A Mandela Moment

Last night was pretty special. After 32 years, some of us returned to the streets and the field of battle at the former Rugby Park – now Waikato Stadium – to pay respects to Nelson Mandela and to the campaign against apartheid. It was a balmy soft and relaxed evening, with a nearly full moon – unlike July 25th 1981, when it was grey, cold and ultimately terrifying. The most remarkable moment last night was when Deputy Head of the Red Squad, Ross Meurant, stepped up to the microphone. He was present to acknowledge both Nelson Mandela and his journey of realisation about the distorted police culture in 1981, when they were used by the state to violently repel our protests against apartheid. A few people grumbled as he began to speak, but at the end John Minto hugged him and we clapped. This was a Mandela moment. Kevin Hague had reminded us in an earlier speech of some of the teachings of Nelson Mandela, notably the value of forgiveness. The reviled and often marginalised leadership embodied by John Minto showed its true colours of principled compassion and generous humanity towards an historical foe.  John was a humble and welcoming MC, which was no surprise to the veterans of 1981 – he’s always been that person.

Speeches from Annette Sykes and Betty Sio reminded us of the growing economic apartheid and unresolved racist power issues in our own country. The younger generation learned new stories and heard old songs. I wished my partner could have sat there on that field with me last night as he still carries scars on his head from 1981, and I can still remember the people bleeding in the streets as we ran for sanctuary. But as we sang the South African national anthem incredibly badly, I felt lucky to belong to a generation who had stood up for what was right, and through that struggle learned about the need to confront our own racism. Thank you Nelson Mandela, thank you everyone who came last night and lit a candle for freedom and forgiveness and the ongoing work for justice.

9 thoughts on “A Mandela Moment

  1. It is good to fe reminded about the whole history. My Dad and many others were in Halt All Racist Tours and other groups well before 1981, all the stories need to be told, thank you everyone!

  2. Kia Ora Sam,

    Respect on talking and working with younger activists and your perspective.

    (1) The best education younger activists can get is from getting involved in struggles, developing their activist skill sets, and developing their own perspectives, wisdom, and awareness of what works, and what does not based on their own labours and chosen fields of struggle. I believe in youth, their energy, and their courage in making their own way.

    (2) I know when I was a younger activist that I wanted to learn more about groups like the Polynesian Panthers, and that history was not readily available then in overview book form- it is now with a history book, and a documentary on the Polynesian Panthers. I learnt about the Panthers from speaking to several members of the organisation in conversation. I hear your point Sam about ready access to histories. Here is what helped me when I was starting out.

    (3) Developing historical awareness of struggles in activism, and learning lessons from those struggles comes from younger ones speaking to older veterans of struggle- and making the connections between struggles of the past and struggles of today. This is one way of developing a strong historical awareness of histories of activism in Aotearoa. The deepest historical pedagogy and learning comes when younger activists combine their own knowledge, wisdom, and activist experience through praxis- with what they learn from older activists and older activist’s experience, praxis, knowledge and wisdom. Older activists learn equally from the voice of the young battlers, so it is always a two way learning experience. You develop your own historical awareness, and awareness of lessons to be learnt through your own activism combined with the experience and words of older battlers. When young and old stand shoulder to shoulder in activist struggles and movements, that learning and sharing of history both ways is usually spontaneous, organic and done in a spirit of solidarity.

    (4) Many older activists I have known developed their own reading programmes, and can speak about relevant materials in their areas of experience in conversations with younger folks. It is up to the youth to follow up readings, documentaries, and take what is relevant and useful for their contemporary struggles. Don’t disregard the value of old books, newspapers, or archived texts for younger activists, Sam. Capitalism wants us to forget, and cast aside any record of struggle against oppression. Younger activists can learn about histories of struggle from there as well. But the young have to ‘make it new’ and make sense of activist histories in their own ways- they are also part of history in their battles of today and tomorrow.

