THERE WILL BE BLOOD
The rugby tour that divided NZ
Food wasn’t the only thing on the menu as members of Halt All Racist Tours met for dinner on the night of November 3, 1979. Those in attendance gathered for a night celebrating the
10th anniversary of the movement opposed to all rugby tours to and from South Africa.
They toasted the group’s biggest victory to date; defeating a proposed
1973 Springbok tour of New Zealand, which was ultimately prohibited by then Prime Minister Norman Kirk.
But it certainly wasn’t a case of “job done” as members officially launched a 500-day campaign to stop the Boks’ proposed 1981 tour of New Zealand.
At that stage the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) hadn’t formally invited the Springboks to tour. But it was rugby’s worst kept secret that that procedural step was a matter of when, not if.
As early as March 1980 — 16 months before the team flew into the country, starting 56 days of civil turmoil — Robert Muldoon’s National Government was pressured to take steps to stop the tour, including withholding entry visas. Within a month the Auckland Rugby Union, chaired by staunch pro-tour advocate Ron Don, had gone public with its support of a tour.
At the same time nationwide protests hit the streets.
They were small at first; about 30 attended a protest on Queen St on April 12 — walking behind actors dressed as All Blacks, roped together and led by rings through their paper noses by a duo of mock Springboks. That night about 50 people gathered outside the NZRU headquarters in Wellington.
On April 18 Don made an impassioned plea at the union’s annual general meeting in the same building for the tour to go ahead. Don — whose Auckland home was later peppered by a shotgun blast — told fellow delegates they had a “duty to the people who elect us, and the rugby people of New Zealand want the Springboks to tour here in 1981.
“Let us forget the humbug and hypocrisy of the politicians and stick to our job of promoting rugby”.
He said instead of taking aim solely at South Africa, those opposing the tour should “press similar concern for the rampant racial discrimination in the United States and Australia, just to name two countries with which we are closely associated”.
The NZRU had been presented with a letter from Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Talboys, with reference to the Gleneagles Agreement — signed in 1977 by Commonwealth leaders pledging support against apartheid — stating he was “deeply concerned” the tour might go ahead.
Around the same time HART went public with appeals for donations, hoping to raise at least $50,000 to help fight the tour.
Public support for the tour seemed to be growing. Just 34 per cent of respondents to a New Zealand HeraldNational Research Bureau survey said they were opposed to it. NZRU chairman Ces Blazey described the poll result as “very useful”.
The Te Tai Tokerau District Ma¯ori Council offered majority support for the tour, with one member saying it would provide a chance to show the Springboks how Ma¯ori and Pa¯keha¯
lived in union. The Young Nats also did a U-turn on an earlier mooted remit urging the NZRU not to invite the Boks here, by saying South Africa was also a trading partner.
“A sporting matter”
September 12 is a day of infamy in the anti-apartheid movement, especially in New Zealand. It was the day in 1977 when anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko was beaten to death by South African police in a Port Elizabeth cell. In 1980 it also became the date when the NZRU formally extended its tour invitation to the South African Rugby Board (SARB). The following year it was the date of the third and final test in the All Black-Springbok series; scene of the most violent and shocking of all protest clashes.
In explaining the invitation Blazey said the SARB was breaking down racial barriers; five of its seven national team selectors were nonwhite, mixed trials were held for all national teams and “any player in South Africa can progress to the highest level of his potential”.
He said it was now up to rugby officials to convince “the people that matter that the invitation has nothing to do with political issues at all and is purely a sporting matter”. He said it was inevitable there would be “differences of opinion” regarding the tour.
Blazey added: “We continue to believe that sporting boycotts are undesirable and also unfair to the young people who participate in sport. Accordingly, we cannot support them.”
More than 11,500km away in Stellenbosch, SARB president Dr Danie Craven said the invite showed how the “spirit of sport and rugby reigns supreme”. “We admire the people who breathe this spirit.”
But closer to home, the reaction to the invitation wasn’t welcomed by an ever-growing moment against the tour. Talboys said the decision was disappointing, but reaffirmed the Government’s stance that it wouldn’t move to stop the tour.
