying to dozens of student letters each year.
There were “many lessons” he took from 1981 to his later activism.
One of the main ones was that “politicians never lead change – they only react to changes in public opinion”.
Look at the anti-apartheid, anti-nuclear movement, women’s rights, gay law reform – the same model is for the politics that follow people, says Minto.
Another important lesson was “you don’t get change, you never get change in society, without conflict”.
“You can only get about a third of the way with rational arguments when you go for a policy change. “
Make flyers, show films, spark public debate – they won’t get you far. The other two-thirds should be about “challenging long-held ideas and developing a public debate around these things”.
For change to happen, “conflict is inevitable,” he says.
“The conflict can be as minor as an argument or as major as an uprising.”