    (5) Encouraging younger ones to read broadly, eclectically, and become self-taught historians of activism in Aotearoa can help the younger ones, Sam. There are some good histories, books, articles newspapers, activist journals, pamphlets, and some online blogs that can provide younger activists with introductions to issues in the history of activism in Aotearoa. It is up to younger ones to develop their own readings programmes, make sense of the ‘whole’ and the ‘gaps’ in these histories- and become activist historians as they go on their own journeys.

    (6) For me the most important histories to be learnt are those ones held by those who fought in different activist struggles. Those are living histories, histories that connect the older ones with the younger ones making activist history now.

    (7) The best learning younger activists can do is get for them to get involved in struggles and issues important to them. As they learn in struggle, they can learn about histories of struggle through talks with older activists, and reading programmes.

    (8) If you have some understanding of 1981, you will understand that words spoken about that time are not nostalgic, but they are poignant. Madiba’s death provides the moment for people at the Waikato service to reflect anew on stopping the Waikato vs Boks game, and the 1981 anti-tour struggles. Those struggles to free Mandela and millions of others were noble fights. It is up to the youth to self teach and educate themselves about the struggles of the past. There are many that can assist them Sam, especially the older activists that were involved in struggles like 1981, but there are also sources for them to begin to become self taught activists/historians. The struggle for a Nuclear Free Pacific was also a noble fight- you can learn about that from Herbs and songs like ‘French Letter’. Best

    Tony

  3. I think you are missing the point a bit, Tony. Of course historical knowledge is held in the memories of those who were there, and in the archives of old newspapers. Trouble is, young people getting involved in politics know nothing about much of the history of activism in this country (I’ve asked them) and are thus unable to learn valuable lessons from it. If all you hear about is nostalgic stories about confrontations with the police and boats blocking warships entering harbours, you are going to miss the reasons for the sucess of these campaigns entirely.

  4. Kia Ora Sam,

    Much respect on your comments. I thought about saying nothing more, but thought I should say a few more words in reply Sam, because you raised issues in your last post I felt needed addressing: I do so humbly, and with respect. I am only one voice, and many involved in the Anti-Apartheid movement in Aotearoa have more valuable contributions to make than me here. Everyone who speaks about the service for Madiba, or Catherine’s comments has something valuable to contribute, that is what history should be, the history of the many oppressed sufferers, all equal, all valuable, all speaking and writing together. This will be my final comment here on this post. I am writing this letter to engage, to share, and to serve- not to diminish another’s perspective, or mana. But I do have problems editing my writing.

    My respect to Catherine, and her original post. I went to the Waikato service with a South African friend Stanley who fought against Apartheid in his own way during the dark years of Apartheid by teaching in the black townships. The service for Madiba was great. We heard from a fine South African voice when Gregory Fortuin spoke, and we heard from great people like Joe Carolan, people from Africa and Asia at the service. I should have mentioned these people in one of my posts above.

    It was great when we heard words of support from ’81 Tour activists Hone Harawira and Hilda Halkyard Harawira at the service-both wished us all well, and through Annette Sykes they told us they wished they could have been home from South Africa for that service. Service organisers made every attempt to invite all parties to contribute to the programme, including the NZRFU. Steve Tew, the NZRFU leader marched against the ’81 Springbok Tour in Wellington in 1981, and John read out Steve’s apology for not being able to attend the service, and words of support for all those gathered at the remembrance service.

    In reply to your last post Sam, I think much of the long Anti-Tour protest history in Aotearoa is held orally, by veterans of those struggles and their families, and that is a living history that is not forgotten at the grassroots community level. Books, texts, blogs will catch only some of this history- but this does not mean the history is forgotten.

    Catherine wrote down just a small part of that oral history in her entry above, about 1981, Hamilton, Madiba, and the Mandela moment. Anti-Tour protest songs sung by ’81 activists such as Roger Fowler at the Waikato Stadium service for Madiba offered another kind of aural/oral history, songs that connect us today to the struggles of the movement- connecting us more broadly to the past, present, and future in this land and beyond.

