Minto refuses South Africa's highest honour

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Anti-apartheid campaigner John Minto has refused the South African Government's highest honour for foreigners because he is "deeply dismayed" about conditions in that country.

Minto has been nominated for the Companion of O. R. Tambo Award by a South African government official, but wants the bid withdrawn.

"(South Africa) was the democratic country with so much hope and I think for so many people it's been the deepest of disappointment, and certainly it has been for me," Minto said.

"I'm just deeply dismayed at what's happened."

The union organiser and Press columnist was the national organiser of the Halt All Racist Tours movement (Hart) during the controversial 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand.

He later became national chairman of the anti-apartheid group.


The Tambo award is the highest honour given to non-South Africans in recognition of friendship, co-operation and support.

Previous recipients include Mahatma Gandhi, Kofi Annan, Salvador Allende and Martin Luther King Jun.

In an open letter to South African President Thabo Mbeki, Minto lambasts the African National Congress government, which he said had "sidelined" social and economic rights.

"When we protested and marched into police batons and barbed wire here in the struggle against apartheid, we were not fighting for a small black elite to become millionaires," Minto writes in The Press today.

"We were fighting for a better South Africa for all its citizens. The faces at the top have changed from white to black but the substance of change is an illusion."

Unemployment in South Africa sat at around 26 per cent and the number of people living on $1 a day had doubled to 2.4 million in 10 years, he said.

Community groups still fought for decent healthcare, water supplies, education, wages, working conditions and affordable houses.

Minto said his personal decision should not detract from Hart's work, of which he and fellow campaigners were still proud.

Fellow anti-apartheid campaigner and a founder of Hart, Trevor Richards, who now lives in Paris, said he was "delighted" to accept the Tambo Award in 2004.

"The role that New Zealand played in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa was exceptional," Richards said.

"When offered the award in 2004, I considered it to be recognition of the role played by all those New Zealanders involved in that long, bitter struggle. As such, I was delighted to accept it," he wrote in an email to The Press.

He is also more positive about South Africa's progress than Minto.

"In many respects, South Africa is light years from the country that ushered in the last decade of the 20th century.

"In other respects, the American novelist William Faulkner summed up South Africa best when he wrote of the southern states of the USA -- `the past isn't dead; it isn't even the past'."

Richards said Minto was a "worthy recipient" who deserved the award.


The Press