Springbok tour memories still vivid

MICHELE A'COURT
Last updated 09:44 11/12/2013
Springbok protest

CONFRONTATION: Baton-weilding police and demonstrators clash in Molesworth St, with Parliament in the background, during the Springbok rugby tour protest of July 29, 1981.

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Michele A'Court

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OPINION: In 1981, John Key and I were both 20-year-old university students - he at Canterbury, me at Victoria.

These were the years before student loans, when we studied free and bursaries covered tuition and most of our living costs.

Without a terrifying debt waiting for us at graduation, many of us engaged with a broader education than just our prescribed courses.

Student media, drama, political activism . . . I often wonder if the shift to student loans was as much about social repercussions as fiscal concerns.

My memories of the 1981 Springbok tour are vivid. The Specials' Free Nelson Mandela was the soundtrack to that year (I am humming it now) and each week was punctuated with street protests, every Wednesday and Saturday.

Like many families, mine was split. My brother and I wrote and marched against the tour and boycotted South African product; my father was pro-tour and served South African wine which we refused to drink on our strained visits home.

My mother was caught between us. Alone during a visit to Wellington one weekend, she stepped off the pavement and joined an anti-tour protest down Lambton Quay.

I'm not sure if she ever told my father but I know that short walk took a huge amount of courage.

Things weren't so strained that my father didn't try to protect us. The Wednesday after the game was stopped in Hamilton, he took a call from the police for one of his employees.

Her son, a recent police graduate, would be in Molesworth St that night when the police, humiliated the previous Saturday, planned direct action against the midweek protesters.

As a young officer, he was required to notify his next of kin. His mother told my father and he, knowing my brother and I would be there to face the baton charge, spent a desperate few hours - pre-cellphone days - trying in vain to reach us and warn us to stay away.

We would have gone anyway. We were there alongside mums with pushchairs, office workers with groceries and briefcases (the kind of people referred to in other contexts as "mum and dad investors") when the batons rained down.

My friend, Rona, was beaten till she bled. She was 70 years old.

My drama class staged The Biko Inquest. I wrote an essay for English Lit titled Hamlet and the Springbok Tour (A+).

I don't remember anyone not having an opinion one way or the other.

I can imagine people regretting the opinion they held, perhaps, but I can't imagine anyone forgetting what it was.

In 1981, Nelson Mandela was our hero. And though I am sad New Zealand's anti-apartheid movement is not officially represented in South Africa this week, I am pleased that those who didn't support him then must honour him now.

Because they honour not just the elder statesman but the young radical arrested under the Suppression of Communism laws for treason, incitement and sabotage; the convict who refused to denounce violence in return for an earlier prison release.

Their terrorist, my freedom fighter.

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