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Rugby's relationship with apartheid SA

Saturday 7 Dec 2013 5:50 p.m.

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Nelson Mandela's personal struggle against apartheid is entwined with our own national history thanks to our controversial sports ties with South Africa, especially in the 1980s.

In the 27 years Mr Mandela was in prison, the All Blacks played no less than 15 Tests against the Springboks, the most infamous being the three played during the tour of '81.

Trevor Richards was a leader of the anti-apartheid movement here and says Mr Mandela would later recall their protests that year gave him hope.

"When he heard about the Hamilton game being called off, sitting on Robben Island, to him it just felt like the sun was coming out," says Mr Richards.

A de-classified document gives an indication of how our government then viewed the Kiwis fighting Mr Mandela's cause.

Veteran activist Penny Bright is among those labelled a "subversive".

"We wanted to make it loud and clear," she says.

Four years later, the local anti-apartheid movement took their fight from the streets to the courtroom, when they successfully challenged the proposed 1985 All Blacks tour of South Africa.

So it should be remembered that while all of New Zealand is now honouring the passing of a great man, it wasn't all New Zealand who fought on his side while he was behind bars, but a movement of radicals and idealists.

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