Kiwi Mandela delegation without '81 tour protesters

Last updated 10:16 09/12/2013

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Prime Minister John Key has defended the selection of the delegation travelling with him to attend the funeral of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Key leaves for South Africa today accompanied by Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples, Labour leader David Cunliffe, former prime minister Jim Bolger and former foreign minister and Commonwealth secretary-general Sir Don McKinnon.

But those who took part in the 1981 apartheid protests, have expressed dismay that none of them had been selected to go.

Key said consideration was given to the likes of John Minto, who led protests at the time, but it was decided not to include him in the delegation.

"In terms of the protesters, of course we could have had some, but it wasn't that we were particularly shunning them," the prime minister told Breakfast.

"In the end we think the grouping that we've got - the former Commonwealth secretary-general, the prime minister of the day Jim Bolger, and Pita Sharples representative of indigenous people."

Places were also limited on the trip which came with a $95,000 bill for tax payers.

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.

"But actually, everything that personifies Nelson Mandela was unity and it would have been a bit churlish not to have the leader of the Opposition there and be unifying the New Zealand Parliament as we go to pay our respects."

Minto said he would have liked to have gone and paid his respects.

"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.

"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."

Minto said 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.

Cunliffe said he had contemplated giving his own 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.

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 protesters.

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"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 an represent those New Zealanders who took a strong stand against the Springbok tour."

- Waikato

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