The South African ‘Springbok’ Rugby Union team toured New Zealand in the winter months of 1981. They played three tests against the All Blacks and 11 games against provincial sides. Two further scheduled games were cancelled due to protests. The 56 days (19 July to 13 September) that the Springbok toured were some of the most turbulent in modern New Zealand history. Families were divided over the tour and opinions were polarised. Tour supporters believed that politics should be left out of sport; tour opponents argued that any sporting contact with South Africa and its racist apartheid regime brought shame on the nation.
While violent confrontations between anti-tour protesters and police officers dominate popular memories of the winter of 1981, many marches and demonstrations were peaceful, and there were other forms of opposition to the tour such as art works, poems, petitions, and hunger strikes. Special Collections is marking the 40th anniversary of this winter of discontent with a new display capturing the diversity of passions provoked by the Springbok tour.
Anti-tour petition mystery
The centrepiece of the display is one of two copies of a hardbound anti-tour petition; Special Collections holds one copy but the whereabouts of the other is unknown. In August 1981, Remuera mother and daughter Jenny and Rebecca Hanify started their ‘letter of unwelcome’ petition to the South Africa government and its people.1 This was their response to a letter of welcome to the Springbok touring party signed by 1,380 Southland residents and handed over when the team visited Invercargill. Johan Classen, Springbok tour manager, promised to deposit the signed letter of welcome from Southland in the South African Rugby Board’s museum.2
The anti-tour ‘letter of unwelcome’ petition started by Jenny and Rebecca Hanify was signed by more than 3,500 of Auckland and Dunedin residents, including the respective mayors. One copy of the petition was deposited with the University of Auckland General Library in early 1982. The other copy was mailed to John Ryan, chief assistant editor at the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg. He, in turn, passed it on to Dr J. Craven of the South African Rugby Board for depositing in the board’s museum to sit alongside the Southland letter of welcome. However, a letter in our collection from March 1982 indicates that Dr Craven refused to accept the petition from Ryan. The Springbok Experience Rugby Museum in Cape Town closed in 2019; we will probably never know if the other copy of the petition was preserved in post-apartheid South Africa. If the copy sent to South Africa has been lost, our copy is the only one in existence.
- Visit the display until Monday 13 September, Special Collections, Level G, General Library.
- Watch the TVNZ ‘1981: A country at war’ documentary on TV and Radio.
Ian Brailsford, Special Collections
1. ‘A letter of unwelcome’, (1981). Auckland Star, 9 September p.3; Letters to the people of South Africa from the citizens of Auckland and the citizens of Dunedin to the South African Rugby Board Museum. MSS & Archives A-241.
2. ‘Boks touched as south pens welcome’, (1981). New Zealand Herald, 8 August, p.3.