We did what John Key should have done

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Sunday night’s Waikato Stadium celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life and his special connection to New Zealand was a remarkable event.

As Mandela’s burial service was beginning in Qunu in South Africa’s Eastern Cape region a karanga sounded at Hamilton’s rugby ground (called Rugby Park in 1981) to mark the start of an amazing evening.

We chose the venue because the anti-apartheid protest at the park on 25th July 1981 gave inspiration to Mandela and the other political prisoners and it was the most significant link between Mandela and New Zealand. (*see historical note at end)

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The karanga, the speeches (short and sweet), the recollections, the songs, the music, the flags, the shields, the banners, the candles, and the marvellous memories of the great life lived by Mandela and his special link with this Hamilton venue made it an unforgettable occasion.

It was also a time to celebrate the end of an era. With Mandela’s death the anti-apartheid struggle will no longer dominate people’s thoughts about the rainbow nation. New struggles are developing to fight the economic apartheid which replaced race-based apartheid so seamlessly after the ANC was elected to power in 1994.

As part of the evening we collected $997 for Abahlali baseMjondolo (Dwellers in the shacks) – the largest movement of the poor in South Africa fighting for housing rights and one of the new groups challenging the ANC’s devastating free-market policies.

Having former second-in-command of the red squad Ross Meurant speaking and a message from NZRFU added to the evening (At the end of this blog you will find Ross Meurant’s speech and the message read to the gathering from the NZRFU Chairman Steve Tew. These messages speak for themselves)

On Monday morning I received a message from Ross Meurant to say that he felt proud to stand with us in rugby park on Sunday night – a heartfelt message from an old foe.

At Waikato Stadium on Sunday night we achieved what Prime Minister John Key should have done – we celebrated Mandela’s life and legacy by including those on different sides of the debate that divided the country so sharply and violently in 1981.

In selecting a group to represent New Zealand at Mandela’s funeral Key ignored the anti-apartheid movement and chose instead representatives of Muldoon’s racist 1981 government which attacked Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement at every opportunity.

It was good to have Hone Harawira and Hilda Halkyard-Harawira represent the movement in South Africa. They saw Mandela lying in state where Hilda delivered a karanga mate and Hone followed with a haka – a much more fitting sign of respect from this country than the likes of Don McKinnon and Jim Bolger gladhanding with other global hypocrites.

Thanks to everyone who helped make Sunday such a great occasion and special thanks to Ky Selket, Angeline Greensill and Ihaia for getting it all together.

It was a challenge to simultaneously celebrate Mandela’s great life, a great anti-apartheid movement and an important part of the people’s history of New Zealand.

I think we did it well.

 

* Recapping the history from 25th July 1981 at Rugby Park Hamilton.

The Hamilton City Council arranged to open the ground for us and 300 people gathered on the grass of what became a gladiatorial arena on 25th July 1981 as anti-apartheid protestors burst through the fence and occupied the centre of the pitch preventing the Springboks Vs Waikato rugby match from proceeding. Adding to the drama was renowned protest-pilot Pat MacQuarrie who flew a Cesna from Taupo towards the Hamilton ground. With the protestors holding their own on the field and the unknown intentions of Pat in the plane the police decided the game was abandoned.

Back in South Africa after 17 years in prison on Robben Island Nelson Mandela said the prisoners were  jubilant when they heard the game had been called off by anti-apartheid protests – he said it was like the sun came out.

 

Ross Meurant;’s speech:

WITHOUT ANY HESITATION –  NELSON MANDELA WAS MY MOST OUTSTANDING PERSON –

NOT ONLY OF THE LAST 100 YEARS –

AS I QUICKLY TRAWLED THROUGH – POLTICIANS OF THE PAST 250 YEARS –

THE MOST ADMIRABLE POLITICAL LEADER OF RECENT HISTORY.

 

WITH THIS SENTIMENT I AM SURE – MOST WILL AGREE –

BUT THAT ROSS MEURANT- FORMER SECOND IN COMMAND OF THE INFAMOUS

RED SQUAD –SHOULD SINCERELY HOLD THIS VIEW – I SUSPECT THAT AMONGST

YOU THERE ARE AT LEAST SOME CYNICS.

