In 1991 , ten years after the 1981 Springbok tour that divide families up and down our nation, I made a documentary not just about the tour but about how it had affected race relations in South Africa and New Zealand.
For those of you who are not aware of the street protests and violence that surrounded the ’81 Springbok tour, the issue was apartheid – the system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa that was characterised by authoritarian white supremacy.
As a means of trying to get the White South African Government to change it’s racist policies many of us felt we should not play sport with them until they brought in equal rights. About an equal number of New Zealanders felt equally strongly that politics should be kept out of sport. There were huge protest rallies, a number of violent clashes in the streets and squads of baton weilding riot police.
What I discovered, when I went to South Africa to start filming in 1990 was that New Zealand’s race relations had changed more than SA’s at that stage . Nelson Mandela had just been released from prison and while there was a broad hope this would precipitate great change, the South Africa I found during my time filming there, had changed very little in the 10 years since the tour.
Our own post 81 Tour race relations on the other hand was in the process of considerable change. As Dr Hone Kaa – a prominent Maori leader at that time expressed it “ We (Maori) began to think.. why are we protesting about racism in South Africa when things here in Aotearoa are not so good.”
There had been the Great Land March led by the late Dame Whina Cooper in 1975 but it was not until 1985 that the Waitangi Tribunal was empowered to investigate Treaty claims dating back to 1840. Progess was slow but, it was progress.
If I was to pick one quote that spoke to how little white South African apartheid attitudes had changed in the 10 years since the 1981 Tour it was in an interview I held with a white politician called Van der Merwe outside the South African Parliament in Cape Town.
“ I know why you want us to put black men in our team” he barked at me “It’s so you can beat us!!”\
Yesterday a multi -racial South African rugby team Captained by Siya Kolisi a black South African who was born into poverty in a township outside of Port Elizabeth in the same year that I made my documentary won the Rugby World Cup.
Sometimes it’s hard to be optimistic that things will change. That we will, one day, have a fairer economy in which every child in our country will have enough to eat , a warm dry house to live in , an equal chance to good health and to succeed at a school and in life.
Certainly when I look at how our government is making so little effort to address the gross inequality cause by the neoliberal economic system Labour introduced in 1984, and was put on steroids by subsequent National governments, I do find myself inwardly sighing and wondering if we will ever see the errors of our financial ways.
And, sadly , there is still a lot of racism -overt and insitutional- in our country.
But then, every now and again, something happens – like a multi- racial South African Rugby team winning the World Cup yesterday – and it reminds me that changes for the good can take a very long time but.. they do happen….. and we should take a moment to celebrate them when they do.