HISTORY IV: 1981 Springbok Rugby Tour (PART I)

Apartheid even extended to sport. Leagues were established in all sports, separated by race. For instance, football (soccer) was divided into the white South African Football Association, the African Indian Football Association, the South African African Football Association, the South African Bantu Football Association, and the South African Coloured Football Association

This led to many countries boycotting international play of various sports with South Africa. The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) banned South Africa from international games.

However, the world governing body for the sport of rugby union, the International Rugby Board (now called World Rugby) did not suspend South Africa from international games, and South Africa remained a member throughout the apartheid era.

Visit www.truecrimenz.com for more information on this case including sources and credits.

Hosted by Jessica Rust

Written and edited by Sirius Rust

Music sourced from:

Day of Chaos by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3620-day-of-chaos
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Organic Meditations Two by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4179-organic-meditations-two
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Leaving Home by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4708-leaving-home
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Clean Soul by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3514-clean-soul
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

HISTORY IV: 1981 Springbok Rugby Tour (PART I)



In 1909, the British colonies of the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange River Colony and Transvaal were granted self-government under the South Africa Act of 1909. The Act united the colonies under the banner of the Union of South Africa

The Act also enfranchised white Africans, removing the right of black Africans to sit in parliament; giving complete political control over all other racial groups. Even though, blacks made up approx. 80% of the population of South Africa.

This power extended as the government introduced other legislation, including the Representation of Natives Act of 1913 which removed blacks from the voters’ roll, the Urban Areas Act of 1923 which introduced residential segregation, and the Asiatic Land Tenure Bill of 1946 which banned land sales to Indians and people of Indian descent.

In 1948, a new Government came to power, the Reunited National Party (changed later to simply the National Party), led by Prime Minister Daniel Francosis Malan. It was at this time that Apartheid was introduced. Apartheid, which is an Afrikaans word that translates in English to ‘apartness’, was an ideology introduced which called for the separate development of the different racial groups.

In the years after this ideology was brought in, many Apartheid laws were introduced. Including the Population Registration Act of 1950 which mandated that the population of South Africa register under a specific racial group (either white, black or coloured), the Group Areas Act of 1950 which mandated physical separation of different races, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 which banned marriages of two different races, the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953 which reserved separate beaches, buses, trains, hospitals, schools and universities for different racial groups, and the Immorality Amendment Act of 1950 which forbid unmarried sexual intercourse between whites and any other race. 

Apartheid had many critics. None is more famous than the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and political leader Nelson Mandela. In 1943, Nelson joined the anti-colonial political group, the African National Congress (ANC). After apartheid began, Nelson Mandela and the ANC shifted their focus to overthrowing the white-only government. 

In 1956, Nelson was arrested for seditious activity and successfully tried for treason by the South African government. Nelson Mandela spent the next 27 years in prison.


Apartheid even extended to sport. Leagues were established in all sports, separated by race. For instance, football (soccer) was divided into the white South African Football Association, the African Indian Football Association, the South African African Football Association, the South African Bantu Football Association, and the South African Coloured Football Association

This led to many countries boycotting international play of various sports with South Africa. The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) banned South Africa from international games.

However, the world governing body for the sport of rugby union, the International Rugby Board (now called World Rugby) did not suspend South Africa from international games, and South Africa remained a member throughout the apartheid era.



The origins of the sport of Rugby are somewhat unknown. The most widely told theory was that it was created in 1823 at Rugby School, in the market town of Rugby in Warwickshire, England. The legend goes that a pupil of the school William Webb Ellis, whilst playing the traditional game of football (soccer) caught the ball in his hands and ran with it. Thus creating the game as we know it today, changing the game from a kicking game to a handling game

The legend reportedly comes from a former student of Rugby School, Matthew Bloxam, who wrote a letter to the Rugby School magazine, The Meteor, in 1876 (the year William Webb Ellis died) who told the story of the young boy catching the football and running forward. Matthew wasn’t there that day, claiming he was told the ‘running forward story’ by an unknown source.

Nevertheless, Matthew repeated this story four years later, once again to The Meteor, on the 22nd of December 1880, “A boy of the name Ellis – William Webb Ellis – a town boy and a foundationer, … whilst playing Bigside at football in that half-year [1823], caught the ball in his arms. This being so, according to the then rules, he ought to have retired back as far as he pleased, without parting with the ball, for the combatants on the opposite side could only advance to the spot where he had caught the ball, and were unable to rush forward till he had either punted it or had placed it for someone else to kick, for it was by means of these placed kicks that most of the goals were in those days kicked, but the moment the ball touched the ground the opposite side might rush on. Ellis, for the first time, disregarded this rule, and on catching the ball, instead of retiring backwards, rushed forwards with the ball in his hands towards the opposite goal, with what result as to the game I know not, neither do I know how this infringement of a well-known rule was followed up, or when it became, as it is now, a standing rule.”

