Susan Devoy's Africa Day 2016 Speech

Susan Devoy's Africa Day 2016 Speech

May 31, 2016

Mt Eden War Memorial Hall, 487 Dominion Road, Balmoral
Race Relations Commissioner
Dame Susan Devoy


Kia ora and Greetings

On behalf of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, it is a great honour to support the celebration of Africa Day here in Auckland: the 53rd commemoration of the founding of the African Union.

Some people I’d like to acknowledge tonight:

Gregory Fortuin, former Race Relations Conciliator and someone who’s been never afraid to speak out on issues of racial equality

Mt Roskill MP Phil Goff

ACOFI outgoing and incoming presidents Kizito Essuman and Francois Kayembe Fatumatah Bah

Amin, the newly elected vice president, who project managed the entire event, and who, with the old and new exec started setting up at 11am!

And finally, our African Community Forum members, families and children.
Fellow New Zealanders:
Happy Africa Day.

Today’s theme is Unity and this is more important than ever, Unity not just for Africa: Unity for the World and Unity for us here in New Zealand.

Our role at the Human Rights Commission is to strengthen human rights and encourage harmonious relations amongst all of us who call New Zealand home.

In New Zealand, celebrations such as Africa Day are about Human Rights, celebrations such as Africa Day are about planning for our future, Now.

As this year’s theme is Unity I would like us to look back at that time, the early sixties, here in New Zealand.

I would like to talk about unity forged more than 50 years ago between New Zealanders and South Africans.

When it comes to unity in this country – supporting the All Blacks as you know is something that New Zealanders are pretty unified about.

But back in the early sixties many New Zealanders put aside their love for rugby and instead chose to stand in unity alongside South African people.

Back in 1960 Anglican Bishop Wiremu Panapa led protests against the South African Rugby tour arguing that it was racist against Maori and Africans.

Bishop Panapa’s campaign saw 150,000 New Zealanders sign a petition to end all contact with South Africa as long as it practiced apartheid.

These protests were a precursor to other campaigns led by Bishop Panapa that highlighted inequality and racism here in New Zealand.

He went on to lead protests against racist laws that banned Maori New Zealanders from pubs and hotels.
He also went on to lobby for equal rights and Treaty of Waitangi rights for Maori New Zealanders.

Twenty years later, and for any Kiwi old enough to remember: 1981 saw our country erupt when our government invited the Springboks to New Zealand. Some argued that sport and politics had nothing to do with one another but they were wrong. Sport under Apartheid, like everything else, had everything to do with the politics of oppression. The streets of New Zealand erupted from the moment the Springboks touched down. Priests and nuns joined activists, students and everyday New Zealanders in a bid to Stop The Tour. Families were divided right down the middle, with some heading off to watch the rugby while others donned helmets to protest.

New Zealand grew up a bit in 1981 and New Zealanders shed our image as a quiet, no fuss folk. When he heard that anti-Apartheid protesters thousands of miles away had forced the cancellation of a Springbok Rugby Test, the late Nelson Mandela said it was as if the sun had come out and shone through his prison cell. 1981 was a watershed year for New Zealand, we grew up a lot in 1981 and we’ve grown up a lot since then.

As had been the case in the early sixties, the 1981 anti tour movement was a precursor for other equal rights and justice campaigns. By the end of the decade after much protests, Maori was made an official language in its own country for the first time in history.

It is clear that the ongoing fight for justice is important in Africa as well as here in New Zealand.

Young African New Zealanders spoke up this year about the discrimination they faced from Police.

We encourage the Police to work closely with our communities.

While the NZ Police does a lot of great work, we urge officers to talk honestly with each other and with community members.

If we look overseas we can see what happens when a Police service lets a culture of discrimination rule its ranks: we must never let that happen here in Aotearoa.

Right now the Human Rights Commission is working on a digital and engagement strategy that aims to create a culture in which racist attitudes, statements and actions are considered unacceptable by a majority of New Zealanders.

We live in the most ethnically diverse nation on earth – and that diversity has happened in less than a generation.

We are convinced that we must do something now to safeguard the future for all of our children.

We want to reinforce our Kiwi identity:

Being a New Zealander means offering a warm welcome, giving everyone a Fair Go, and celebrating our Diversity.

We want to ensure that in our country and in our Kiwi culture: Racism, overt or casual, will be unacceptable.

We want to change people’s hearts and minds.

Some of you will know that we have begun already, talked to a few people and we would like to be in touch with many more of you.

At the heart of all we do are people like all of you here tonight.

At the heart of all we do is the belief that Unity isn’t just something we should just hope for.

Unity isn’t something we should just pray for.

Unity is something we must plan for.

Dame Susan Devoy, Race Relations Commissioner

susan devoy author.jpg

Dame Susan Devoy DNZM, CBE has worked across the sport, community and charity sectors since she retired undefeated as the world women's squash champion in 1992.  A member and chair of the Halberg Trust, patron of the Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand and other charities, Dame Susan was the Chief Executive Officer and Chair of Sport Bay of Plenty.  She has served on the Auckland District Health Board, the Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust and chaired BNZ Partners, Bay of Plenty. 

Since her appointment in April 2013 Dame Susan has taken a high profile role in encouraging New Zealanders to take personal responsibility for race relations and to stand up for victims of racial abuse.