OPINION: The death of Nelson Mandela has captured our and the world's attention. He stands out as a true leader.
It has been especially surprising to see sympathetic comments from those of a more conservative persuasion, a characteristic I determine on the basis of the person's background or knowledge I have about them.
When I saw the lineup in last weekend's Taranaki Daily News of Jonathan Young, Mary Bourke and Ross Dunlop giving their heartfelt views about Mandela I was very surprised.
How is it that the current National MP for New Plymouth and current and former mayors of South Taranaki District Council get to comment as the world mourns a man whose primary connection to this country is that his imprisonment, and the reasons for it, were responsible for the greatest social upheaval in this country since the poverty riots of the 1930s?
National Party folks, certainly of Young's generation, and residents of South Taranaki, weren't especially conspicuous in the anti-tour movement in 1981, as I recall.
What would have made last week's story more credible is if the Daily News had reported on the stance of each of its Mandela "mourners" in 1981.
The fight against apartheid South Africa was a long, bloody and murderous one. In South Africa and outside it. New Zealand played a crucial role.
Anti-apartheid movement leaders like Trevor Richards, and much later John Minto, were instrumental in building the coalition of forces that came to bear on New Zealand during the 1981 Springbok tour. The third Labour government played its part when it cancelled the 1973 tour.
Even local All Black hero, and captain at the time, Graham Mourie took a courageous stand.
But in 1981 the National Government of the day saw political mileage in the tour going ahead and mounting a confrontation with opponents of the tour with every force the state could muster, including police armed to the hilt with riot gear and the army securing rugby grounds with razor wire.
If the vehemence of the anti-tour movement was one thing, then the fierceness of the pro- tour brigade was quite another.
Anyone who says they didn't take sides during the 1981 tour is either lying or brain- dead. The tour split the nation. It split families and communities.
I remember all too clearly the cry of pro-tour forces of "keep politics out of sport" and "I have a right to watch a rugby game".
This was the justification given for watching a team which was regarded as the heroic symbol of a nation that deprived 80 per cent of its population of basic human rights and freedoms for one reason - they were black.
And therein lay the difference between two sides of the argument, between the conservatives and the progressives. Conservatives look to their own comfort, their self- satisfaction. Not for them the searching questions about whether something is fair or even- handed or principled. No. Things are the way they are and that is that. There is no reason to change the natural order that is self- evident to them.
Which also means the conservative world view is usually ignorant of history. Why question the origins of your comfortable life? It might just lead to a sense of discomfort. All this applies to the New Zealand National Party, apart from one extra-ordinary and ironic exception. In the 1990s, led by Doug Graham on the issue, the National Party took a different view of Maori land rights.
Progressives take a different view. They see their place in the world as part of something bigger than just themselves. They instinctively think of others. They are interested in historical origins, if only to explain how things have got to where they are.
Above all, progressive people are concerned about principles of fairness and justice. And they don't hesitate to challenge the status quo, even organise against it, in the pursuit of a more just and fair society.
Progressives are not afraid of change and openly seek it. They see history as a record of change and make sure that the change is for the betterment of all, not just a select few.
The anti-tour activists in 1981 were progressive. They should be celebrated at this time. Their contribution to positive change in South Africa was immense. The same cannot be said for our resident conservatives. They seek to take the moral high ground now, but it rings hollow.
Some will say "But Mandela was able to put animosity towards his enemies and detractors behind him, and so we all should". But this misunderstands what happened in post-apartheid South Africa.
Perhaps the most important and healing of actions Mandela took when he became president was to hold a truth and reconciliation commission. Those who were at the forefront of the violence and repression of black people opened up, took responsibility and could be forgiven. Perhaps we need some truth and reconciliation here.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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