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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 No. 3. 15th March 1972

Burning Bridges

page 5

Burning Bridges

Marshall's prissy parade of tired phrases on March 7 was a final rejection of principle and common sense. The essence of the statement - support for sporting contact with South Africa - was as predictable as the well worn cliches used to convey it. It was never really in doubt that a pragmatic Government, otherwise lacking in direction, would fox-trot after public opinion as fast as its rheumy joints would allow. What was surprising-however, was the Prime Minister's clumsy dismissal of the United Nations. During the course of the "Gallery" interview he indicated that there were some decisions and opinions of the United Nations with which the Government did not agree. The implication was clear - where New Zealand disagreed. New Zealand, in all its wisdom, would not be bound. So much for the United Nations; so much for New Zealand's international standing; so much for New Zealand. Insensitivity is now policy.

Marshall's revamping of the time honoured bridge formula gave rise to more important questions than whether or not he is capable of originality. He made no mention of the reaction of South African sportsmen to the cancellation of various tours. He failed to deal with the argument that much water has flowed beneath the first bridge to no effect, and he refused to acknowledge that world opinion has struggled out of the century that moulded his mind. Instead he dealt with irrelevancies - receptions given to communists (invited, as Kirk pointed out, by the Government), New Zealand's liberal tradition, and so on. The rationale that lurked behind these banalities was always plain - the Government's reading of public opinion. Even here, however, Marshall's reasoning may have been at fault. Successful political handling of the South African question depends on an understanding of two factors - factors which have created a schism as much within New Zealanders as between them. The first is a myth - the myth of racial equality in New Zealand. Since the myth is deemed one worthy of upholding it is defended tenaciously and upheld at every opportunity. The second is a certain sympathy felt by one frontier society for the members of another who have the misfortune to be outnumbered by the buggers. One early result of these opposing notions was a pattern of public statements asserting on the one hand support for the principle of racial equality (as practised in New Zealand) while on the other recognising that white South Africa had a peculiar set of problems (numerical inferiority) not easily solved. Thanks largely to the efforts of Hart and Care, however, this last rationalisation has become less convincing - though the sympathy remains it must be manifested less overtly, lest the contradiction be exposed. This is where sport comes in. The Boks can be beaten while being extended the sympathy that devolves from association (It is perhaps ironic that anti-South Africa feeling in New Zealand was as its height fifteen or so years ago when this country received a visit from a particularly notorious party of Springboks). To ensure that this satisfying resolution remain in existence care has been taken to sanitise sport of racial undertones. Consequently sport and politics don't mix. The Prime Minister could have satisfied both elements of the split New Zealand psyche by adhering to this principle; by (after stressing the Government's disapproval of apartheid) asserting the Government's belief that sporting bodies should be left free to make their own decisions. To go further, to approve of sporting contact with South Africa, amounted to an ill considered attempt to curry public favour. An understandable by-product of the democratic principle is that the public expects its Government to manifest a degree of high principle - Marshall brought his Government down to the people. In the event Kirk, has been able to slip into the middle ground of non-interference combined with a moral stance.

Thus, in addition to indicating extreme insularity and narrowness of vision, Marshall's statement has compounded the general unease. The bridge building concept is demonstrably over optimistic. Witness the de-lighted reaction of representatives of the South African Government. And the public, for all its outward acceptances, mistrusts those who make overly optimistic statements. Many may wonder about the bridges that never were: the bridge to Communist China; the bridge to Nazi Germany. There is furthermore, an element of tragi- comedy in the vision of a busy little nation of bridge-builders stolidly ignoring the outside world, forging a segregated plank for white supremicists to tread their way to a spurious respectability.

Press reaction was all that could have been expected given that the press is responsible for the extraordinary insularity, which typifies New Zealanders. The Evening Post carried Marshall's statement on page one. The next night hostile reaction was carried on page three; the story occupying the space claimed by Mar-shall the night before concerning the transportation of a clutch of bulls to Somes Island, the exercise coyly code-named "Operation Bullship". In its editorial comment the 'Evening Post' acknowledged that Marshall was guilty of cliche but urged its readers not to let that fact mask the sound common sense inherent in the statement. The 'Dominion' weighed in with a fatuous editorial before leaving it to Germaine Greer to castigate New Zealanders for not putting their own houses in order before criticising South Africa - a strange performance from one who confessed to incomplete liberation while preaching liberation to others.

On all sides the prospects are rather grim. In an international context New Zealand is now firmly aligned with South Africa and its supporters. The country is more firmly divided than ever; and, worst of all, New Zealand is continuing to allow a twentieth century slave system to go unchallenged. If Jerry Ruben is right and riots are parties, New Zealand is set up for a big stir next year. Marshall will be able to claim some responsibility for the bitterness that will constitute the Nation's hangover.

Cartoon by Brockie

"I've heard of the United Nations, Bwana Philip, but this current bunch of niggers is ridiculous."