 

FOR A MAN TO EMERGE INTO THE LIGHT OF FREEDOM – FROM A CAVERN OF

INCARCERATION

AND PUT BEHIND HIM THE PUNATIVE TREATMENT HE PERSONALLY ENDURED

AND THE IGNOMINY – HIS AND OTHER DARK SKINNED RACES SUFFERED –

IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF FORGING A NATION UNITED –

IS BEYOND THE ABILITY OF MOST.

CERTAINLY IT WAS BEYOND THE VISION OF MBEKI

AND THIS IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A POLITICAN AND A – GREAT LEADER.

 

IT IS BECAUSE OF THIS CAPACITY TO FORGIVE

NOT FORGET – BUT TO FORGIVE – TO PUT ASIDE – IN THE INTERESTS OF THE

FUTURE OF A COUNTRY –

THIS IS WHAT MAKES NELSON MANDELA – ONE OF THE MOST PRECIOUS AND

REMARKABLE GIFTS EVER BESTOWED TO MANKIND.

THE LAST TIME I WAS AT THIS VENUE WAS 25 JULY 1981:  A DAY OF INFAMY.

 

BUT A DAY WHICH, IRONICALLY, BEGAN AN ODYSSEY FOR ME OF SUCH

MAGNITUDE I HAD NEVER CONTEMPLATED LIKELY.

 

THE PHYSICAL MILES FOR ME HAVE BEEN MANY:

MOROCCO TO MOSCOW: SOUTH AFRICA TO SYRIA: BELGRADE TO BOTSWANA.

THE CAREER PATH:  FROM POLICE INSPECTOR TO MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT.

FROM TEACHING HORSE RIDING TO BUSINESS INTEREST IN RUSSIA AND THE

MIDDLE EAST.

BUT THE GREATEST JOURNEY HAS BEEN MY PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

FROM DEEP IN THE FOREST OF POLICE CULTURE AND DISTORTED REALITY –

TO THE ABILITY TO SEE WHERE I WAS WRONG.

 

I LAMENT THAT FORMER ADVERSAY JOHN MINTO – WAS NOT SELECTED TO

REPRESENT OUR NATION AT THE GREAT MAN’S FUNERAL.

 

I LAMENT THAT ONE OF OUR NATION’S REPRESENTTIVES AT NELSON MANDELA’S

FINAL PERFORMANCE – WAS IN FACT PART OF THE COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT OF

MULDOON’S CABINET WHICH – IN MY VIEW – SHAMELESSLY AND CALCULATEDLY

-USED THE 1981 TOUR TO DIVIDE THE NATION ON A PREDICATBLE ELECTORAL

OUTCOME – TO SECURE POWER FOR ONE MORE TERM.

 

THIS AMASING JOURNEY I OWE TO THAT DAY OF LIBERATION BY THE ANTI

APARTHIED MOVEMENT IN AOTEAROA HERE ON RUGBY PARK HAMILTON

25 JULY 1981

 

Steve Tew’s message (NZRFU Chair):

“Tonight marks a special moment in the fight against oppression with a final New Zealand farewell to Nelson Mandela, certainly the most remarkable man in our life time. It probably also closes a chapter in the history of this great country of ours and it is fitting that you have gathered here tonight, at Rugby Park in Hamilton. That fateful day in 1981 and the events that unfolded over the coming weeks changed our country forever.

They also sent a very clear message to South Africans, both black and white, that the apartheid regime was opposed by a significant proportion of Kiwis, including die hard rugby people. We know that this message got through to Nelson Mandela and the other political prisoners on Robben Island and elsewhere in South Africa. They took inspiration from that message.

My sincere apologies for not being there with you to share the memories of a great man who showed us all that forgiveness is a much greater weapon than any gun.”

10 COMMENTS

  1. As per usual, it’s left to New Zealand citizens with limited time, energy and money to do what the government which is supposed to do. John Key seems to consider that government is simply a tool to use for his own right wing agenda and has no function as the representative of the New Zealand people.

  2. Nelson Mandela was a man who epitomised those human qualities we all aspire to. He believed a kinship with God lay in service to his people. That he suffered so long in that service must surely find him in God’s company now. One can only hope.

  3. What a powerful thing to read about, I can only imagine the emotion of those who were there.
    & it is a disgrace that the media, especially the TV media, showed scant regard for this meeting of those who were on the front lines, both sides, & the forgiveness being showed. Very humbling.

