10 Dec 2013

Cunliffe offers place to Sharples

10:31 pm on 10 December 2013

The leader of the Labour Party has offered to give his place at the Nelson Mandela memorial service to Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples.

David Cunliffe.

David Cunliffe. Photo: RNZ

David Cunliffe said it was important that a New Zealand Maori is represented and Dr Sharples did a lot of work in the anti-apartheid movement.

Nelson Mandela led South Africa's transition from white-minority rule in the 1990s after 27 years in prison and was the country's first black president. The 95-year-old died at his home in Johannesburg on 5 December.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key is leading the small delegation that includes Mr Cunliffe, former Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Don McKinnon, former prime minister Jim Bolger and Dr Sharples, who protested in 1981 against the Springbok rugby tour.

All had expected to attend the service at the FNB stadium in Soweto, which seats 95,000. However, the South African government has cut back all delegations to just the head of state, plus one other. That included US President Barack Obama's delegation.

Pita Sharples.

Pita Sharples. Photo: MAORI PARTY

Mr Key said in the spirit of unity he chose David Cunliffe to accompany him. But Mr Cunliffe told Radio New Zealand that the Prime Minister accepted his offer that Dr Sharples go in his place and there was a slim hope that all of the party may be able to attend.

There have been debates about the decision to take Sir Don and Mr Bolger, two former National Party members, rather than people who led the fight against apartheid in New Zealand in the 1980s.

Harawira off to South Africa

Mana leader Hone Harawira says he will be in South Africa to pay his respects to Nelson Mandela, despite being refused a place on the Prime Minister's delegation.

Mr Harawira said Mr Mandela was a leader whose relentless struggle against oppression will never be forgotten. He said he rose above persecution to lead his nation and it shouldn't be a surprise that those involved in his struggle want to attend his tangi (funeral).

Hone Harawira.

Hone Harawira. Photo: RNZ

Labour's Shane Jones believed that Mr Harawira should have been part of the official delegation. "If you want to know who was really running the Maori protest line in '81, it was Hone Harawira."

Mr Harawira left on Tuesday afternoon and will stay in South Africa until Sunday.

Meanwhile, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters described the official party as unbalanced and said it should have included anti-apartheid protest leaders from the 1980s.

Mr Peters told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Tuesday that the Prime Minister should attend, but there should be two or three members from the protest movement, such as Trevor Richards or John Minto.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman also believes anti-apartheid campaigners should have been included. Dr Norman said he supports Mr Harawira going to South Africa to pay his respects.