This year marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Halt All Racist Tours movement (HART). Campaigns against apartheid sport burst onto the international scene in the early 1960s. In 1964, South Africa was banned from the summer Olympics in Tokyo. It was the first major international victory against apartheid sport. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, unlike anywhere else, South Africas racist sports practices had been the subject of Māori protest since the end of World War I.

Trevor Richards, one of the founders of HART, looks back at these earlier controversies which helped inform the tone and trajectory of New Zealand’s own race divide.


From the start, New Zealand’s rugby relationship with the Springboks was marked by South African insistence and New Zealand acquiescence.

From 1921–1966, the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) failed to confront South African racist political pressure. Not once, but on three occasions — in 1928, 1949, and 1960 — it sent All Black teams to South Africa in which Māori had not been considered for selection. This is the same NZRFU that, throughout HART’s life, extolled the virtues of keeping politics out of sport.

In 1919, a New Zealand Services rugby team undertook a 15-match tour of South Africa. They did so without the services of Sergeant Ranji Wilson, described by rugby writer Gordon Slater as “one of the best New Zealand forwards”, who could not go “because of the racial situation in South Africa”. Wilson was of English and West Indian ancestry. The basis of the rugby relationship with South Africa had been set. It was to remain unchanged until 1966.

In 1921, the Springboks made their first visit to New Zealand. On 7 September, they played and narrowly defeated a New Zealand Māori side, 9-8, in Napier. What happened that day was to affect the New Zealand–South Africa rugby relationship for most of the remainder of the century. The match had begun badly. As the Māori players began their haka before kickoff, the Springboks turned their backs. Māori winger Jack Blake later remarked that he and the rest of the team were “seething with anger”. Much worse was to follow.

The next day, a Napier newspaper published an article which had been telegraphed back to South Africa by a correspondent accompanying the touring Springboks.

“This was the most unfortunate match ever played . . . It was bad enough having to play a team officially designated ‘New Zealand natives’, but the spectacle of thousands of Europeans frantically cheering on a band of coloured men to defeat members of their own race was too much for the Springboks, who were frankly disgusted.”

The story was picked up by newspapers around New Zealand.

Māori fullback George Nepia, a star of the 1924 All Black tour of the United Kingdom, was one of those who watched the match. He was later to comment that the report of the match “provoked a reaction and bitterness which within the heart of the Maori race have neither been forgotten nor forgiven.”

Te Rangi Hiroa (Dr Peter Buck), the respected Māori doctor and anthropologist, called on the Springboks “to make honourable amends”. If they persisted “in drawing a colour line in sport”, he challenged the NZRFU not to extend any future invitations to South Africa.

The manager of the 1921 Springboks intimated that he would seek to have Māori excluded from visiting New Zealand teams. At the farewell dinner to the Springboks, Prime Minister William Massey remarked that, as far as Māori were concerned, “they and the Pakeha were one in this country”.

Yet despite these fine words, until the late 1950s, most Pākehā were content to allow South Africa to dictate the racial composition of any All Black team visiting South Africa. During this period, much of the opposition to the All Black–Springbok relationship came from Māori.

The nature and extent of this opposition is only now being uncovered by researchers. Not only were the NZRFU and Pākehā happy enough to leave Māori out of such teams, they also showed no interest in following or understanding Māori protests. This history gave the debate over New Zealand’s rugby contacts with South Africa in the ‘70s and ‘80s a distinctly additional New Zealand dimension.

George Nepia was one of two star Māori players left out of the all-white 1928 All Black tour of South Africa.

In 1928, the All Blacks made their first tour of South Africa, without two star Māori rugby players, George Nepia and Jimmy Mills. The first of three all-white All Black teams was on its way to South Africa. Māori exclusion was hailed in South Africa as a “diplomatic triumph”. Rugby in New Zealand had failed to pick up Te Rangi Hiroa’s challenge.

In July 1937, the Springboks returned. There was no match this time against a Māori team, although Māori were selected for the All Blacks. One historian has noted that “it was later alleged that ‘open hostility’ was shown by some of the visiting team to the idea of playing Maoris”. The welcome the Springboks received from Pākehā was enthusiastic, but it was far from strife free. Te Arawa Māori, in the first organised, nationwide protest against the New Zealand–South Africa rugby relationship, sought a boycott of the 1937 tour. Many Māori leaders, including Te Puea Herangi, supported the call.

The All Blacks were scheduled to return to South Africa in 1940. The war forced the cancellation of the tour, but not before trial matches were held in Wellington. Māori players such as Everard Jackson — father of prominent Māori leader Syd Jackson and constitutional lawyer Moana Jackson — did not even make the preliminary trials, despite having played in all three 1937 tests against the Springboks.