This story is largely disregarded as an urban legend as other students who were there that day at Rugby School deny this ever happened.

Nevertheless, Rugby School believes the story to be true, as it erected a plaque to commemorate the event that reads: “This stone commemorates the exploit of William Webb Ellis who with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the rugby game A.D. 1823”. 

The Rugby World Cup is also known as the Webb Ellis trophy to honour the event.


Rugby was first introduced in New Zealand in 1870 by Charles John Monro, the son of then-Speaker of the House of Representatives, David Monro. Charles had encountered the game while he was studying at Christ’s College Finchley in London, England.

The first rugby match was played on the 14th of May 1870 at Nelson College (Nelson Rugby Club vs. Nelson College). Later that year, Charles Monro organised a match in Wellington (Nelson vs. Wellington). From here, rugby spread quickly throughout the colony, with games being played in Whanganui, Auckland and Hamilton. 

The first international game took place in 1882 when the Australian team, the New South Wales Waratahs, visited both of NZ’s islands; playing games against the many provincial teams. In 1884, a New Zealand team (wearing a blue jersey with a golden fern) visited New South Wales for a tour.

In 1892 the New Zealand Rugby Football Union was created, a national governing body for rugby in Aotearoa. The first official tour took place in 1893 when the NZ team visited Australia for a ten-game tour.

In 1888, an NZ rugby team toured further than Australia for the first time, venturing to Britain. The team was dubbed The Natives due to being predominantly made up of Maori players (although five Pakeha players also toured with the team). It was during this tour that a haka (a Maori ceremonial war dance) was performed before each game. The haka, Ka Mate, was composed by Te Rauparaha, a Maori chief in 1820. Ka Mate is a celebration of life after Te Rauparaha was hidden by another friendly Maori chief Te Wharerangi from his pursuing enemies: 

Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru
Nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
Ā, upane! ka upane!
Ā, upane, ka upane, whiti te rā!

Which translates in English to: 

‘Tis death! ’tis death! ‘Tis life! ’tis life!
‘Tis death! ’tis death! ‘Tis life! ’tis life!
This is the hairy man
Who summons the sun and makes it shine
A step upward, another step upward!
A step upward, another… the Sun shines!

In 1905, a New Zealand team toured the British Isles. The legend goes that a London Newspaper wrote about the players, saying that the team played like they were “all backs”. However, in subsequent references to the team, in an apparent typo, ‘all backs’ became ‘all blacks’. This is again a myth that originated from one of the NZ players, Billy Wallace. It was more likely they were already called the All Blacks before they left NZ due to their all-black uniform.

The 1905 NZ rugby team is now known as The Originals (or the Original All Blacks) and they won 34 out of 35 of their games throughout the British Isles

In 1924, the All Blacks toured the British Isles once more. This time the team was dubbed “The Invincibles” as they won every game of the tour.

During the 1900s, Rugby became New Zealand’s national sport, something that is built into the culture of Aotearoa, similar to football in England or hockey in Canada. The official New Zealand tourism website 100% Pure New Zealand (or, newzealand.com) describes NZ’s infatuation with the game as, “Rugby in New Zealand is more than just a game, it forms the sporting backbone of the nation. From grassroots to international super-teams, rugby is supported by passionate kiwi fans. Rugby is the national obsession of New Zealand and a huge determining influence on New Zealand life and culture. Rising from cities, small towns and country paddocks, no part of New Zealand’s landscape is quite complete without a set of Rugby goal posts. There are signs of the sport at every corner, whether it’s a young boy perfecting his kick at the park or a proud supporter wearing his team’s shirt to the mall, you can’t help but be captivated by the game.”


In 1949 (a year after Apartheid was implemented), an all-white All Blacks toured South Africa, losing all four games. The team was forced to play without their Maori players due to Apartheid (the All Blacks refused to do a haka in South Africa in protest of this).

The Maori players stayed in NZ and played games against Australia for the Bledisloe Cup. Losing both games and awarding the Bledisloe Cup to Australia.

In 1960, the All Blacks toured South Africa once more. Once again, Maori and Samoan players were banned by the South African government. This led to the New Zealand Rugby Union forbidding any more tours of South Africa.

In 1969, the Halt All Racist Tours (HART) protest group was established in New Zealand. Their goal was to stop all tours of South Africa until apartheid was dismantled.

The ban on NZ’s tours of South Africa lasted until 1970 when the All Blacks toured South Africa once more. This was only on the condition that New Zealand players of all racial backgrounds were allowed to play. The South African government conceded and allowed Maori and Samoan players under the status of “Honorary Whites” for the duration of the tour.