He said rugby bosses would now bear a “heavy responsibility” and that the Government had tried to persuade the NZRU not to go ahead with the sporting contest that “is not in New Zealand’s best interests”.
Opposition leader Bill Rowling described the NZRU’s stance as “totally irresponsible” and said it had “acted in a completely selfish manner”.
The Citizens Association for Racial Equality (CARE) was outraged, prophetically saying it would “split New Zealand down the middle”.
John Minto, national organiser of anti-tour group HART, also correctly stated that New Zealanders would be “out in the streets in protest” in big numbers.
The invitation to the Springboks was issued just two days before the All Blacks played Fiji at Eden Park. Don said the venue would be guarded by additional security “from this moment on” due to threats of damage from protesters.
The increase in opposition to the tour was evident in a Heylen poll released four days after the official invitation. Just 30 per cent of respondents supported the tour; down from a previous 57 per cent; 46 per cent said they were opposed.
Those who started to speak out included Auckland Grammar School headmaster John Graham, who had captained the All Blacks in some matches of their 1960 tour of South Africa. Graham said he was opposed to apartheid and the best way to show that was to ostracise South Africa.
Eyes wide shut
Invercargill MP Norman Jones was dubbed the “Mouth of the South” for his outspoken stance on a variety of issues during his Parliamentary tenure from 1975-87. But one quote from the National MP — who lost his leg at 19 after being hit by tank fire during World War II — didn’t age well.
In late September 1980, Auckland Central MP Richard Prebble sought an assurance in Parliament from Police Minister Ben Couch that the police would be able to handle any attempts to disrupt the tour. Before Couch had a chance to answer, Jones interjected and told the debating chamber that police would be able to “do it with their eyes closed”.
A day after Jones’ comment, the police stance towards the protest movement was placed firmly in the public eye.
Couch received a complaint that police had treated protesters unfairly during two incidents at Eden Park.
It said officers turned a blind eye to rugby fans confronting protesters and that a fan had covered a protester in paint in front of officers, then slashed protest banners with a screwdriver.
After several anti-tour protesters were evicted from Eden Park during an Auckland-Canterbury clash, antitour groups claimed police were “working blatantly in concert” with the Auckland Rugby Union. Minto also claimed the police appeared not to be impartial and were “grossly exceeding their powers”.
Amid the increasing criticism of police actions, Couch incredibly told Parliament he wanted to keep the police “right out” of the tour to prevent them becoming “the meat in the sandwich of opposing views”.
That was never going to happen. Much closer to the mark was a dire prediction from Labour MP John Terris. In the same debate, Terris warned: “If this tour goes ahead, there will be blood — New Zealanders’ blood — spilt on every rugby field in the country.”
In early December, the NZRU formally confirmed the schedule for the Boks’ 16-match tour. Blazey said just one rugby club had told the union it would not allow the Boks to use their facilities for training purposes.
Questions were raised over whether union members at hotels to be booked for the Springboks would refuse to serve them or clean their rooms. Amid the uncertainty, the “Mouth of the South” again made headlines, offering to billet players in Invercargill for their clash against Southland.
As 1980 drew to a close, Muldoon revealed the cost of the police operation to handle the Springbok tour could be as high as $2.7 million.
It was a sum the Prime Minister said he was “not happy about”, but he added: “We’ve said we must have law and order and if the tour goes ahead then we have no option but to incur those costs”.
Muldoon said he had told Blazey and the NZRU about the predicted “very substantial cost” and the union still “decided to go ahead”.
Couch predicted — in a comment he may have come to regret — that it was unlikely police officers would be seen at match venues in riot gear.
Rather optimistically, he also said
the tour operation might not even need half of the officers set aside at that stage to control any off-field issues.
Rugby bosses warned
By the time 1981 arrived, the protest movement was already incensed by the staunch pro-tour utterings of Don.
He stirred up more anger on his return to New Zealand in late January after holidaying in South Africa and Namibia for three weeks with his wife.
Don first repeated a comment from South Africa Prime Minister P. W. Botha challenging anyone in the world to establish non-whites of South Africa “were worse off than the non-whites of any country on the African continent”.
Don went on to say: “There is starvation in many parts of Africa. There is no starvation in South Africa”.