Moana Jackson told the Wellington symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the formation of HART that, in 1939, both his father and Tori Reed, another Māori player, “received a letter from the rugby union asking them if they would make themselves unavailable for selection the following year to save the rugby union from embarrassment. Well, the Second World War arrived and saved them from embarrassment.”

After the war, the NZRFU accepted an invitation to tour South Africa in 1949. “In view of the domestic policy of South Africa,” the NZRFU declared, “the players cannot be other than wholly European.” Protest followed.

Wellington Waterside Workers urged the abandonment of the tour if Māori were not eligible for selection. A youth group launched a petition against the tour. In Christchurch, The Press wondered whether the tour should be cancelled rather than endanger the “happy relationship” between Māori and Pākehā. In early September, Eruera Tirikatene, the MP for Southern Māori, called on the rugby union “to do the obvious thing, and decline the invitation.” He wanted to know on whose initiative Māori were being excluded. His question was met with silence.

Into this debate stepped Major General Sir Howard Kippenberger, president of the Returned Services Association (RSA). Kippenberger was a New Zealand war hero. He had served in Italy, Libya, Greece and Crete. At Monte Casino, where he had commanded the Māori Battalion, he had stood on a mine and lost both his feet.

In unscripted remarks at an RSA function in Christchurch in September 1948, Kippenberger praised Māori soldiers. “If you had the Māori Battalion on your flank, you were secure.” He then waded into the developing controversy over the 1949 tour. “I am not going to acquiesce to any damned Afrikaner saying they [Māori] cannot go. To hell with them.”

The support offered to Kippenberger from Māori was immediate. Ngāti Kahungunu leader A T Carroll caught the mood of many of the comments: “If it is good enough for the members of our race to fight side by side with South Africans, then it is good enough for our players to oppose them on the rugby field.”

A lively debate was conducted in newspaper letters columns around the country. A former Minister of Education and prominent rugby administrator labelled the protesters “busybodies”. Writer O E Middleton claimed: “No All Black team should play in or visit South Africa until that country revises its policy of racial discrimination.”

Middleton was one of the first to suggest publicly that the tour should be called off not only because of the way South Africans treated Māori, but also because of the way they treated their own black population. Editorial opinion in New Zealand was divided. The New Zealand Herald was quick to criticise Kippenberger. The Press was more sympathetic towards him, declaring “New Zealand would be wise to send no team at all until a fully representative team can be received.”

It was an indication of the way New Zealand was in the 1950s that, in 1956, even the Communist Party supported that year’s Springbok tour. Alone in its opposition to the tour was the Māori Women’s Welfare League. Less than two years later, the unity that the 1956 Springboks had forged was shattered. It was not to return.

In the summer of 1958, the NZRFU announced that it had accepted an invitation to tour South Africa in 1960. No mention was made of the racial composition of the team. This omission spoke volumes: there had been no policy changes.

If rugby thought that the subsequent furore would be short — all over in six weeks as it had been in 1948 — what developed must have come as a shock. Opposition to the decision was to continue for more than 24 months. The size of the protests far exceeded anything seen before on this issue.

Leading the campaign was CABTA, the Citizens All Black Tour Association, the first organisation in New Zealand or elsewhere specifically established to campaign against rugby contact with South Africa. Its slogan was clear: “No Maoris — No Tour”.  Over 20 branches from Kaikohe to Invercargill were formed. George Nepia telegrammed the inaugural meeting of CABTA: “Best of luck. Let me know if you need a fullback.” Māori were active in their opposition. The voices of Eruera Tirikatene MP and Māori Battalion leader Colonel Awatere stood out.

Crowds at a protest meeting in the Wellington Town Hall when the All Blacks were off to tour South Africa.

A protest meeting in the Wellington Town Hall. By 1960, for the first time, there was substantial Pākehā opposition to All Black teams from which Māori were excluded.

Battle lines had also been drawn by the Labour government: it was not going to intervene and tell a sporting body whether they should tour South Africa. This was the first time a government anywhere had articulated its position on such a matter. Prime Minister Walter Nash was a close friend of NZRFU chairman Cuthbert Hogg, whom he believed to be “a real friend of the Maoris”.

The petition against the tour attracted 160,000 signatures. It remains today one of the largest petitions in New Zealand’s history. At a time when street demonstrations were anything but de rigueur, New Zealanders took to the streets. On 18 June, 1959, in the first street demonstration against New Zealand’s sporting contacts with South Africa, more than 500 students marched through Wellington to Parliament, protesting against the exclusion of Māori from the New Zealand team. More followed. At the state farewell to the team, 1,000 demonstrated outside Parliament. On the eve of the team’s departure, between 2,000 and 3,000 marched in Auckland.

