These things we remember

by little red pen

In a week of remembering and celebrating the life of Nelson Mandala, the drive for justice and equality, the long, arduous fight for freedom, we’ve also had to endure the faffing, fumbling foolishness of our Prime Minister, who first couldn’t remember what side he was on during the 1981 Springbok Tour and then couldn’t be bothered going into the details of his “mildly pro-Tour” stance because he was 20 at the time and doing all sorts of other things.

Well, you know what, I don’t remember the 1981 Tour either, although I have friends of a similar age who do. I was six, and I guess I was also doing all sorts of other things at the time.

But I do remember 1985, when the New Zealand Rugby Union wanted to send a team to South Africa and they were stopped by protests from New Zealanders who opposed apartheid and who were also fighting against racism and injustice here. A non-official team did go, and those players remember; some of them hold fast to their reasons for going, some talk about the impact of seeing apartheid up close, some regret  going. But they remember.

I remember it because I had just turned ten, and I was old enough to go to the Senior Youth Group at my church for the first time. The leader asked us all what we thought about the tour, going around the circle, gently probing for our views. I didn’t know what he was talking about — my parents didn’t talk about politics with us and I didn’t read the newspapers.

So, I remember. I remember my confusion and embarrassment, my awkward copying of the view of the boy who spoke before me: “politics and sport don’t mix”, for the record. And I remember the leader questioning me a bit, offering another way of looking at things. I remember hating the feeling of not knowing what people were talking about, and I remember the seriousness in the room, the sense that we had something to grapple with here. And most of all, I remember knowing that this mattered. I didn’t know why it mattered, I didn’t really understand any of it, but I knew that we had to do this thinking and talking. I think I even knew — in a blurred, unsure, ten-year-old way — that in having this conversation we were working out how we wanted the world to be.

How John Key managed to avoid or forget those conversations, I do not understand.