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Thursday, January 12, 2006


General Discussions: The Power of the Game - NZ vs. SA -1981

In one of the most famous tours in our game's history, we at RuggaWorld take a different look at the infamous "flour-bomb" test series of 1981 between New Zealand and South Africa, and the impact it had on the game and the people, of these two great rivals.


The Springboks and New Zealand's national rugby team, the All Blacks, have a long tradition of intense and friendly sporting rivalry.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the South African apartheid policies had an impact on team selection for the All Blacks: the selectors passed over Māori players for some All Black tours to South Africa.

By the 1970s public protests and political pressure forced on the New Zealand Rugby Union the choice of either fielding a team not selected by race, or not touring in the Republic. However, the South African rugby authorities continued to select Springbok players by race. As a result, the Norman Kirk Labour Government of 1972 - 1974 prevented the Springboks from touring during the mid 1970s. In response, the Rugby Union protested about the involvement of "politics in sport".

It is well established in New Zealand that the Government can prevent non-nationals from entering the country (so allowing the government to stop tours by opposing teams), but does not limit the freedom of its citizens to leave the country (so for example, after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan the government was unable to force all NZ Olympians to boycott the Moscow Olympics).

In 1976, the then newly-elected New Zealand prime minister, Robert Muldoon, "allowed" the All Blacks to tour South Africa. Twenty-one African nations protested against this breach of the Gleneagles Agreement by boycotting the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, due to their view that the All Black tour gave tacit support to the apartheid regime in South Africa. Once again the All Blacks failed to win a series in South Africa (they would not do so until 1996, after the fall of apartheid).

At a time when New Zealand was re-examining the history of its own race relations, the issue of All Black tours and apartheid was picked up by many on the New Zealand political left - for example becoming a central theme of Greg McGee's hit play Foreskin's Lament.

The Tour

By the early 1980s the pressure from other African countries as well as from protest groups internal to New Zealand, such as HART (Halt All Racist Tours), reached a head when the New Zealand Rugby Union proposed a Springbok tour for 1981.

This became a topic of political contention due to the issue of the sports boycott by the other African nations. Activists asked New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon to cancel the tour, but he permitted the South African team to come to New Zealand in mid-1981, arguing that New Zealand was a free and democratic country, and that "politics should stay out of sport". Muldoon's critics, however, felt that Muldoon really allowed the tour to go ahead in order for his National Party to secure the votes of rural and provincial conservatives in the general election later in the year.

Some rugby supporters echoed the separation of politics and sport. Others argued that if the tour were cancelled, there would be no reporting of the widespread criticism against apartheid in New Zealand in the controlled South African media. If the tour proceeded, the racially integrated All Blacks and New Zealand crowds would undermine the apartheid system.

The ensuing public protests polarised the New Zealand population as no other issue has in the nation's history. While rugby fans filled the football grounds, sizeable protest crowds (including other rugby fans) filled the surrounding streets, and in some cases succeeded in invading rugby pitches in order to halt games.

The New Zealand authorities strengthened security at public facilities after protestors disrupted telecommunications services by taking out a TV microwave station. At first protests were predominantly peaceful. A small minority of the protestors saw the opportunity to force a confrontation with authority, and came wearing motorcycle helmets, home-made shields and a variety of weapons. Others adopted defensive armour against police batons. "Patches" of criminal gangs such as traditional rivals Black Power and Mongrel Mob were also evident, (interestingly enough, the Mongrel Mob were Muldoon supporters).

After early disruptions, the police created two special riot squads (the Red and Blue Squads), to control protestors. They also required that all spectators assemble in sports grounds at least an hour before kickoff, after protestors surrounded grounds and attempted to invade pitches early in the tour.

At Rugby Park, Hamilton, about 350 protestors invaded the pitch after pulling down a fence. The police arrested about 50 of them over a period of an hour, but were concerned that they could not control the rugby crowd. Reports that a light plane piloted by a protestor was approaching the stadium was the last straw, and police cancelled the match. The protestors were ushered from the ground, with enraged rugby spectators lashing out at them. A bloody encounter took place between protest marchers and police in Molesworth Street in Wellington. And at Eden Park, Auckland, a low-flying light plane disrupted the final game of the tour by dropping flour-bombs on the pitch. The scenes that appeared on television made the country look on the brink of civil war as the evening news broadcasts replayed running battles between helmet-clad protestors, the police and enraged rugby fans.

