Taking different roads


Police and anti-tour demonstrators outside Parliament in what became known as the Battle of Molesworth St in July 1981. Image: Ian Mackley. From ’81 Springbok protests galvanises a nation divided — Stuff 17 Oct 2015

During the winter of 1981, New Zealand experienced civil unrest on a massive scale, as the nation became polarized around a tour by the South African rugby team — the Springboks.

In protest against South Africa’s deeply racist apartheid policies, the United Nations had, in 1968, called on countries to boycott sporting contact with the African nation. In 1973, the Labour government of Norman Kirk had intervened to prevent the all-white Springboks touring NZ, a decision which probably contributed to the party’s loss of power in 1975.

But in 1981, the National-led government of Rob Muldoon refused to heed either the boycott or the growing opposition amongst New Zealanders. Protest marches had been taking place around the country for several months, but nothing had prepared this little nation of (then) three million souls for the violence and hatred that was unleashed during the tour itself.

Families found themselves torn apart as some members insisted that politics had no place in sport, while others donned thick clothes and (increasingly) crash helmets to go out and face baton-wielding police battalions.


A protester placing an olive branch onto a policeman’s baton during protests at the All Blacks test against South Africa. File Photo / NZ Herald

My parents — neither particular rugby-loving nor overly political — repeated the “keep politics out of sport” mantra even as my brother and I marched and chanted until we were hoarse. It made for tense mealtimes, but no-one lost their temper over it. My friend Robyn wasn’t so fortunate; her father practically banned her from the house and she broke up with her boyfriend over the tour.

In June 1981, as it became ever clearer that the tour really would go ahead, Joy Division’s Love will Tear Us Apart reached No. 1 in the NZ charts.

… And resentment rides high
But emotions won’t grow
And we’re changing our ways
Taking different roads
Love, love will tear us apart again
Love, love will tear us apart again

(Ian Curtis, Love will Tear us Apart)

We knew that Ian Curtis had been writing about his marriage and mental state, but somehow the refrain “Love will tear us apart again” seemed to get into my head and I can remember sitting in the car en route to a protest with my brother and boyfriend of the time, singing it again and again.

Sarah at Art Expedition is hosting 30 Days, 30 Songs for the month of June. You can see her latest post here.

Why not join in — you don’t have to post every day.

You can read more about the tour at New Zealand History — the 1981 Springbok Tour

33 thoughts on “Taking different roads

  1. Now families are being torn apart by arguments over whether or not to boycott Israel’s sports and entertainment industries for its apartheid practices against Palestinians. It shouldn’t be hard to remember that what worked before will likely work again, but it seems it is.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “Those who don’t know history …”

      At the time we didn’t feel as though we’d won. It’s only talking to people outside if NZ (especially South Africans) that we realised the images of “nice” New Zealanders fighting in the streets were played around the world and had an impact.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The song seems very apt, Su. I don’t know how sport can be kept out of politics when it becomes entwined with national identity, hence government sanctioned doping programs. Good on you for marching.

    For some reason, I’m having a lot of problems coping with the fact that my mother voted for the status quo. It seems to hurt more than strangers doing the same thing.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I really love this song so much, Su! It’s been a tragedy that Ian died when he did. I can’t stop imagining what else he might have written and sung…
    I’ve watched several documentaries, read non-fiction books and novels about the Apartheid – and still my mind never could coil itself around the deep ugly truth of what people are able to do to each other. 😯

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I never knew about these protests nor do I recall the boycott—I assume the US complied so it didn’t make big news here.

    And yes, we are now being torn apart by politics—here over Trump, in the UK over Brexit, and likely in many other places where our differences are somehow overshadowing what we share.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think cricket and rugby are/were the main sports that South African teams played at the highest level, and neither of them are huge in the US (maybe rugby now, but not so much in the 1980s), so perhaps a boycott was just irrelevant.
      I agree that there does seem to be a polarisation if views all around the world. We have recently had a situation where an MP has been given extra security because of threats made against her. Even a few years ago, that would have been unthinkable. We have long prided ourselves on having very open, accessible relationships with those in power.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Living in South Africa at the time it seemed to me that sanctions only really hurt the people they were supposed to be helping, and no-one ever seems to realise( or talk about) the fact that there were South Africans who were also fighting against apartheid; black, white and coloured. Sadly corruption in African politics still continues today at the expense of the entire nation(s).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wondered if this had happened during your time in SA Jude.
      It is impossible to really know the true impact of political actions; often it’s not til years later we begin to see unintended consequences.
      The boycott of sporting contact was, certainly in the case of the 1981 tour, mostly symbolic. Any financial gains from tourism, etc would have accrued to NZ as the host nation.
      I’m pretty sure we had activists from South Africa at some of the rallies, and we were in no doubt about the fight within the country itself — and how dangerous that could be compared to our circumstances.
      I think the Springbok tour protests had another effect in NZ, which in the long term may have been much greater and more significant, and that was forcing us to look more closely at the racism within this country. Many Maori who protested pointed out, quite rightly, that we were prepared to march for the rights of black South Africans while quietly ignoring injustices here. The conversations that began then have led to change here, though we still have a long way to go.
      And as for corruption — I totally agree, and it’s not confined to African politics. Greed and power-lust are universal it would seem.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It amused me in the ’70s when we had a visitor over from the US on business, an African man, who said that he encountered far more racism in his own country than in SA. People forget what the US was like at that time. When I came back to England I made a point of always buying South African apples!!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I almost missed this post, Su, but glad I managed to find it. I think one of the most difficult things to do is to disagree without violence or to disagree with civility, yet stand up for what’s right. Protests without violence are unfortunately all too rare, for many reasons. To love family members while disagreeing with them so much may be the most difficult, yet the most important.


    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree Janet. I was very fortunate to avoid violent confrontations, and always be surrounded by other people who believed above all else in peaceful protest. But it was the first time I’d experienced violent opposition. By today’s horrible standards, it was very tame, but frightening nonetheless.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I did see it, and agree it was very good.
    I’m inclined to be a fence-sitter; able to see both sides of many arguments, but sometimes think it is better to do something — even if its not ideal — than to over-think and do nothing.


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