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Another struggle against apartheid

Opinion Piece

by John Minto

John Minto

July 22, 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the first game of the 1981 Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand.

It was played in Gisborne and the images of passion and fury from the protests against the game reverberated around the world. It was the beginning of a winter of bitterness and discontent as the tour rolled around the country leaving deep divisions in its wake.

This was a traumatic event for New Zealand, but looking back the protests left a positive impact on both New Zealand and South Africa. We are a better country for it.

After the dramatic protest at Gisborne, the following game in Hamilton was called off after protestors invaded the field.

On South Africa’s Robben Island, the penal colony off Cape Town, Nelson Mandela said when the prisoners learned the game was called off because of an anti-apartheid protest they grabbed the bars of their cell doors and rattled them around the prison; he said it was like the sun came out.

The tour didn’t stop apartheid but it helped tighten the international boycott and helped bring apartheid in South Africa to a quicker end.

There were many flow-on effects to New Zealand from the tour, but the most important by a long chalk was reflective focus on racism in this country. Maori activists challenged the country, asking how could we be concerned about racism 6000 miles away and ignore it in our own backyard?

Much earlier groups like Nga Tamatoa had challenged the Pakeha majority about racism here and the debate was deepened and accelerated by the events of the tour and its aftermath. There were many uncomfortable conversations for Pakeha and these continue today.

After the tour, the Waitangi Tribunal was given power to look at historic breaches of the Treaty (previously it had only been mandated to look at future breaches), and so began the investigations into historical Treaty grievances which continue today. Into the future, the country will develop stronger bicultural links based on a genuine Treaty partnership which is beginning to develop and broaden. We are a better people for it.

2021 also marks the turning point in another struggle against apartheid, in Israel.

Nobel Peace Prize-winner and good friend of New Zealand, South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu has described Israel’s policies towards Palestinians as worse than that suffered by Black South Africans.

Tutu says when it comes to Israel, the world should “Call it apartheid and boycott!”

Human rights groups now carry the same message. The largest and most respected Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem released a landmark report calling Israel “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea”. B’Tselem says:

“A regime that uses laws, practices and organised violence to cement the supremacy of one group over another is an apartheid regime…”

Three months later, in April, B’Tselem was joined by the large US-based, Nobel Peace Prize-winning-organisation Human Rights Watch which released a 213-page report detailing how Israeli policies constitute “crimes of apartheid and persecution” against Palestinians.

Within the last week a poll conducted by the Jewish Electoral Institute in the US has revealed 25 percent of US Jewish voters describe Israel as an “apartheid state”. Such a result, even a year ago, would have been unthinkable.

Palestinian groups have long called for sanctions against Israel and it’s time New Zealand tackled Israeli racism and apartheid head on, as we did with apartheid in South Africa.

As the tide turns strongly in support of the Palestinian struggle, the fight against Israeli apartheid has become the anti-apartheid struggle of this generation.