There were, in fact, many peaceful protests around the country, but sporadic violence attracted the press and led to the impression of a nation at war with itself. The police on the other hand, prevented the release of 'provocative' images, (such as a officer on fire after being hit by a molotov cocktail). These images were however shown to 'motivate' policemen before the Mt Eden test, during which street-fighting broke out with the police. Perhaps because of this, the tour remained a bizarrely civilised break down of order. Neither side used firearms or tear gas. There were no deaths, and no serious injuries. Some of the more violent policemen were quietly disciplined. Protestors who might, in another country, have faced unreasonable charges of attempted murder or treason, were charged and convicted of relatively minor and unimportant disorder offences - or acquitted after defence by pro bono lawyers. Leaders of both sides went on to fill important roles in public life.


Supporters argued the African National Congress was encouraged by signs of opposition in the outside world; opponents that the scenes of fighting held back reform by strengthening the hand of the security forces. It may be that events in New Zealand had little effect in South Africa, and the protests and response were more an argument about the future of New Zealand society than apartheid. The Muldoon government was re-elected in 1981 partially as a backlash to the tour protests.

The NZRFU constitution contained much high minded wording about promoting the image of rugby and New Zealand, and generally being a benefit to society. In 1985 the NZRFU proposed an All Black tour of South Africa. Two lawyers sued the NZRFU, claiming such a tour would breach the NZRFU's constitution, which it clearly did. The High Court duly stopped the All Black tour. The 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand could have been stopped by the courts. It is interesting that protest groups did not attempt such a remedy within the "system" in 1981. The All Blacks did not tour South Africa until after the fall of the apartheid régime (1990 - 1994), although after the official 1985 tour was cancelled an unofficial tour did take place in 1986 by a team including some but not the majority of All Blacks players. These were known outside South Africa as the Cavaliers, but advertised inside the Republic as the All Blacks.

For the first time in history, rugby in New Zealand had become a source of embarrassment rather than pride. The sport fell into a six-year decline, arrested only by the country's victory in the first Rugby World Cup in 1987.

Public respect for the police also took a battering as a result of The Tour, with protestors filing a number of high-profile brutality complaints against officers. Many felt that the authorities had set up the Red and Blue Squads for the purpose of suppressing dissent, as opposed to by-the-book law enforcement.

Merata Mita's documentary film Patu! tells the tale of the tour from a left wing perspective. Commander of the police "Red Squad", Ross Meurant published Red Squad Story in 1982, giving a defensive conservative view. In 1984 Geoff Chapple published The Tour, a book chronicling the above events from the protesters' perspective. In 1999 Glenn Wood's biography "Cop Out", covered the tour from the perspective of a frontline policeman.

New Zealand leftist Tom Newnham's book By Batons And Barbed Wire is one of the largest collections of photos (and general information) of the protest movement during the tour itself.

• Chapple, Geoff (1984). 1981: The Tour, Wellington: A H & A W Reed & Wikipedia

I still remember watching that last test. Was obviously very disappointed to have the game ended so abruptly.

I won't get started on teh politics in SA, but so many things could have been so different if only.

Great piece PA.

what i found interesting was how it changed so many things in NZ - we always look back at this event reminding ourselves of the 'could have beens' for SA and SA rugby - but it obviously had a huge impact on NZ rugby too - something i never quite realised.

Yes very interesting. But then again after what I heard of the Kiwi supporters it seems the majority just goes the way the wind blows.

The biggest problem in those days for the governmants, was the fact that Aus, NZ and even USA were sitting in the same boat and they were scared to start shouting to hard, because we could always turn around and point a finger at them.

But that is in the past and we are better of now.
Finally, some proof. I allways knew that wpw's grandfather, Dr Verwoerd, had it right. I knew Apartheid wasn't all that bad. Just look at this quote from the article, "Once again the All Blacks failed to win a series in South Africa (they would not do so until 1996, after the fall of apartheid)." And I'd like to highlight the last part of the quote, "(they would not do so until 1996, after the fall of apartheid)." So province and Wes, sorry to say this boets, but back to your shack, right now!