    History is recorded in many places, Sam. Books, history texts, recorded and printed words of activists are all places where history is shared and remembered. But these are not the only places history is held.
    I am sure John Minto and many others understand the importance of the ’85 protests you remember, and the revulsion of many over the Cavaliers tour of 1986, not to mention the on going work against Apartheid in Aotearoa in the early to late 1980s. (I love rugby and the All Blacks, but have always refused to watch any game footage from the Cavaliers games in South Africa, in 1986 and even today.) The UDF, COSATU, Black Consciousness groups and others were stepping up the pressure on the Apartheid regime in the 1980s, while Tambo and the ANC externals were amping up resistance against South Africa on frontline state battlefields, and through international diplomatic means simultaneously. It is important we remember the Anti-Apartheid struggle beyond 1981 in this land, Sam, and in relationship to South Africa and the world struggle, so if this was a general implication behind your specific comments about remembering the protests of ’85, I agree with you.

    It is for Anti-Apartheid veterans of those struggles to decide the importance of ’85 protests in the total movement in Aotearoa, and dialectically, with the movement in South Africa, not me Sam. You are obviously a veteran from ’85 and have expressed strong opinions- that’s great. But I think it would be sad if we diminish the sacrifices of those that fought in 1981 against Apartheid in this land, especially those activists from ’81 that were at Madiba’s service at Hamilton, like Catherine and many others, not to mention those that could not be at the Waikato Stadium service in person, even if they were there in spirit.

    In 1981 people made great sacrifices to fight against Apartheid in the movement, marriages suffered under the strain, people had to deal with health and medical issues as a result of being bashed ( a family member of mine nearly had an arm broken by a Red Squad baton in Auckland, others suffered far worse as Catherine mentioned above), others had to deal with the courts and imprisonment, families were split down the middle over the Tour issue all over the country. People suffered for their stance against Apartheid in Aotearoa in 1981- their struggle was a noble one for Madiba and millions of other enslaved by Apartheid. 1981 is not the only historical ‘moment’ Sam, but it was a crucially important one. John Minto and other activists are the right people to speak further about 1981, and the value of that time in the wider movement in-depth, not me. But I do add a few brief, light thoughts below.

    I have read, watched, and heard some of the histories of the Anti-Apartheid struggle in Aotearoa Sam, not everything. I have learnt lots from books like ‘Batons and Barbed Wire’, Trevor Richard’s 1999 book, films like ‘Patu’ the marvellous photographic work of John Miller, I have seen some of the art, badges, of the Anti-Apartheid movement, and I always listen closely to the voices and testimony of people like Hone Harawira and other tour veterans ( amongst many others) whenever they tell their stories of sacrifice and service. Others such as Aroha Harris have written about Maaori and their involvement in protest. I heard many wonderful stories of 1981 struggles from 1981 veterans at the Pacific service for Mandela hosted by Rev Mua Strickson Pua, Pepe, Tots, and the wonderful youth they work with.

    I think all the sources mentioned above offer us a glimpse of the complexity of the Anti-Apartheid struggle in Aotearoa- like looking through glass stained in many different colours. But no single text, film, article, song, or talk can tell the whole story. I think the history of the struggle here is out there Sam, including work done before, during, and after 1981.

    The history of the Anti-Apartheid struggle in Aotearoa can be found in many places, forms. A number of years ago I was writing a thesis, and I found week by week, year by year editions of the Communist Party of NZ’s organ, ‘The People’s Voice’ invaluable as a historical record of the CPNZ’s highly principled stand on many issues- including principled NZ resistance to Apartheid, from well before 1981, and after it. I can’t remember if your ’85 protest is recorded in People’s Voice specifically Sam, but given People’s Voice’s activist journalism it probably is. But I do remember that People’s Voice continued to speak out against Apartheid for years beyond 1981, and that is important Anti-Apartheid protest history in Aotearoa. My feeling is the longer history you speak about after 1981 is there Sam, in historical records like The People’s Voice’. You will find the record of the struggle against Apartheid in Aotearoa in the reggae music of Herbs- ‘One Brotherhood’ or ‘Azania’ from the What’s Be Happen EP. ‘One Brotherhood’, led by Phil Toms and Herbs played at Waikato Stadium over the speakers before the Karanga to open Madiba’s service began. The issue of South Africa and Apartheid was at the centre of the Keskidee Tour to Aotearoa, before 1981. People more qualified to speak than I will know of many other places where this history is recorded, or remembered, in many different forms.

