Should the NZ delegation to Nelson Mandela's funeral include 1981 tour protesters?
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says he would have liked to have seen John Minto and other protest leaders included in a delegation attending Nelson Mandela's funeral.
But says he is representing those who opposed apartheid.
Sharples is one of five representatives chosen by Prime Minister John Key to represent New Zealand at a memorial service for the former South African leader this week.
The delegation has been criticised for not including representatives of the anti-apartheid movement or the 1981 Springbok tours, in particular protest leader Minto.
Sharples said he had asked to be part of the delegation which leaves for South Africa today and also includes Labour leader David Cunliffe, former prime minister Jim Bolger and former foreign minister Sir Don McKinnon.
The Maori Affairs minister admitted he would have liked to have seen Minto included but said there were a number of people who deserved to be there based on their anti-apartheid stance.
"I do think that there are people that would have liked to have been there that had a role to play, a major role, because I can't get past the fact that Mandela said 'you're on the other side of the world and there you are fighting for us and that had a major effect on our country and the process'."
Sharples said he was heavily involved in the protests in the 1970s and 1980s along with members of his family and said he would be representing them in South Africa.
"For me I'm going over there . . . representing Maori who took leading roles in the demonstrations from 1960s, the '70s and the '81 ones as well, and I want to be there for them and I also want to be there because of Mandela and the man that he was, what he stood for. What a man," he said.
"Twenty-seven years in jail and you can hold an olive branch out to your oppressors despite the fact you're feeling angry - put the anger aside and unite people to go forward and unite the country and set an example for the world. Thats what's so beautiful about him."
Sharples spoke of meeting with Mandela in an Auckland church in 1995 where the legendary leader, who died last week, thanked New Zealanders for their stance on apartheid.
"He just gave such a beautiful speech thanking New Zealand saying he could hardly believe on the other side in another part of the world people were fighting against their own police for us," Sharples said.
"And that was pretty big and that's why he came really, he said, to recognise that effort and what it meant."
Sharples said that when he paid his final respects he would have a karakia for him "acknowledging his warrior status".
"What greater warrior could you have [than] one who puts his hate aside and leads his people?" Meanwhile, Key has defended the makeup of the delegation, saying he raised the possibility of Minto being part of it, with his officials.
"In the end, the decision was made that the grouping we had was the right one," he said.
"There are lots of potential names that were put into the pot. We think we've got it right, and others will judge it." He said he raised Minto's name to canvas a "whole range" of possible delegates, but would not say whether he wanted Minto on the trip.
Places were also limited on the trip which came with a $95,000 bill for taxpayers.
He said the delegation provided a good mix of current New Zealand representation and political leaders who had dealt with Mandela during the South African leader's presidency.
"I took advice from MFAT [Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade]," he said.
"I've actually made the view David Cunliffe should come and that was based on the view that if you think about Mandela and his life, he's a guy who could have looked backwards, who could have been very bitter.
"It struck me as prime minister, that it was logical that I should invite the leader of the Opposition. We're celebrating the life of someone that believed in unity, and all I was simply trying to do was unify the New Zealand Parliament."
He refused to be drawn on comments from critics about his stance during the Springbok tour.
"As I said, I didn't go and protest against the tour, I didn't attend any of the games," Key said.
"I was 19 years of age and had lots of other things going on at the time.
"I'm strongly opposed to apartheid but I'm not going to make up stuff that wasn't the case 30 years ago and try and reinvent history because it's inconvenient for the Left."
Minto said he would have liked to have gone and paid his respects, but he would not go in a personal capacity.
"I've been moved and humbled by the many messages calling for me to be included in the official delegation to attend Mandela's funeral service," he said.
"If I was invited to be a part of the delegation I'd be very happy to accept because it would better reflect New Zealand and the reality of the debate here about relations with South Africa."
He said delegation was heavily weighted with those who supported the 1981 tour, "were apologists for South Africa's apartheid regime and strongly opposed New Zealand's anti-apartheid movement".
"In all conscience they should resign from the delegation," he said.
Minto said that even if it was just to be a parliamentary delegation, Mana leader Hone Harawira and Green MP Kevin Hague were high-profile anti-apartheid activists who should have been invited.
Trevor Richards, who with Minto, the late Tom Newnham and others formed HART (Halt All Racist Tours) in 1969, said little "inclusiveness" was evident in the delegation that was selected.
"It is deeply regrettable that the Government has not been able to grasp the opportunity and send a delegation to South Africa in which all New Zealanders could feel represented."
He welcomed the inclusion of Sharples and Cunliffe in the group, but thought Bishop John Osmers - a New Zealand anti-apartheid activist living in Zambia - should have also been invited.
" In 1979 John was seriously injured by a South African parcel bomb. He is a chaplain to the ANC," Richards said.
Cunliffe said he had contemplated giving his seat up for Minto, but was advised against it.
"I took advice on whether to question that, but at the end of the day, my job as leader of the Opposition is in this case, to represent John [Minto] and all of those who were opposed throughout the Springbok tour of which a great many were in the Labour Party," he told RadioLive.
"It's the Government's call. Personally I would have been happy to see it a little broader and more representative of the anti-apartheid movement but I'm very pleased to be able to go and represent those New Zealanders who took a strong stand against the Springbok tour."
Cunliffe said he didn't want to "play politics" with Mandela's funeral, but said if he was prime minister, he would have taken key former protesters.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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