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)
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
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
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.”