During the Springbok Tour of 1981 there was a lot of protest and unrest about letting the Springboks play in New Zealand. People did not want them in our country for many reasons for example at the time of the Tour, South Africa was practising a policy of apartheid which was supposed to be ‘separate but equal’ but was in fact incredibly unfair on the black population in South Africa.
People were also mad because New Zealand’s reputation was being tarnished because of this continued contact with the racist nation. The Prime Minister was also not helping; he would not put a stop to the Tour because he knew that could get him a few crucial seats which would ensure him a second term in government.
These all contributed to New Zealanders’ anger and the protests that occurred during the Tour. These protests also caused other things like attitudes to police changing, splitting up of families over whom they supported and as well as this, some South Africans who had previously never seen what was wrong with the system were able to see what atrocities were occurring. As early as the 1920s South Africa was discriminating against coloured people and then in 1948 a policy of apartheid was put into place.
This policy was publicised as creating a separate but equal nation but in reality it created a country full of injustice and discrimination. On June 16th in 1976 the Soweto massacre occurred and the estimates of the dead range from 170-700 people. In this instance around 20,000 black students took to the streets to protest about rules instated in school about speaking Afrikaans instead of the children’s first languages. This was where the first black student was killed and unfortunately he was definitely not the last.
There were many other instances where black people were met with violence because of their skin colour like Steve Biko. He was a black man and had a prominent role in the fight for black rights; however, when he was in jail for being an activist he died and the reports claimed it was from slipping on a bar of soap. Further inspections of his body suggested that actually it was more likely he was beaten to death and this upset many people all over the world. Apartheid also entailed smaller discriminations.
Black and white people were not allowed to marry each other, share toilets, drink from the same drinking fountains or even eating at the same cafes or restaurants. Everyday black people in South Africa were subjected to these messages telling them they were vermin and were not to be around white people in case of contamination. New Zealand was also abiding by these rules when they played there by not taking any black players even the legendary full back George Nepia when the All Blacks travelled to South Africa in 1928.
People in New Zealand decided that they needed to make a stand and show South Africa that they did not support their racism and as long as it existed they were not happy to have contact with them. They were also worried it would continue to spread into New Zealand and this forced them to realise that apartheid needed to be stopped.
The violence and cruelty associated with apartheid was one of the main reasons that people protested against having the South African rugby team play in New Zealand and they were determined to make their point at this well publicised event. New Zealanders were also mad because we were becoming known throughout the world as the ones who supported South Africa. In 1976 Montreal hosted the Olympic Games and because New Zealand was there many other countries would not go.
By this stage a lot of countries had decided to isolate South Africa until they agreed to end apartheid. This was mainly countries in Africa whose populations were predominantly black people and they were furious that we had not followed their lead. Because New Zealand was competing at the Games, these countries boycotted them to show that they were serious about what they were doing and could not respect countries like New Zealand who seemed to just pretend that racism did not exist. In 1977 Robert Muldoon went to Scotland to discuss the Gleneagles agreement with almost all the rest of the commonwealth. Signing this agreement entailed discouraging all sporting contact with South African sportsmen/women and sporting organisations.
Not signing this agreement along with our previous disinterest in helping out this plight for black civil rights caused some countries to get quite cross. This is what happened at the Montreal Olympics and could have continued to happen had the people not chosen to fight during the Springbok Tour of 19811. While all this was happening New Zealand’s Prime Minister was Robert Muldoon and he didn’t seem to care at all about what was happening in this country we had so much history with.
In the run up to the election and the Tour, Muldoon worked out that all he needed to win was a few key seats and that by allowing the tour to go ahead he could get the support of these regions he needed to win over. New Zealanders were furious that Muldoon was prepared to sacrifice what was right in order to win an election and so when they protested it was also partly about his irresponsible behaviour. All this time that South Africa had been practising apartheid and he had had such an important role he had not used his power to help these people who were being subjected to such injustice over in South Africa.
Many New Zealanders were sick of him not helping or listening to what they wanted him to do and this anger motivated them to go out and protest and show Muldoon and South Africa that they were not happy and something needed to be done. These various consequences all drove upset New Zealanders to fight for what they believed in and to really make a show of it. They did this by ripping down fences at matches, dropping flour bombs and generally causing mayhem during the 16 games of the Tour.
One game at which people were especially angry was the final match (September 12th). This was scheduled for the 3rd anniversary of Steve Biko’s death and this insensitivity caused outrage amongst New Zealanders and some Africans. People had had enough of the racism and unfairness in South Africa and having their all-white Springbok team in our country was the perfect opportunity to display this frustration and anger. One consequence of the protests that occurred during the Springbok Tour in 1981 was the need for more, tougher police. At these protests New Zealand had its first ever battening by police.
Because of the nature of these protests police focus was directed towards them instead of other events and the police were also required to beat their fellow New Zealanders. Two famous police squads were red and blue squads and Red Squad in particular was notorious for its merciless punishment of demonstrators. At one protest where all those present were dressed as clowns, the Red Squad brutally attacked them with their batons causing serious damage to some.
The New Zealand police force acquired a much more menacing reputation during this period and became strongly dislike by much of New Zealand. Red Squad members were told that if they were not capable of striking children, women and old people then they should not be there. Previously the Police had been thought of as protectors of New Zealand but their reactions to the protests changed this and people began to dislike them as they realised the true nature of the police.
Naturally when there are events like the Springbok Tour, people take sides. During the Tour and even in the following years, families and communities were divided by who they supported. Some people would have families where the father would watch the matches while his children were out demonstrating against having the opposing team in New Zealand.
Some families would stop talking to other members of the family just because they supported the activists or the Tour. Ray Harper who was a rugby administrator and national councillor on the New Zealand rugby Union during the 1981 tour says that “The tour split families; it split friends. It was unbelievable how it affected people.” Even in New Zealand where apartheid was not a problem, people were beginning family feuds or ending friendships because of what their friends or family believed and these fights lasted long after the Tour was over.
“Rugby was of two minds in New Zealand” and these two minds found that some damage was too deep to recover from even after the Tour. The Tour changed the dynamic of families and relationships and these changes outlasted the controversy of having the Springboks in the country and would not have happened had there not been so much controversy. The younger generations in South Africa had grown up with apartheid and many people (whites in particular) had just never questioned their rights.
Seeing New Zealanders on the television protesting against what they had grown up with and previously taken for granted caused these younger generations to question these policies too. They had been brought up being told that whites were better and that was what everyone else believed too. Realising that New Zealanders were angry enough with these policies to cause all this disturbance and trouble showed them that perhaps apartheid wasn’t best for everyone.
Because these people had received the perks of apartheid there had been no reason to question its fairness and the protests that occurred during the Tour showed them that there obviously were problems with it. The protests forced these white children or young adults to open their eyes to what was happening around them and face up to it. If these protests had not been so large and dramatic then these South Africans may not have been helped to realise the injustice of their homeland and that things could not continue in this fashion.
So it can be seen that the pain and violence associated with apartheid, New Zealand’s reputation being ruined and Muldoon’s political greed all caused the protests the occurred during the Springbok Tour from July-September in 1981. In turn these protests also had several consequences some of which were attitudes towards police changing, ruining of relationships and raising awareness of the atrocities of apartheid. The protesting during the Springbok Tour had some negative and some positive consequences but most importantly it played a role in the abolishment of apartheid and the terrible racism and South Africa.
Courtney from Study Moose
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