In 1972, in the run-up to the general election, Labour opposition leader, Norman Kirk promised the public that a Labour government would not interfere with the upcoming Springbok tour.

Labour was brought into power in late 1972, however by 1973 (the year of the proposed tour), Norman Kirk claimed that the potential for civil unrest was too high and postponed the upcoming Springbok tour on the 10th of April 1973. Labour’s ‘flip-flop’ on this issue raised a lot of criticism from NZ folk that believed sport and politics shouldn’t mix, but Norman Kirk defended the government’s decision by saying that he would be failing in his duty as Prime Minister if he didn’t “accept the criticism and do what [he] believed to be right”.

The decision was also made on the advice of the Police that if the Springbok tour did proceed, it would “engender the greatest eruption of violence this country has ever known”. It is also believed that the decision was made due to Christchurch hosting the 1974 Commonwealth Games, which black African nations would boycott if the tour went ahead.

Labour lost the 1975 election by, what was dubbed, ‘a landslide’, bringing a National government back into power, led by Robert Muldoon. Muldoon gave his blessing for a new Springbok tour in New Zealand, “even if there were threats of violence and civil strife”. Many believe it was this issue that led to National’s overwhelming victory.

In 1976, the All Blacks toured South Africa once more under the same conditions as the last tour. Five Maori players were given honorary white status; along with one ethnic Samoan. Twenty-five African nations protested against the tour by boycotting the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada. They saw the All Blacks tour as the NZ government giving their tacit support to the apartheid regime.

The New Zealand All Blacks had lost all three of the last tours of South Africa. However, political unrest in NZ was growing around the continued tours of South Africa. This set the stage for five years later when the South African rugby team (the Springbok ) were set to tour New Zealand.

Protests organised by HART and other groups were gaining momentum. Calls to ban the tour reached Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. Protesters argued that Robert Muldoon signed the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement, signed by all Commonwealth Presidents and Prime Ministers as a show of support against apartheid, and allowing South Africa to enter NZ to play rugby would contradict this agreement. The Gleneagles Agreement even specifically referenced opposition to participating in sport with South Africa, “the urgent duty of each of their Governments vigorously to combat the evil of apartheid by withholding any form of support for, and by taking every practical step to discourage contact or competition by their nationals with sporting organisations, teams or sportsmen from South Africa or from any other country where sports are organised on the basis of race, colour or ethnic origin”.

However, NZ Prime Minister Robert Muldoon argued against this, stating, “politics should stay out of sport”. And, with that, the Springbok rugby tour was set for July 1981.



In the lead up to the 1981 Springbok tour protests throughout the country were planned to show their outrage at the rugby tour going ahead. Although the protesters were committed to non-violent civil disobedience, two special police riot squads were created; Red and Blue Squads.

Second in charge of the Red Squad was then 32-year-old policeman Ross Meurant. He told the New Zealand Herald on the 9th of July 2011 for the article ‘The rugby tour that split us into two nations’ that the police were put in a tough situation, and used as a political chess piece, “Personally, I believe [Prime Minister Sir Rob] Muldoon unashamedly used the police in a cynical political initiative of dividing the nation over rugby to gain a marginal win at the polls on the support of conservative, rugby-loving provincial electorates”.

However, he added that the police had no choice but to defend civil order, stuck between a rock and a hard place, “To this day I still defend that police action. We had no choice. We were the meat in the sandwich – fail and the institutions of the State would have been emasculated by a competing brute force. But the police were cynically used for a political objective.”

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) was also concerned about these upcoming protests; evidenced by a declassified document dated the 11th of July 1981. The document outlines that the NZSIS were concerned with ‘subversive’ groups, especially the Workers Communist League (WCL); the document reads in part, “The Workers Communist League in Wellington is a radical group and involved in COST (Citizens Opposed to the Springbok Tour). COST can be viewed as a WCL ‘front’ hence coming within the Service’s CS area of interest but there are no indications of violent activity emanating from this quarter. The Service has some peripheral coverage of this group.”

A schedule of protest activities was published by Mobilisation to Stop the Tour (MOST). MOST dubbed the day the tour was to kick off as ‘The Day of Shame’, “If the government won’t act to stop the tour July 22nd will be the day of shame. New Zealand’s place in the whole human community will be in your hands. Women, children and men everywhere must act to reject apartheid and mark this day of shame”.

