New Zealand’s limited but comfortable relationship with Africa was severely disrupted from the 1960s through to the 1980s. Sport and New Zealand’s familial relationship to South Africa and Rhodesia were central to that disruption.
In 1948 South Africa introduced apartheid (a system of racial segregation), and Rhodesia (at that time called Southern Rhodesia) declared its independence from Britain in 1965. In both countries a white minority held power, and the black majority were denied the vote, discriminated against, and were at times the target of violent repression.
The international context in which South Africa introduced apartheid and Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence was hostile to both developments. After the Second World War a great wave of decolonisation washed over Africa – its high point was in 1960, when 17 countries became independent. Some of these newly independent states joined the British Commonwealth, and all became members of the United Nations. A regional group – the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) – was started in 1963, and the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA) in 1965.
From 1960 New Zealand aid to Africa was channelled through the Special Commonwealth Africa Assistance Plan. Scholarships brought African students to New Zealand, a forestry training centre was set up in Kenya, machinery was given to agricultural training centres in Zambia and a correspondence school in Malawi, a milk processing plant was set up in Tanzania, and Ghana was helped with its school dental service. But Africa was not a priority for New Zealand aid, and the amount spent was less than 10% of that given to the Asia-focused Colombo Plan.
The Commonwealth ceased to frame New Zealand’s interactions with Africa in the 1960s, when South Africa resigned its membership (1961) and Rhodesia was expelled (1965). The old ‘white’ members became outnumbered by new African (and Asian) nations. Vehement and bitter debates took place in the mid-1960s, almost splitting the Commonwealth. Keith Holyoake, New Zealand’s prime minister at the time, was angered by the activism of new Commonwealth members that he refused to attend, or to send a senior government minister to, a Commonwealth heads of government meeting held in Nigeria in 1966.
As the African states became more numerous and first South Africa and then Rhodesia reinforced their discriminatory regimes, the weight of United Nations opinion shifted. Resolutions called for an end to one aspect or another of race discrimination, expressed blanket opposition to apartheid, denied South Africa’s right to occupy South-West Africa (which would become Namibia in 1990), and urged that cultural, sporting, political and trade interactions with South Africa and Rhodesia be ended. Until the end of the 1960s New Zealand usually abstained from voting on these resolutions. During the 1970s and early 1980s its voting record was a patchwork of yes, no and abstention. At the same time New Zealand had ongoing contact with South Africa and, until 1980, Rhodesia.
Politics and sport
During the 55 years following the Second World War, only the one-term Labour government led by Norman Kirk found Africa of great interest. Kirk believed in the importance of the decolonisation process and the Commonwealth. The National government that followed used sporting contact with South Africa to appeal to the electorate in 1975 and 1981.
The rugby tours that resulted caused deep anger among African nations. The 1976 tour was a diplomatic disaster without precedent. The 1981 tour, which caused much turmoil in New Zealand, resulted in the country’s 1982 attempt to win a seat on the United Nations’ Security Council failing. International sporting events involving New Zealand participation, including the Montreal Olympics, were boycotted, and New Zealand’s international reputation for excellent race relations was damaged.
With the election in New Zealand of another Labour government in 1984, the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa, and the failure of Rhodesia’s white regime, the heat went out of New Zealand’s relationship with Africa.
Some white Rhodesians migrating to New Zealand entered under the radar, using their British passports. Many New Zealanders were comfortable with this, seeing Rhodesia’s white minority (who, unlike white South Africans, were all British in origin) as kith and kin for whom, said Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, they felt ‘nothing but admiration’.1
Migration to New Zealand
The African community in New Zealand is small, and overwhelmingly white. The number of white South Africans and Rhodesians in New Zealand was low until white rule was challenged, when numbers swelled. There were, for example, 2,685 South Africans in New Zealand in 1986; by 2006 there were 41,676, most of them white.