    As I said above, the record of the importance of the struggle against Apartheid in Aotearoa from the earliest years, to Apartheid’s fall is also held by those veterans still living today. It is important books, texts, songs, guerrilla theatre, art, and words of activists tell as full a history as possible Sam, including your ’85 date. But this history is held in other places, and is not forgotten at grassroots levels around Aotearoa.

    I think the testimonies and oral histories of those that struggled are of most value and importance, sometimes these are stories spoken in conversation, or recorded on tape by people, sometimes they are recorded in documentary, in movement songs, guerrilla theatre, art, music, sometimes in writing- like Catherine’s thoughts above. I hope Hone Harawira’s letter to John Key regarding Hone’s reasons for going to Mandela’s funeral in the NZ Herald become a valuable historical resource for students in the future in this land.

    I do not think the history of the whole struggle is ever forgotten, Sam. The service for Madiba was full of stories, song, reminisces from 1981. But the longer struggle is still recorded- in the lives, memories, testimonies of those that fought against Apartheid before, during, and after 1981.

    The Anti-Apartheid movement in Aotearoa was complex. The issue of Apartheid woven into many issues specific to Aotearoa, lots of work was done by Aotearoa Anti-Apartheid activists after 1981- as Peter Limb outlines in his work on the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Australia and Aotearoa. But the best source for the history of the movement is held by those that fought against Apartheid in this land. This is a living history, and is not forgotten. Solidarity Sam,

    Tony Fala

  5. Actually Tony, things do get forgotten. Try and find a reference to the 1985 anti-apartheid protests – the biggest there ever were in this country – in a history book or the mainstream media (or even the alternative media for that matter), for example.

  6. Kia Ora Sam,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. 1981 was one moment in the Aotearoa Anti-Apartheid struggle, as you mention- but it was important to acknowledge those that fought against Apartheid in ’81, particularly those who stopped the Waikato vs Boks game at the memorial service at Waikato stadium. Older activists at the Waikato service, veterans of 1981 had been involved in the Aotearoa Anti-Apartheid struggle for years before the year the Boks came here in ’81- people like Bernie Hornfeck for example.

    I was at a Pacific service for Nelson hosted by Mua Strickson-Pua at Maota house late last week. John Miller presented a photographic history of the Anti Apartheid struggle, and as he spoke to his images, he reminded us all that the struggle against Apartheid in Aotearoa began many years before 1981. Several speakers at the Parnell service for Madiba also mentioned the proud lineage of New Zealanders and the Anti-Apartheid struggle, a struggle that began well before 1981.

    No one forgets the protests against the All Black Tours to South Africa in 1960, the role Maaori played in the early Anti-Apartheid struggle, the actions against the South African softball team tour of the mid seventies, among many other activities against Apartheid South Africa in this land. No one forgets the role the churches played in the fight against Apartheid in this land.

    It would be a shame if people misread Catherine’s comments, or mine as words that disrespect the long struggle vs Apartheid in this land. 1981 may have been the strong focus of the Waikato service for Madiba. But John Minto asked people for the names of those battlers that had passed since 1981. People like Tom Newnham, and many others were remembered by candle light in the moments silence- people involved in the struggle vs Apartheid well before 1981. The longer struggle was not forgotten. But the struggle in ’81 was foregrounded, especially those that stopped the game in Hamilton in 1981 at the service.

