The Russell Marshall Column

Anti-Apartheid Struggle Honoured by New Zealanders and ANC Activitists

By Russell Marshall

Nelson Mandela’s party the African National Congress is marking its centenary this year.

Given the considerable international support over the years for their cause  the ANC suggested to people elsewhere in the world that they consider marking the centenary in some way.

Eighteen years on from the ANC election to office, there is a good deal of justifiable disenchantment with the ANC today.

And the small Wellington group asked by the South African High Commission to initiate an event decided to do so by celebrating the New Zealand anti apartheid movement, and to deal with contemporary South Africa concerns openly.

A two day conference was held at Victoria University in August. Former HART leader Trevor Richards, now in Paris, returned as facilitator. Two New Zealand-born Anglican priests, Bishop John Osmers and Fr Michael Lapsley, both permanently injured by parcel bombs, came and took part.

The Rev Arnold Stofile, former ANC activist, cabinet minister and current SA ambassador to Germany, was the keynote speaker. Over 100 people took part. Financial support for the conference and fares came from churches, unions, MFAT and the New Zealand Rugby Union.

About twenty people spoke and took part in panels, covering New Zealand involvement in anti apartheid activity, especially since 1959 (No Maoris No Tour and CABTA).

Time was also devoted to a frank discussion with Stofile about current South Africa. An excellent exhibition was set up in the mezzanine floor of Rutherford House, with photographs and videos of protests and events.

There were a good number of memorable sessions, with 1976 Olympics boycott and 1981 Springbok tour protests featuring prominently. All Blacks Graeme Mourie and Bob Burgess spoke of their reasons for refusing to play against the Springboks and Ann Hare spoke of her refusal to run against Zola Budd.

The highlight was the last session in which Sir Edward (Ted) Thomas, fellow lawyers Phil Recordon and Paddy Finnigan, and Arnold Stofile described the way in which the case against the planned All Black tour of South Africa in 1985 was successfully challenged in court, with Stofile and his wife being arrested and imprisoned on their return to South Africa.

Although like others troubled by what has subsequently happened in South Africa, I also realise that all countries have taken a long time to develop reasonable democracies, and some still have not done so.

In any event I am not at all sure we have worked out how to govern in ways which are best and fair for everyone living and yet to be born.


(Editor’s note: Russell Marshall chaired the Commonwealth Observer Mission in South Africa in 1994)