Okay I was just joking, and I hope I didn't offend anyone, if I did, I apologise.
how can wpw be offended, you just complimented his grand dad verwoerd?  

Yes and I think province is a relation of PW.
JY los Oom Pik uit!!!!!
Aldo you wanker,dont spoil the comment by apologising!
Province, I'm doing it cos I made a joke on keo once, and got shat out for the rest of the day. I remember Wes also being offended. So now when I say something, I just apologise when I make comments like that. Otherwise people get all exited and shit on my head.  

Oom Pik was a lefty. PW was the righty.
Although rumours have it that Pik drank for both sides.  
And the middle.  
OOPS.Never did well in history
OK aldo,but i noticed ppl here have a sense of humour.
By the way i would shit on your head for the hell of it!
Ja Province now you have something to say to old Wes next time yopu see the beancounter.

Anyway, how terrible was this tour. I recall that game that was cancelled. My dad, Oupa and I woke up to watch it and all we saw was these protesters pulling faces at the cameras for an hour before we decided to go to bed.

There was a documentary on tv a while ago about that tour and the damage it did to the psyche of New Zealand and their rugby as a whole. It literally was their tame version of a civil war with people's opions widely divided among those for and those against.

How the Boks managed to go through that tour and only lose two games is absolutely beyond my comprehension. How they managed to take the series so close is an absolute credit to them. Can you imkagine today's pansies having to sleep on stretchers in a school hall surrounded by a police escort while protesters chanted outside the night before a deciding test.

Can you imagine those guys using excuses of the beds being too short or they didn't have the right spikes if they lose?

Friend of mine knew Pik personally. Apparently his wife was a bit of a weird one and yes, Pik didn't ask for pencil test results....
uhm, thanx province, I think. Anyway, back to things at hand, How's your good old granfather doing Province? In case you forgot who I'm referring to, Eugene Terreblanche.  
Apparently Pik was a hard drinking social kind of guy with close ties among the Portuguese community.

His wife just sat at home because she didn't want to go out.

So Pik ate away from home and he tasted all the fruits on offer.
BTW Province, it seems that your token brother, Habana, is enjoying PTA and the Bulls. Seems us Boere thugs are not such bad guys, otherwise he wouldn't have signed a new four year contract with us. So to all you guys wanting Habana, Welakapela, he's with us till 2009!  

jou wetter - there is an 'escape clause' in his contract though...

I saw Bryan in Cresta just before Christmas...with his girlfirend. Damn fine honey.

Blonde, tanned, scantily clad and with wicked curves in all the right places...

He's quite short but he has legs like an elephant

you managed to leave out the fact that there is a "get out of jail clause" for habana, once the bulls scrape the bottom of the barrel again he is gone.


this tour was absolutely amazing and now we know why our dads and the likes refer to the days when men were men...

aldo i spulling a keo spin!!!
Eugene is good,we had a Brandy in Bonteheuwel last night,he is also gonna be watching the Spears closely,he is very excited.
Brother Brian is just milking the system,the brother gets paid to do what he was brought up to do"if you see a big boer,RUUUUUUUUUUUN!!!!"


And when he sees a small Boer he ducks. The bastard will have a gun.
Firstly, I'm not pulling a keo! More like a Bulls spin. I Wish to keep the story nice for us Bulls fans, if Gus Theron breaks his finger and will miss out on half the season, but will still be back before the last half of the S14, you wouldn't mention it, because you hope he wont be back. Same with the escape clause. I must say, I don't see the Bulls scraping the bottom of the barrel soon, might not be dominant anymore, but I believe we will still remain competitive.


Even with the escape clause, he won't go to the Lions again, otherwise people are gonna ask him if his stats on the field are as good as his stats on PAPER!

Anyway, he does have a damn hot girlfriend. I saw Danie Rossouw yesterday, You forget how big these guys are in the off season, you tend to think of them as human again, untill you come face to face with one of them, that is!
Just to please all of you and to bring some light into your otherwise dull day today... PW Botha is celebrating his 90th birthday in Wilderness (no pun intended) today.

Happy Birthday Groot Krokodil!
Province, what did you get your Grandfather?  
A Plaque denoting his rich colourd heritage.  

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