In one of rugby's great ironies, the proposed match between New Zealand Maori and the Springboks in June could be canned because of the racial composition of the Kiwi side.
The match, mooted to be played in Soweto as one of a couple of warmup clashes for the Boks before their series against the British and Irish Lions, is now in doubt because of logistical issues, primary of which is South African objections to the 'racial' selection of the Maori side.
The Boks are due to meet Namibia in Windhoek in late May, but wanted to add the much tougher fixture against the Maori lineup in June as a final shakedown.
The irony is more delicious than they can imagine.
Back in the bad old days of apartheid the South African government banned a New Zealand rugby team from touring South Africa because it included Maoris. They said that constituted "outside interference in our domestic affairs".
At the time I was a student in Pietermaritzburg, and as white elections were impending Nusas (the National Union of South African Students) organised a "Reality Week" in which spokesmen for the various political parties could put their own viewpoints. The National Party was represented by a provincial councillor called Klopper, and it took the form of a debate with a representative of the Liberal Party, John McQuarrie, who was a member of the education faculty at the university. All the rugby fans were there in force to heckle.
To save typing, I simply reproduce an extract from my diary at the time:
16 September 1965
I went up to the Nat-Lib debate. The Main Science Lecture Theatre was packed pretty full, and I found myself sitting on the right-hand side behind four young fascists. Macquarrie spoke first and started with education, which was his own field. He dissected Bantu Education, and all the developments that had taken place since the government came to power, and especially over the last five years. He then went on to other fields, and did the same, quoting figures in evidence. He is a rather dour old Scot, and spoke drily and quietly, without any fuss, and was politely rather than thunderously applauded. He did not make any emotional appeals at all, just
facts and figures.
Then came Klopper, the member of the Provincial council. His speech was vague in the extreme, just the opposite of McQuarrie, who was concise and to the point. He gave nothing substantial to support his argument, but just gave a glowing picture of the wonderful utopia just around the corner. He made several appeals to patriotism. Every time he said something particularly hairy the five little fascists in front clapped dutifully like Pavlov's dog salivating when the bell rings. He said something about Mr Wilson learning his lesson at last, and that the Britishers were determined to keep their racial blood pure, which sounded just like something out of
"Mein Kampf", and Pavlov's puppies burst into clapping and cheering.
After Kloppers's speech came question time, and Macquarrie was virtually ignored -- most of what he had had to say was virtually indisputable, but Klopper had put his foot in it many times, and he was subjected to a barrage of questions. Several people asked why people were banned without trial, among them some students
generally considered right-wing and conservative, like Howie Miller, who had had a far-right manifesto for the SRC election.
Klopper always ended up by saying, when pressed by each successive questioner on this subject, "The Minister in his wisdom sees fit", and eventually Ray Rutherford-Smith added "... in his infinite wisdom." When some people questioned the wisdom of the Minister, Klopper assured us that he was an "honourable man", and an "upright Christian" -- yet he won't let Elliot Mngadi or Dennis Brutus attend church services.
Colin Webb asked him about two things he had said in the course of his speech. One was that all races are equal in the eyes of the government, and the other was that he himself had helped personally with cases of many people who had done themselves the injustice of applying to be classified as coloured ("you pay for that," a coloured in the audience has shouted when he said it). Colin Webb asked him why, if all races were equal, it should be an "injustice" to be classified as coloured. "But you don't understand," exclaimed Klopper, "they did themselves the injustice, they asked to be classified as coloured." Three times Colin Webb tried to explain to Klopper what he was getting at -- that if all races are equal, then there would be no injustice in being classified as coloured, but Klopper could not see it.
Then Hilton Kobus asked why the Maoris were banned from playing rugby. That, according to Klopper, was New Zealand's fault. "They called them Maoris, not us. If they called them white we'd play them tomorrow" and went on to explain a fantastic biological theory that when the white genes rise above 75% there is a corresponding
rise in intelligence, and so Martin Luther King was a white man, because he is too clever to be a kaffir. To judge from Klopper's efforts tonight, he must, according to his own theory, be a black man. In his summing up he said he was glad to see that people had only questioned him about little things, which showed that they must be satisfied with government policy in the broad front.
McQuarrie ended his summing up by asking whether the gold mines belonged to the black people or to the white people. If to the white people, did they belong to the English or the Afrikaans speaking? And then pointed out the futility of trying to divide things up in this way, seeing that the land belonged to all the people in it. "The earth is the Lord's," he quoted.
After the meeting we had a postmortem on the grass outside. All agreed that Klopper had made a poor showing, though one had to admit his courage in coming along. It was more than the United Party had. They had been booked to debate with the Progressives, to get all four parties on the platform, but consistently refused, but
consistently refused, Klopper had wavered, first saying that he wouldn't come if the meeting was held under the auspices of Nusas, and then wanted guarantees that there would be an all-white audience (in the event the audience wasn't all white) but he came none the less. Also, he kept his temper throughout the tough questioning he received. And at the end the fascists were no longer clapping him.
So now I wonder -- if the New Zealand government decided to call the Maoris white, would we still play them tomorrow?