The protesters even had an Anti-Apartheid Anthem to sing at the protests that were printed on the reverse of the schedule pamphlet produced by MOST:

In New Zealand, we are taught
To play fair and decent sport
That’s why we’re marching here tonight
You can’t play games with APARTHEID

We don’t want your racist sport
Apartheid kills and it must be fought
The multinationals don’t count the dead
They count the profits they grab instead

Don’t want racists in our land
Apartheid’s killers with bloody hands
Working people the whole worldwide
Against oppression, we’ll stand and fight

We don’t want your racist tour
It is freedom we’re fighting for
We don’t want your racist tour
It’s liberation we’re fighting for


The Springbok rugby team arrived from South Africa on the 19th of July 1981. The first game of the tour was set for the 22nd of July 1981 in Gisborne. New Zealand was unprepared for what was to unfold in the succeeding 56 days, the division between regular New Zealanders, those for the tour and those against, sometimes even within one’s own family.

This is evidenced by an anonymous contributor to the book The New Zealand Experience: 100 Vignettes by Kathy Broadley and Brian Shaw. In the book, the contributor describes living within a family divided by the Springbok tour, “Although things had been far from perfect between my parents, the Springbok tour caused such tension and stress that we could not live together in the same house and function as a family unit. An example of the increase was when we, as a family, watched the evening news. Often one side would raise their voices in abuse and offensive name-calling toward public figures. Later the abuse was turned in an indirect way on individual family members. This was done by blaming the chaos and disruption to rugby games [on] individual family members, their friends and associations. As the tour went on and the turmoil increased, the negative feelings intensified to such a degree that feelings of dislike, anger and incomprehension dominated our home.”

Over the next 56 days, 150,000 people in over 200 demonstrations in 28 centres around the country would show their displeasure at the tour going ahead. The anti-apartheid protesters were met with counter-protests, usually by folk just showing up to see the games; left vs. right, protester vs. anti-protester, New Zealander vs. New Zealander.

New Zealand was about to experience something she had never experienced before, near civil war.



Wikipedia, Nelson Mandela, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelson_Mandela
Wikipedia, Herenigde Nasionale Party, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herenigde_Nasionale_Party
Wikipedia, Apartheid, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apartheid
Wikipedia, South Africa Act 1909, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Africa_Act_1909
Wikipedia, 1948 South African general election, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_South_African_general_election
South African History Online, A history of Apartheid in South Africa, https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/history-apartheid-south-africa

Wikipedia, Rugby union and apartheid, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rugby_union_and_apartheid
Wikipedia, World Rugby, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Rugby
Wikipedia, History of rugby union, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_rugby_union
Wikipedia, Rugby School, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rugby_School
Wikipedia, William Webb Ellis, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Webb_Ellis
Wikipedia, History of rugby union in New Zealand, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_rugby_union_in_New_Zealand
Wikipedia, 1960 New Zealand rugby union tour of Australia and South Africa, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1960_New_Zealand_rugby_union_tour_of_Australia_and_South_Africa
Wikipedia, 1970 New Zealand rugby union tour of South Africa, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1970_New_Zealand_rugby_union_tour_of_South_Africa
Wikipedia, 1976 New Zealand rugby union tour of South Africa, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1976_New_Zealand_rugby_union_tour_of_South_Africa
Wikipedia, Gleneagles Agreement, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gleneagles_Agreement
100% Pure New Zealand, Rugby, https://www.newzealand.com/nz/rugby/
NZ History, Labour government cancels Springbok rugby tour, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/page/labour-government-postpones-springbok-tour
NZ History, 1981 Springbok Tour Page 4 – Stopping the 1973 tour, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/1981-springbok-tour/1973-springbok-tour
Wikipedia, 1888–89 New Zealand Native football team, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1888%E2%80%9389_New_Zealand_Native_football_team
NZ History, Natives’ Rugby Tour, 1888-89, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/the-new-zealand-natives-rugby-tour/nz-natives-rugby-tour
Experience All Blacks, History of Haka, https://www.experienceallblacks.com/insider-information/haka/history-of-haka/
Wikipedia, Ka Mate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ka_Mate

NZ History, 1981 Springbok Tour Page 7 – Tour diary, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/1981-springbok-tour/tour-diary
NZ Herald, The rugby tour that split us into two nations, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/the-rugby-tour-that-split-us-into-two-nations/CN4JLOJUV54BRIAM6POSRPMXLU/
NZ History, Springbok Tour protest programme, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/springbok-tour-protest-programme
NZ History, Springbok Tour protest programme (reverse), https://nzhistory.govt.nz/files/images/july-tour-programme-2.jpg
New Zealand Security Intelligence Service, NZSIS coverage of Anti Springbok Tour Protest Activity,https://www.nzsis.govt.nz/assets/media/Internal-NZSIS-report-14-July-1981.pdf
Wellington City Library, Te haerenga a ngā Piringa Pāka ki Aotearoa i te tau 1981 (The 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand), https://www.wcl.govt.nz/heritage/tour.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s