Leading protest figures gather in Wellington to mark 50 years of activism

Leading figures from the Halt All Racist Tours (HART) movement have gathered in Wellington to mark 50 years since formation. 

HART is most famous for orchestrating the protests against the 1981 Springbok rugby tour which divided the nation. 

But, the group's influence also helped cancel another Springboks tour in 1973 only a few years after its inception. 

For 56 days in mid-1981, New Zealand verged on civil war. 

The catalyst to these violent protests was the New Zealand tour of an apartheid-era Springboks team.

"1981 I think was an expression, not only against Apartheid but of New Zealand's desire to see the country change in many other ways too," said HART chair Trevor Richards.

Trevor Richards was the first ever chair of HART in 1969 when the group had 14 members.

Fifty years on - 200 of them turned up in Wellington to reflect on the power of protest. 

"The organisation was transformational in a number of ways. More than 150,000 people took part in country-wide demonstrations," said Richards.

In the third and final All Blacks test at Eden Park in the '80s police clashed with protestors and planes dropped flares and flour bombs on the game. 

"These people were amongst those who were responsible for what we did, they were out there on the streets," he continued.

Former All Black Bob Burgess actively campaigned against that tour.

But, a decade before, he'd turned down his first chance at the black jersey in protest of another South African tour. 

"I felt I was doing the right thing, that I needed to say something because I was a rugby player and being a rugby player. I knew that whatever I did say probably wouldn't go unnoticed," Burgess told Newshub.

While the group has disbanded and apartheid overcome, Richards says we still have a long way to go here and abroad. 

"Racism is a scourge that is still very much alive and well and good meaning people can defeat it. "

He says that's the power of protest.