Previously, opposition had come principally from Māori. By 1960, for the first time, Pākehā opposition to the tour was substantial. Locating it in a wider social and political context, Canterbury sociologist Richard Thompson described it in 1975 as perhaps the country’s “most vigorous controversy since the prohibition issue at the end of last century.”

In 1960, there had never been a campaign anywhere in the world as big as that waged by CABTA to stop a sports team going to South Africa. In one sense, the campaign was 10 years ahead of its times. Only in 1969–70, did the efforts of the British “Stop The Seventy Tour” movement galvanise more people.

Protesters against the 1960 All Black tour of South Africa, in Christchurch 1959, waiting to confront Prime Minister Walter Nash, as his car arrives. (Photo: Ernie Barrington)

Yet in a more fundamental sense, CABTA was a generation behind its times. A number of its supporters, including Eruera Tirikatene, spoke out against apartheid. But that was not CABTA’s policy. “The protest movement in New Zealand is not one against the racial policy of the South African government, but rather against an act of racial discrimination committed by a New Zealand sports organisation, in New Zealand, and concerning a New Zealand national sports team,” CABTA told South African non-racial sports advocates.

Let us give the last word on 1960 to Whim Wham, the pen name of poet Allen Curnow, one of the defining voices of 20th-century New Zealand literature, whose regular piece in the NZ Herald satirized aspects of New Zealand politics and society:

Let Nash count to Votes, let Hogg count the Cash,
We’ll count every point that we score.
We’ll not count the Dead or the wounded who fled —
It’s not That they selected us for!
On the Tour, on the Tour, on the Tour,
You can play if you’re racially pure,
All Whites together, we’re Birds of that feather,
That’s how we got picked for the Tour.

Oh, we’re Whineray’s Whites, and we champion the Rights
Of Rugby to trample rough-shod
Upon Conscience and Creed, while it follows the Lead
Of a double damned Dutch Reformed God.

Over the course of the 1960s, the international community’s response to apartheid developed rapidly. There were calls at the United Nations and elsewhere for an arms embargo, and for economic and sporting sanctions against the republic. The New Zealand government was not sympathetic to these developments.

Frank Corner, New Zealand’s permanent representative to the UN from 1961–67, told me in an interview in 1998 that “so long as we could get away with it domestically, we could be great internationalists.” When it came to issues of freedom and self-government for colonial territories, “New Zealand was in advance of most western countries”. But when it came to issues of race, “that was a different matter.”

In the 1960–72 period, New Zealand either voted against or abstained on most UN resolutions on South Africa. That it took New Zealand so long to understand and accept Southern African realities was a reflection of strongly held conservative sensitivities on matters of race — conservative sensitivities which exist to this day.

Corner recalls that before leaving for New York in 1961 to take up the position of New Zealand Permanent Representative at the United Nations, the only piece of advice Prime Minister Keith Holyoake had to give him was to refrain from using the word “abhorrent” in relation to apartheid. “My people don’t like it,” Holyoake had said.

The 1960s saw a fundamental change in the nature of the debate. In 1965, the Springboks undertook their fourth New Zealand tour. The protests they attracted were small. Thirty were at Whenuapai when the team arrived, and small groups picketed some of their matches. Two-hundred participated in a protest rally in the Auckland Town Hall. Speakers included poet Hone Tuwhare and Whetu Tirikatene, daughter of Eruera Tirikatene. The significance of these protests lay not in their size, but in what it was that had inspired them — opposition to apartheid.

On 5 September 1965, with the Springboks still in New Zealand, the South African prime minister announced that the All Black team to tour South Africa in 1967 would once again be all-white.  Unlike 1960, “No Maoris, No Tour” editorials appeared all over the country. The NZRFU was hopeful that the tour could be saved, but on 3 February 1966, Prime Minister Keith Holyoake intervened.

“Where important moral issues are involved fundamental to our national integrity, the government has a duty to state clearly the principles which, in its view, New Zealand should observe at home and abroad,” Holyoake said. “I do not think that government should seek to impose standards of conduct, but it should proclaim those standards . . .  In this country we are one people; as such we cannot as a nation be truly represented in any sphere by a group chosen on racial lines.”

The government’s statement was a clear non-directive directive, and the NZRFU understood its significance. The 1967 tour was off. After almost 50 years of rugby contact with South Africa, the most shameful series of decisions known to New Zealand sport were now in the past. The country had no way of knowing that worse was to come.


Trevor Richards was one of 14 people who established the Halt All Racist Tours movement (HART) at Auckland University in July 1969. He was the movements first chair (1969-1980) and international secretary (1980-85). In 1977, he worked for the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid in New York, assisting in drawing up the UN International Declaration Against Apartheid in Sport. His account of New Zealands long campaign against apartheid sport, Dancing On Our Bones: New Zealand, South Africa, rugby and racism was published in 1999.

© E-Tangata, 2019

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