He again took aim at anti-tour protesters, saying: “Are we not as New Zealanders in danger of having our country run by minority groups?
“I am all for the right of people to hold differing opinions. But I am all for the majority, too. “And it is my belief that a majority of New Zealanders want the Springboks to tour.”
But six days after another optimistic pro-tour delivery from Don, a leading rugby official from across the Tasman provided a reality check.
Australian Rugby Union treasurer John Howard spoke to the New Zealand Herald about the turbulent 1971 Springboks tour of Australia. Howard’s role in the tour included logistics around security and travel.
Violent protests had followed the Springboks around Australia.
Howard said abusive phone calls to rugby officials included threats of death and physical violence.
“Any officials connected with the tour in New Zealand will find they will have to use every waking moment to be absolutely determined that the tour will go on,” he said.
“The strain and the tension are enormous and it doesn’t let up.
“They will experience things they have never before experienced in their rugby lives.”
Howard said his “deepest memory” of the tour had been the estimated 1400 police officers employed to enforce law and order during a test at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Meanwhile, Don wasn’t the only pro-tour protagonist to visit South Africa in early 1981.
So did Hauraki MP Leo Schultz. The National MP said after his three-week holiday there that he believed a lack of interest from black people in wanting to play at the top level — and not selection bias — was the reason the Springboks had never had a non-white test player.
He said rugby fields created in Soweto were used for other sports.
And, on the political situation, he stated: “I do not believe South Africa is quite ready for black majority rule, even though that is desirable. Majority rule will come as generations go by and more black people are ready to accept the responsibility.”
While Schultz spoke of his support for the tour to go ahead, Muldoon made his strongest comments to date on March 10, going public with his view that it should be cancelled.
Muldoon said he believed a “majority” of New Zealanders were opposed to the tour, both in protest against apartheid and also from fear of potential civil unrest.
He said he didn’t believe the tour would aid his National Party’s hopes of re-election later in the year, despite claims from critics that it would shore up National’s vote in key marginal provincial seats.
“My personal view is that whatever happens in the context of the Springbok tour is more likely than not to damage the chances of the Government.”
While Muldoon’s Government continued its stance of not refusing entry visas for the Springboks, it did show its displeasure by rejecting an NZRU grant for $10,000 to help with coaching programmes.
The Bok tour was a hot topic at the NZRU’s annual general meeting on April 9. On the eve of the gathering of rugby administrators, Don kept up his attack on the protest movement, describing it as “Communistinspired”.
And Blazey told delegates that by inviting the Springboks here, the NZRU was “carrying out our responsibility as rugby administrators”.
He said all 26 provinces supported the tour and added: “We will not make decisions based on threats either from within New Zealand or overseas.”
“Protesters . . . look out”
Tickets for the scheduled 16 matches were released on April 22.
For the first time in New Zealand rugby history they contained a raft of security-based restrictions. Fans had to agree to be searched on entry. Items such as banners, placards, flags, poles, fireworks, loud hailers and “any article that might impede the match” were banned.
Those who ignored the regulations faced being trespassed, a fine of up to $1000 and a potential three-month prison term.
The Auckland Council for Civil Liberties branded the move “arrogance” and claimed it showed rugby officials were overstepping their rights. Former National MP Bill Tolhurst confirmed he had secured tickets for Wanganui’s clash with the tourists on August 5 and issued a strong warning to anyone who impacted on his viewing enjoyment.
“I will be going to the Springbok match in Whanganui and if protesters and others interfere with my enjoyment of the game they had better look out,” he said.
He said he believed the tour would go ahead with “little if any” disruptions because so many New Zealanders enjoyed rugby “and to them this is a far greater religion than politics or the church”.
Tolhurst was correct that rugby had a huge support base in New Zealand, but he was wildly off the mark in terms of the growing determination of the anti-tour movement.
Just less than two months before the Springboks were set to arrive, tens of thousands took to the streets in a series of marches around the country.
They included 12,000 people who marched up Auckland’s Queen St, with well-known trade unionist Syd Jackson telling the gathering: “This is only the beginning”.