    It is important as activists to celebrate great people, and great moments. This does not mean we elevate such moments, such as the 1981 tour out of context, history, memory. Though the focus of the Waikato service was on 1981, the rest of the history was not forgotten or erased-it was present at the service in many ways- through older activists presence, through the moment of silence for all those who had passed.

    When I look at this long history, I always look at the complexity of the Anti-Apartheid struggle in Aotearoa from below, from the lives of the many anonymous kiwis who struggled against Apartheid in this land. I value the high moments, but never forget that movements and struggles like the Anti Apartheid one in this land were built by long years of tireless work, commitment, in-between the high moments.

    Your words about remembering history are strong Sam. We need to be careful not to romanticise great historical moments. But no one forgets the struggle before, or after 1981, until Apartheid eventually fell.

    Perhaps my article above is at fault for not speaking more about the history of the struggle vs Apartheid in Aotearoa before, and after ’81. But I do not romanticise the struggle in 1981, nor do I disrespect the lineage of the struggle before that date. I know people at the Waikato Stadium were very much aware of the long history of struggle in this land. But it was important to honour those who served in 1981, and to remember Madiba at Waikato Stadium that Sunday evening. My apologies to all for another long email letter. Will make this post my last here. Hope others feel free to speak about the Waikato service, the Madiba moment, and contribute an entry to Catherine’s korero above.

    Tony Fala

  7. I do get a bit fed up with only hearing about the 1981 tour protests, as if the rest of the 30-odd year New Zealand campaign against apartheid wasn’t worth a hill of beans.

    If we want to learn from history, focusing only on the most dramatic confrontation doesn’t help.

  8. Kia Ora Catherine,

    Great korero. Wanted to say a few words in support. Your korero regarding the Mandela moment with Ross Meurant and John Minto- that’s the truth! The humanity, decency, and warmth John and the anti-tour protestors assembled extended to Meurant and his courageous words lit up the evening.

    Service organisers allowed us all to celebrate Madiba’s life at the same time as he was being laid to rest in Qunu, something I, and I am sure many others were humbly grateful for. Ky, Angeline, and John put together a wonderful service that celebrated not only Madiba but the 1981 Tour protesters, especially those anti-tour protestors who stopped the Waikato vs the Boks game in 1981.

    John asked people to name those who have passed on since ’81. Candles were lit, and one minutes silence was observed for Madiba and those who had fought against Apartheid in Aotearoa and have since passed on.

    The Karanga and Karakia at the start of the service placed the service in the appropriate Maaori cultural context. Angeline’s words of welcome were marvellous. John was a gracious master of ceremonies. John said at the start of the service that when word came to the Isle of Makana (Robben Island) that the Hamilton game had been called off, all the prisoners began to collectively rattle their jail cell bars in joyous union. John said that for Nelson it was like the sun coming out. Nelson was at the start, centre, and ending of the entire service.

    Man veterans came, a wonderful humble group of people. Children, young people, and the old all came together to share and remember. The night was for the 1981 anti-tour protesters and their families first.

    But those of us who did not march in 1981 were not excluded. I was very young in ’81, but a number of older members of my family had marched in ’81, and had been beaten by police during tour protests in Auckland like many others were. It was great to be at the event to honour those family members, but even more the many others gathered at Waikato Stadium last night that fought in ’81. Many that did not march in ’81 were there- like those who were living overseas in ’81, young people, children, like me. It was wonderful to see young people absorb the stories of ’81 that evening- they will continue the work Nelson started.

    Nelson was in the hearts, minds, and spirits of all gathered at the service. I know I looked into the evening sky many times that night, trying to will Madiba home to his rest in the high places where the servants of the poor, the oppressed, and the silenced sleep. Nelson rests with all those women and men who died fighting against Apartheid in South Africa from 1948.

    But as I looked into the night sky snd thought about Qunu I also knew Nelson’s spirit was still with us that evening, and he will never die as long as people remember him and continue to fight on against oppression. The people that said Nelson still lives at the service loudest were the many anti tour protestor speakers- because they said Nelson’s work to liberate ordinary people from slavery of all kinds continues and lives on today.

