In 1981 I marched in Invercargill in protest against the Springbok Rugby tour, as many thousands did across the country. Although there were personal costs to myself in terms of my relationships with those locally who had a different world view, it was a small gesture compared to what other activists in New Zealand endured. Mandela was labeled a terrorist by many New Zealanders, including our Prime Minister at the time, Robert Muldoon. Those who marched in support of Mandela were also considered traitors and terrorists by many.
The actions of the anti-apartheid activists in New Zealand actually played a significant role in overturning apartheid in South Africa. When Mandela spoke later of when the news of the protests reached his prison cell, he likened it to sunshine. He was overcome with emotion and hope when people so far away were prepared to stand against their own government and police on his and his people's behalf.
Time has changed Mandela's status from terrorist to saint (for many) and he will probably be regarded with the same reverence as Gandhi in future history books. Although Mandela was the first to admit that he was no saint, his humility and ability to forgive those who persecuted him meant that the divisions in his own country and in New Zealand were healed much faster than one would have expected.
Now that he has died the leaders of the world are fulsome in their praise of Mandela as a man and the legacy he has left. The media is full of stories of those who had personal encounters with Mandela and even shook his hand and yet many of these same people had once regarded him as a terrorist.
Despite claiming to be interested in politics from an early age, when asked about his view on the 1981 Springbok Tour our Prime Minister John Key replied:
"Oh, I can't even remember ... 1981, I was 20 ... ah ... I don't really know. I didn't really have a strong feeling on it at the time. Look, it's such a long time ago."
While I do think it is appropriate that our Prime Minister represents our country at the funeral I think it would be a gracious move on his part if he included representatives from the anti-apartheid movement to be part of the New Zealand delegation. Considering the physical violence and persecution that many leading anti-apartheid activists suffered during the protests (many are still the subject of abuse), it would be in the true spirit of Mandela himself if Key was able to do this. It would also be a wonderful symbol of how our own country has moved on from that divisive time.