Barbed wire, flour bombs and match cancellation: New Zealanders still remember the Springboks' tour in 1981, marked by violent demonstrations against the regime. apartheid in South Africa.
As the All Blacks and the Springboks face each other in the World Cup final on Saturday, forty-two years ago South Africa – the flagship team of a country under apartheid and boycotted regime sportingly by a large majority of countries – was invited by the New Zealand federation for a tour.
Photo from the New Zealand Herald, August 15, 1981, of New Zealand player Stu Wilson scoring a try during the match against South Africa in Christchurch © NEW ZEALAND HERALD – John SEFTON
Sixteen years after the last South African visit to New Zealand, the tour divides New Zealand society, between admirers of rugby, the king sport in the country, and those refusing the arrival of the Springboks, symbol of the apartheid regime in place since 1948.
“It divided the country, you were either for or against, there was no middle ground,” the former All Blacks winger told AFP , Stu Wilson, aged 69.
An invitation which divided even within the New Zealand team, the captain at the time Graham Mourie and the center Bruce Robertson refusing to face the South Africans for political reasons.
– Match canceled –
In Hamilton, demonstrators even managed to have a match canceled, by entering the pitch and holding each other's arms, which triggered several scenes of violence .
“We didn't just want to demonstrate and wave banners, we wanted to try to stop this tour,” John Minto, the leader of the protest group HART, a movement against racism, told AFP , who was among the protesters in Hamilton.
Photo from the New Zealand Herald, September 12, 1981, of John Minto, leader of the HART protest group, during a demonstration in New Zealand © NEW ZEALAND HERALD – Handout
“I was injured several times during the tour, ending up in hospital in Hamilton twice that night for stitches,” after being hit by objects thrown by supporters. furious rugby, says John Minto, now 70 years old.
In 1995, during a visit to New Zealand by South African President Nelson Mandela, John Minto learned that the news of the cancellation of the match in Hamilton had reached him, while he was imprisoned as a figure of the anti-apartheid struggle.
“Mandela told me that when they learned that the match had been interrupted due to a demonstration, the prisoners slammed their cell doors to celebrate,” he said.
< p>After Hamilton, violence escalates in the streets. On the one hand, police repression of demonstrations is increasing, the police not hesitating to use batons to disperse the crowd, on the other the demonstrators respond with sticks and protect themselves with motorcycle helmets. /p>
– “War zone” –
For the third and final test match of the tour at Eden Park in Auckland, the authorities surrounded the pitch with barbed wire and more than 2,100 police officers, or 40% of all law enforcement in the country, are deployed.
Photo from the New Zealand Herald, July 25, 1981, of anti-apartheid protesters confronting police on the grounds of Rugby Park in Hamilton, New Zealand, during the South African Springboks' tour © NEW ZEALAND HERALD – John SEFTON
However, during the match, demonstrators flew over the stadium and threw flour “bombs” at the players, even hitting the All Black Gary Knight. Stu Wilson was also injured by hooks thrown onto the field.
The New Zealanders snatched victory (25-22) and Stu Wilson, author of a try, remembers the relief he felt when his fullback, Allan Hewson, sealed the All Black victory with a penalty.
“We knew that if we lost, and with a country already so divided, it would be even worse,” he says.
At the end of the match, the clashes continued, “we waited 3 or 4 hours for the supporters to disperse and the demonstrators to leave. We left by bus to the hotel and he There were burned cars. It looked like a war zone.”
New Zealand “took several years to recover” from the violence of the tour, according to Stu Wilson.
Six years later, New Zealand organized the first World Cup in history. The New Zealand Prime Minister at the time, David Lange, still reeling from the violence of the 1981 tour, refused to attend.
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