    The many anti tour veterans speeches, songs, chants, and words of love and respect for Nelson and South Africa were mightier than my solitary thoughts about Nelson, and Qunu. The veterans spoke words of anger, passion, humour, humanity, all the way through the service and through their words we learnt about their sacrifices, service, love, humility, selflessness and humanity in their fight to free Nelson Mandela and those living under Apartheid South Africa.

    Anti Tour veterans charged barbed wire, held meetings, sung songs, chants, marched and protested against Apartheid and the tour in ’81. Some marched on the ground, others flew in planes. One made a film, another wrote a book about batons and barbed wire. The service allowed all of these stories to be told, and more.

    Those veterans of the anti tour struggle tried to imagine another Aotearoa, another South Africa- free, non racist, humane. Stories and anecdotes were shared out by the anti-tour veterans so the young could learn about the struggles of the protesters, and their love for a free South Africa. This is a society we are still struggling to create, and some speakers addressed the economic divide between rich and poor, child poverty, and ongoing racism as continuing issues to fight against since Apartheid fell in South Africa. Ama Rauhihi asked the audience,’do we need to stand up again, now? Do we?’

    The contribution of women, especially Maaori women to the anti-tour protests was acknowledged and foregrounded. We were reminded of the leadership during ’81 of Donna Awatere, Mereana Pittman, Ama Rauhihi, Annette Sykes, Angeline Greensill, Ripeka Evans, amongst others.

    Brother Will Ilolahia spoke powerfully for the PIs. Anti tour veteran Tigilau Ness engaged the audience with a spirited rendition of one of his Pacific reggae songs. Ardijah sung another of our Pacific songs of tribute to the protest movement and Madiba. Betty Sio spoke powerfully for Pacific and Black women.

    We were reminded of the many sacrifices, and leadership provided by many Pakeha men and women- Kevin Hague, Jane Kelsey, old warrior Bernie Hornfeck to mention just a few.

    We also learnt from the anti-tour vets that the fight against economic apartheid in South Africa is not over, nor is the fight against racism and oppression for Maaori, or Pacific people, or the people of Palestine over. The work Nelson, and countless other freedom fighters in South Africa began is not yet finished. Strong words against economic oppression, social inequality, poverty, and injustice in this land, South Africa today, and other places in the world were all addressed by many speakers.

    People from political parties such as the Greens, Mana were represented at the service. People from different activist groups waved flags, chanted, and generally helped take over Waikato Stadium- Socialists, Mana, reminding us that issues of justice and oppression remain, and Nelson’s work as revolutionary and battler for the oppressed has to be continued. Prominent in this group of activists were the voices, energy, and spirit of young people- a wonderful thing to see.

    Many beautiful tributes in song were sung for Nelson at the service. We were privileged to hear folk songs, reggae songs, Pacific r and b songs all paying tribute to the struggle against Apartheid. The music reminded me that people struggled against Apartheid not just with their bodies and minds, but also with their spirits- their songs, waiata, poetry and chants. People in South Africa did the same during Apartheid. I thought about those songs and ours sung at Waikato stadium Sunday night, all part of a greater song to speed Nelson home on his way, and help free enslaved and oppressed people. Near the end of the service, people sung The South African National anthem- an song of a multi-cultural South Africa.

    The service was beautiful, and people stayed behind for some time to share, talk, and reminisce. It was a wonderful thing to see all the anti-tour protesters shaking hands, and sharing stories with one another at the service.

    To Nelson, to the protestors, to all good people at the Waikato service, much respect.

    Senzeni Na, Senzeni Na.

    Senzeni Na, Senzeni Na.

    Senzeni Na, Senzeni Na.

    Senzeni Na, Senzeni Na.

    Respect to all at the Waikato service.

  9. Thanks for that Catherine, I wish I’d been there last night.
    It’s remarkable though that there are only a few small degrees of separation from the South Africa of 1981 and the New Zealand of today as our government imposes more and more restriction on it’s citizens…

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