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Key refuses to reveal 1981 apartheid stance

Published: 6:01AM Monday December 09, 2013 Source: ONE News

Prime Minister John Key has refused to talk about what his view on apartheid was in 1981, ahead of his trip to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela's funeral.

New Zealand delegates are travelling to South Africa today to pay their respects at an official memorial service.

Mr Key will be accompanied by the Minister of Maori Affairs, Pita Sharples, Labour Party leader David Cunliffe, former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, and former Foreign Minister and Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Sir Don McKinnon.

Critics have said Mr Key should not be going on the trip, as he was not sure which side of the fence he was on at the time of the 1981 Springbok Tour.

Asked about the issue today, Mr Key told TV ONE's Breakfast it was "a bit of a ridiculous argument".

"I'm opposed to apartheid, but I didn't go and protest against the '81 tour, I didn't go to any of the games. I was about 20 years of age, I had a whole lot of other things to do at the time," he said.

Pressed to reveal how he felt about apartheid at the time, Mr Key refused, saying: "I'm not going to bother going into it."

Minto to stay at home

Mr Key has also defended his decision to leave key anti-apartheid protesters out of the delegation.

"It wasn't that we were particularly shunning them but in the end we thought the grouping we've got ... we had that combination about right," Mr Key said.

Many have called for activist John Minto, one of the founders of the Halt All Racist Tours protest group against the Springbok Tour, to be included. Nearly 2000 people have signed a petition calling for him to represent New Zealand in South Africa.

"For Mr Key, to attend Nelson Mandela's funeral and for him to honour a man who he would have called a terrorist, does dishonour not only to Mandela's name, his fight for freedom, and to us the people of Aotearoa New Zealand who fought in 1981," the petition reads.

"John Minto is considered one of Mandela's friends and he certainly is understood to be the public face of the 1981 anti-Springbok Tour movement with special acknowledgement of his role by Nelson Mandela on behalf of the people of South Africa."

Mr Minto said in a statement that he was "moved and humbled" by many calls for his inclusion in the delegation, and that the current delegation should be changed.

"If I was invited to be a part of the delegation I'd be very happy to accept because it would better reflect New Zealand and the reality of the debate here about relations with South Africa.

"The current delegation is heavily weighted with those who supported the 1981 tour, were apologists for South Africa's apartheid regime and strongly opposed New Zealand's anti-apartheid movement. In all conscience they should resign from the delegation.

Despite receiving several offers to pay for a trip to South Africa, Mr Minto said he would not be attending the funeral in a personal capacity.

"This is an issue for New Zealand rather than me personally," he said.

Mr Key said he believed the delegation represented the country well.

"It's very important that New Zealand's represented and I think we've got a good sense in that delegation of people that engaged with Mandela, or in the case of myself and David Cunliffe, we're representing the people of New Zealand as the senior political leaders at the moment."

An official memorial service will be held at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on December 10.

Mr Mandela's last public appearance was at the same stadium in 2010 for the closing ceremony of the Football World Cup.

The Kiwi delegation will return later this week.