  4. Was the government officially represented at this ceremony? I don’t see anything that suggests they were and Ross Meurant couldn’t be classed as a govt rep, he has been out of politics for years. Kind of makes the National government’s pious comments about Mandela seem rather a lot of b.s. when they can’t be bothered to send a rep to comemmorate an event at Hamilton which was a significant step towards the dismantling of apartheid. Were they scared to face the people there? Ross Meurant had the best reason not to turn up but he did and his courage to admit the mistakes actually earned him a fair amount of respect. Not so the present National government, a bunch of chickens.

    • As a Biko squad person with a few baton dents on my helmet, abuse from pro tour work colleagues and lost wages from mid week “pre” demos etc through the winter of ’81 I do have a grudging respect for Ross Meurant turning up. He has a very chequered history but people should be allowed a second chance unlike the dead South Africans who will not get one.

      John is correct that the government should have put on something like this if they were sincere about honouring Nelson Mandela. I met him in 1995 at St Mathews in the city, followed by a mid evening screening of Merata Mita’s “Patu” that Hone Harawira attended (where were you ShonKey?) and that was the end of the tour for me really, but as long as tour veterans are around and a post colonial country needs sorting out the legacy of that time will never be truly over.

  5. Well said John as always. Congratulations to Ross for bearing his soul like that. From being a man so reviled by many, I admire you for how you have grown and are prepared to share your soul. There is heart in everyone, maybe even Jonkey?

  6. Love the pic at top John! The guffawing one (Cameron) on the right as a Conservative MP went on a sight seeing tour/holiday funded by the apartheid regime and the smarmy, ingratiating one (no one seemed to know his name – someone shonKey?) beside him has memory and morality loss (remember Spitting Image’s Regan -“the President’s brain is missing”). A thank you and well done to Ky, Angeline and yourself for the celebration of the struggle against apartheid and for its victims. Spent the day with friends remembering The Movement’s highs and lows ’81-85 in Invercargill and the Deep South. I suspect you well remember your, “welcome to the Bok’s safe haven”, from members of the police squads.

  7. Great heart touching korero.

    This is the essence of why I went to Hamilton. With barely enough petrol in my car for the return trip, I felt it was too important a kaupapa for me to be bothered about petrol, as long as I had enough to get back to Auckland, I’d be right!

    kei te mauiui au, kei te pai tera -engari -I watched and soaked in the atmosphere, looking at the ground, the hallowed turf, of which I photographed – of that moment that was to change history and ‘Bring the sun out,’ for a man thousands of miles away from Aotearoa – what a moment for him, his feelings, at long last, after all the darkness, the significance of all the struggles prior – all in his tiny little cell on an Island of banishment. The freedom fighters of Aotearoa.

    At that point in my life I knew exactly what I was doing in 1981, although politically unaware of ‘anything.’

    Going to Hamilton at this stage in my life where I am more politically aware’ was to be a ‘one in a million moment.’ There would never be another like it, and I felt so privileged to be a part of the wairua of the memorial.
    The Karanga set the scene, with words waving in folds above our heads, of Patu Squad, of regaining and instilling our mana, our Tinorangatiratanga – our rights to determine our own destiny, our own way.

    How could I not be a part of it?
    Naku te rourou, nau te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi. With my small koha, I would like to think that in a tiny little place thousands of miles away, it too will make a difference to a life of unrealised potential.

    John Key fails miserably to recognise the HUGE mistake he has made, but then what can we expect from a man who doesn’t give a damn about the people, he’s too much interested in MONEY. Take care of the people, and the bottom line will take care of itself!

    A great opportunity for him to gain some of the brownie points he constantly searches for., especially leading into next year’s election. It went ‘Whoosh’ over Keys head, and I’m picking there will be some interesting surprises in store at the next election.

    The mana and integrity, even of those for the tour to admit to wrongs, and too the power of forgiveness. For the NZRU and the council to open up and allow all of us to be part of a very special moment.

    In his death, Nelson Mandela has moved many, many people worldwide, for what he stood for, freedom, and that is all – that we all want.
    His death galvanised me to stop being a fringe dweller, and have the courage to share thoughts of how Mandela’s passing has affected me, and how to share it in writings for my moko’s.
    He will live on, and yet not only in history, it will be forever in the hearts and minds of many.

    To all you ‘Freedom Fighters’ I salute you and commend you strongly, for your bravery, your commitment, dedication, your mana. Of what you all believe in, and as I watch from the sidelines, I give sincere tributes to you all. Tena tatou katoa.

    Keep up the massive kaupapa, Arohanui, Wikitoria

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