In the lead-up to the protest, a group of Auckland University students — including future Green Party MP Kevin Hague — set up camp in the university’s quad and went on a hunger strike.
A week later about 1200 people attended a pro-tour event at Auckland’s Aotea Square, where a speaker described HART as a “front for the Communist Party”.
Another protest at Aotea Square saw students from Auckland University and Auckland Metropolitan College re-enact the 1976 Soweto massacre, where at least 176 people were shot dead by South African police.
As the size and regularity of antitour protests increased, police revealed more details about their own planning for “Operation Rugby”.
That included confirmation that 3600 police — about 73 per cent of New Zealand’s sworn officers — would be used specifically during the tour.
The police also confirmed the creation of two special groups — Red Squad and Blue Squad — who would escort the Springboks and be trained and equipped to deal with serious unrest.
Red Squad was trained at the SAS base in Papakura. Requests to a police photographer for the release of training pictures was denied as “the sight and noise of a police flying wedge and other tactics is not pretty”.
“Law must prevail”
Less than a month before the Springboks were set to fly into New Zealand, Parliament voted through a motion calling on the NZRU to “reconsider” the tour invitation. The resolution also called on any future protests “to be undertaken in a peaceful manner in full acceptance of the fact that the rule of law must prevail”.
MPs opposed to the tour were left outraged, claiming National had buckled by not backing the earlier proposed wording, which had asked the rugby bosses to “withdraw” the invitation.
Not surprisingly, the NZRU did not budge after the joint political message.
It also stood firm after a “last attempt” from Muldoon — delivered live to the nation via a TV and radio broadcast — for them to reconsider.
Muldoon stated: “I am making this approach on television rather than behind closed doors in my own office or in the boardroom of the rugby union council because I want all the people of New Zealand to know exactly what I have said.”
He spoke again of New Zealand’s obligations under the Gleneagles agreement, and how our country abhorred apartheid and racial discrimination. He concluded by saying: “As to the tour, the issue now rests with the New Zealand Rugby Union. I say to them, think well before you make your decision.”
The Springbok touring squad applied for their visas on July 1.
Two days later huge protest marches were held in 30 towns and cities around New Zealand, including about 30,000 people marching through central Auckland.
A unified cry of “One, Two, Three Four . . . We don’t want your racist tour” boomed out during all the marches.
Meanwhile, in Gisborne — venue of the tour’s opening clash against Poverty Bay on July 22 — Rugby Park was under 24-hour guard against acts of vandalism.
Those who volunteered their time for the shifts included former All Black captain Ian Kirkpatrick, who toured South Africa in 1970.
Though some sections of the local community were preparing to lay out the welcome mat for the Springboks, a council spokesman said officials were “very apprehensive” over the potential for violent clashes.
Gisborne mayor and former All Black Tiny White went as far as saying he was “praying that they [the Springboks] do not come. I am strongly opposed to the tour.”
Meanwhile, trainee nurses were being rostered to work in Gisborne Hospital in case they were required.
Fears of violence around the country had been renewed after comments from HART chairwoman Pauline McKay that New Zealand was about to go through two months of “things we never believed could happen”.
The head of “Operation Rugby”, Chief Superintendent Brian Davies described the comment as “setting the scene for a violent confrontation”.
Even more concerning was the release of leaflets from a hardcore section of anti-tour protesters describing how to make petrol bombs
The Springboks finally flew into New Zealand on July 19.
Waiting for them on and around the tarmac at Auckland International Airport was a large police presence. So were scores of protesters.
It was impossible for the Springboks to miss either grouping.
And that was the case for the next 55 days, with Minto making it clear what he and his colleagues intended doing.
“We will show them that we do not want them and that we intend to give them a hard time around the country,” Minto said.
By the end of the tour everyone involved — protesters, the Springboks, the thousands of police involved in “Operation Rugby” and rugby fans — had certainly endured a “hard time”.
Norm Jones’ prediction that the police could handle what awaited “with their eyes closed” didn’t age well.
John Terris’ claim that “there will be blood — New Zealanders’ blood — spilt on every rugby field in the country” was much closer to the truth, as pro- and anti-tour arguments turned to violence on the streets and split the country in two.