Mandela’s NZ Triumph

John Minto campaigning to stop an all-white Springbok visit in the 1980's
John Minto campaigning to stop an all-white Springbok visit in the 1980’s

New Zealand’s anti-apartheid leader recalls Mandela’s only visit here

By Alan Tristram

Activist John Minto, who was an organiser for the Halt All Racist Tours movement, met Mandela in Auckland during Mandela’s visit in 1995..

“One of the things he said was that when he was in prison in 1981 and they heard that the [Springbok tour] game [against Waikato] had been stopped by protest, all the prisoners rattled their doors throughout the jail and he said it was like the sun came out”.

Dame Cath Tizard, governor-general at the time, recalled Mandela had told her “he would never forget the day the game at Hamilton was called off”.

His presence dominated the Commonwealth heads of government meeting held in Auckland and Queenstown in November that year.

Dame Cath said it was a “marvellous and memorable” pleasure to host him at Government House.

“It’s very hard to describe, but the man just carried such mana,” she said.

“People almost treated him with reverence. He was a very handsome, pleasant man to deal with.”

”When I went out and met him at the airport, we were introduced and he asked, how shall I address you? I said, formally as Your Excellency, but my name is Catherine. He put his arm around my shoulder and from there he called me Catty.”

He told about 3000 people at Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia his visit there was the highlight of his trip.

”We feel truly welcome and among our own brothers and sisters,” he said.

To be a guest of Maori was a great honour.

“As a people who have known deprivation, we do appreciate your efforts to redeem a past of dispossession and social dislocation that colonialism has wrought on your community.”

In a surprise appearance before more than 250,000 people at a fireworks spectacular at Auckland Domain, he brought the crowd to its feet.