During the winter of 1981 Aotearoa/New Zealand saw widespread anti-apartheid protests during a tour by the South African rugby team, the Springboks. The presence of the team polarised public opinion while highlighting the significance of rugby union in New Zealand's hegemonic cultural order, which appeared to become destabilised. Rugby union's role as an agent of social memory made all the more powerful by its mundanity meant that no sector of Aotearoa/New Zealand's population escaped this divisive impact. Paradoxically, the events of the tour and the ferocious responses it prompted have been sidelined in New Zealand history. This is especially so in discussions of recent trends in Aotearoa/New Zealand's colonial order. Dominant analyses of the events have focussed on gender, and have accentuated rugby union's role in the gendering of New Zealand, and to a lesser extent the gendering of New Zealand in its form of rugby union. Although these gender dynamics have featured prominently in analyses of the tour, they need to be placed alongside 'race' and colonial relations, especially Maori grievances resulting from Aotearoa/New Zealand's colonial form.
This thesis argues that the events of 1981 must be understood in two broad contexts. It does so by drawing on notions of the banality of social memory and analyses of popular movements as affective associations, on models of the colonial state derived from Subaltern Studies approaches, and on nineteenth century cultural and visual theories of the natural environment. The first context is sixty years of disquiet over New Zealand's rugby contact with South Africa that had hardened into an anti-apartheid movement intensified by rising and broad based public protests around contradictions including gender, colonial and imperial relations, civil rights and working class politics. The second context is a two-fold change in New Zealand spatial relations during the 1970s. In the first instance. New Zealand's close association with Britain was modified as a result of New Zealand's growing relationship with the Asia-Pacific region and by Britain's closer involvement in the European Economic Community. The second spatial shift resulted from growing awareness of colonial New Zealand's relationship, both past and present, with Aotearoa - its indigenous, colonised space. Although these respatialisations were emergent during the 1970s, they reveal a shift in mentalités that indicates an emergent post-colonising tendency in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
This post-colonising tendency provided the basis for a broad-based campaign against apartheid made manifest by the Springboks, provided the campaign's affective relations resulting from the boycott tactic, and shaped the terms of the cohesion between the diverse political views held by and within both Maori and Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent) fractions during the campaign. Building a broad-based campaign required a flexible and inclusive schemata that prioritised stopping the tour, that did not propose a new vision of Aotearoa/New Zealand or even explicitly address its colonial relationship, and did not rely on a detailed political analysis of apartheid. This flexibility and inclusiveness became the campaign's weakness; given that the tour provided the basis of cohesion, in the post-tour era the movement was confronted by exogenous and endogenous pressures and forces that it could not overcome, and it unravelled into its constituent parts.
The campaign implicitly confronted New Zealand's colonial order, and its foundational myths of the heroic pioneer male and of the 'best race relations in the world'. The tour's significance to New Zealand's cultural history lies in the way it exposed rugby union's imbrication with and the terms of these foundational colonial myths. The anti-tour campaign confronted a potent national mythology and broadly accepted post-war consensus, it challenged central elements of the national imaginary, and was itself confronted by an increasingly anxious bloc of the population unsettled by change and the impact of global economic and cultural forces beyond their control. It, ultimately, was not able to transcend the potency of that mythology.