Editorial: Still huddling behind sour divisions

Last updated 05:00 10/12/2013
Kim Dotcom
Prime minister John Key

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OPINION: The Government has made a weak, mean-spirited decision not to include a representative from the 1981 Springbok tour protesters to help represent New Zealand at Nelson Mandela's funeral.

These were people stood up to the naked scorn, even enmity, of many of their countrymen - not to mention the occasional police baton - to oppose the forces that were keeping Mandela in prison, and black South Africans as second-class citizens. Instead of finding room for just one member from their ranks, we have a boutique delegation who hazarded nothing much during that time.

There's no denying that the likes of John Minto, and politicians like Hone Harawira and Kevin Hague, are to this day still sourly regarded by many a Kiwi who associates them with decades of hectoring, scolding reproach. What matters, though, is that these people were on the right side of history in the anti-apartheid campaign. In stark contrast to the great and the good who have made it into the delegation.

Note the weasely passive language that Prime Minister John Key uses. "The decision was made" that the grouping was the right one, he says. Not a lot of accountability in that phrase, which in fact he made after consulting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

When Mr Key talks about the delegation having "a good blend of New Zealand's perspective" he's apparently speaking without particularly scrutinising his own sincerity. Because this was a blend more notable for what it perhaps instinctively excluded - whiny, lefty malcontents whose lot aren't in power.

By yesterday there was no shortage of voices happy to wade into social media to minimise the significance the protesters' actions ended up having in South Africa. Yet Mandela himself spoke vividly of how much it meant to him and his prison inmates - let alone the wider South African society - that New Zealanders were standing up on their behalf. Does anyone seriously believe the would not have wanted one of them to be there at his funeral? Or is that neither here nor there?

Yes, places are limited and yes, the trip comes with a $95,000 bill to taxpayers. But those who were yesterday railing against activists wanting to be "freeloaders" should direct their attention to the credentials of those who have made the cut in the protesters' stead.

OK, former Prime Minister Jim Bolger and former Foreign Minister and Commonwealth secretary-general Sir Don McKinnon dealt with Mandela during his presidency years. Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, though? And what of Opposition Leader David Cunliffe? As he sees it, he's representing Minto et al. Except he isn't, really. He's representing the worst sort of tokenistic political expedience.

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Mr Cunliffe also says that he doesn't want to be political about it - which is something politicians generally say when they're about to be passive-aggressively political - but if he had been PM then, gee, he would have found room for one of the protesters. He even thought about giving up his seat for Mr Minto, but "was talked out of it". More anonymous persuasion, you'll notice. Persuaded by whom? On what grounds?

There's an ugly here-and-now irony to this issue. Within New Zealand, the 1981 tour protests were hugely divisive but since then Mandela tried so hard, for so long, to communicate the need to put past hurts, grievances and enmities aside and move forward together. What we have, on the occasion of his death, is a striking example of a continued willingness to do no such thing. We're sending a delegation supposedly to honour this man, while flatly ignoring his message.

- The Southland Times

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