South Africa’s policy of Apartheid was the root cause of the protests against the Springbok tour in New Zealand in the 1980s. Apartheid was created in South Africa to distinguish and separate races – whites and non-whites. The apartheid law was extended to national sporting teams, making non-whites unable to play and the South African government also expected other countries to allow the apartheid law in their teams. This can be seen as even before the Springbok tour in 1981, NZ already had a sporting relationship with South Africa that came back from a Springbok tour in 1921. In a match included in the 1921 tour, where the Maori played, the distaste of South Africans towards ‘coloured’ people can be seen through how the journalist commented that “…worse than this was the enthusiastic support which the Pakeha crowd gave them”. This showed that the South African believed in the apartheid law. So, in 1959 when the Rugby Union announced that no Maori would be included in the team to tour South Africa in 1960, the Citizens’ All Black tour Association was formed which was a protest group and a petition called ‘no Maori no tour’ with 156,000 signatures (many of whom were pakeha) was presented to the parliament, urging the tour to be cancelled. In 1970, although the Maori were allowed to be included in the tour as ‘honorary whites’ as South Africa was under pressure and modified its policy, South Africa’s actions did not quieten the protestors as a complete sporting ban on South Africa was called for by protest groups. Many of these different groups eventually came under the umbrella group HART (Halt All Racial Tours). However, all of these groups together did not represent the majority view as an opinion poll taken in 1972 showed that 80% of New Zealanders supported the tour scheduled for 1973. Nevertheless, the government tried not to intervene in stopping the tour due to public opinion but because of strong opposition by protest groups the government had to cancel the tour. In 1976, as the new government under Robert Muldoon, refused to prevent a 1976 tour to South Africa, and NZ’s reputation decreased and international opinion was against NZ as even though the Gleneagles agreement was made in 1977 by the Commonwealth to combat apartheid NZ was not affected much as in the agreement it says “each government… in accordance with its laws… best discharge these commitments” and NZ had no laws to do so. Therefore, NZ continued it sporting ties with South Africa and hosted the 1981 Springbok tour.
The Springboks tour of 1981 was one of the major significant events which occurred in the 1980s in New Zealand. This Springboks tour sparked nationwide protests, dividing NZ into two separate groups, as race relations issues arised due to the apartheid law South Africa had. Those opposed to apartheid (anti-tour) didn’t want to allow South Africa’s racial attitudes be supported through sport – rugby and believed that by hosting the tour, is only “fuelling apartheid to continue”, and those who didn’t want sport and politics to mix (pro tour) and supported the sport. Due to this, NZ was even accused of breaking the Gleneagles agreement and has lost face in front of other countries as it hosted South Africa even though other countries try to prevent it due to apartheid. As a result, a huge number of people were involved in protests showing their view against apartheid, throughout the country. Many were passionate enough to get arrested to express their opinions. For the Muldoon government to counter this, police had to make forces when they had never needed to before, where specially trained police were formed into the riot squad, the first such force in NZ.
Over the eight weeks of disturbances because of the five matches in Gisborne, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, and Auckland, New Zealanders fought against each other with their own beliefs with anti-apartheid groups and pro-rugby