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Am I a racist?

Photo by Jean-Pierre Brungs on Unsplash

The heat from the spa pool was invigorating and the beer refreshing, as we submerged our bodies into the water, in countdown to the Rugby World Cup final between South Africa and England.

Disappointingly, the All Blacks were not in the final. However, here I was with a couple of old university friends, anticipating the outcome in three hours’ time and enjoying a friendship that had lasted over 40 years.

The stories of what we got up to at University never tired and we still enjoyed being able to have a dig at each other.

It did not take long for the conversation to turn back to 1981. To the infamous Springbok tour of New Zealand that divided the country for three months.

I had been in the thick of it, making my views well known by marching at the front of the pro-tour protest in Christchurch.

As we relaxed in the spa pool one of my university friends started reflecting on that Springbok tour and how he had supported it.

Now in hindsight, 38 years later, he had changed his mind. He believed that his views had been wrong and the anti-tour protestors had been right.

We both remembered attending the Lancaster Park test, the large police presence and walking past protestors wearing motorcycle helmets who were chanting “Shame, shame, shame”.

At that time one of my other flatmates protested against the tour. He was there amongst the protestors with his helmet on. I respected his right to protest and he respected my views and we could still catch up for a beer after the game.

There was mutual acceptance and respect, no animosity, no hate.

Now, as my university friend spoke of his regret in supporting the tour I could see his point of view.

There was no doubt the protest action against the tour had a significant impact on world opinion against racism in South Africa. It had contributed to the change that took place a few years later with the election of a Nelson Mandela led African National Congress (ANC) party government in 1994.

It would have been easy for me to respond to my friend by agreeing with him.

However, after some consideration, I replied that I still believed supporting the tour was the right thing for me to do at the time.

No regrets

I still had no regrets for supporting the 1981 Springbok tour for two reasons.

Firstly, I did not believe that politics and sport should be mixed.

Secondly, I believed that bringing the South African rugby players out to New Zealand would help them to appreciate how a multi-cultural society works. Beating the Springboks would be the icing on the cake.

Many of the All Blacks were of Pacific Island or Māori descent and allowing the white South African players to play against them might help build a bridge to some kind of reconciliation between the peoples of South Africa.

My belief was founded not on any support for the racist South African government nor any thought of white superiority.

It was based on a simple belief that change happens from bringing people together rather than pulling them apart.

And at the end of the day I believed my heart was in the right place and this was the most important thing.

In today’s world I imagine many would shout me out as a racist. Once people think they know what side you are on you are quickly judged.

Little time or effort is spent looking behind the motive of someone’s views.

People appear to get much more pleasure from shouting their disdain and going with their crowd, rather than gaining a better understanding of another’s views. This is fuelled by today’s social media.

In 1981 my flatmate and I could openly discuss our views, agree to disagree and wash it down with a beer.

And still today, I am grateful I have lifetime friends, such as mine from University, with whom I can openly debate issues. We are able to agree to disagree, with understanding, tolerance and respect.

Sadly for many, this appears to be on the wane.

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