Newsmaker – ‘I never expected to find racism in New Zealand’

2011-10-01 17:30

Vata Ngobeni, the Pretoria News rugby writer who was wrongly accused by New Zealand police of drug dealing, said that as a black man who grew up in South Africa, he is no stranger to racial discrimination. But the last place he expected to experience it was in New Zealand.

Ngobeni said he was treated like a criminal because of his skin colour after being detained by police for allegedly “peddling drugs” in The Shed bar early last Sunday morning.

This was in Taupo, where the Springboks spent the week preparing for their World Cup clash against Samoa.

“I didn’t see it as a racial incident at first but after thinking it over and talking to friends, I now believe it was,” he said.

“I even wonder if there was actually anyone in the bar dealing and whether I was only arrested because I am black. What were the officers’ motives for searching me? To them I was presumed guilty and I had to prove my innocence.”

Ngobeni said when he was a student he experienced many incidents of racism when attending rugby games in Pretoria and Joburg.

“In 2001, I was at Ellis Park when the Springboks played against France. We walked in as a group of black guys and someone said: ‘Wat soek julle k*****s hierso (what are you k*****s doing here)’,” he recalled.

While walking to Loftus Versfeld on a Saturday to cover a Bulls game as the senior rugby writer for Pretoria News, he was also asked what he was doing there.

“Die sokker is môre (the soccer is tomorrow),” he was told.

Ngobeni said New Zealand is a country that often takes the moral high ground on race issues, especially pertaining to South Africa.

“In South Africa we speak about race issues more often than any other country in the world. That is why it came as a shock because I never thought something like this could happen in New Zealand,” he said.

The Maori Chief, Sir Tumu Te Heuheu of the Tuharetoa tribe, visited Ngobeni at the Springbok hotel in Taupo this week to offer his apologies for what had happened.

“He told me that they are not that kind of people. They are very welcoming to everyone. He told me the history of their tribe and the fact that they own the land. He also touched on issues of their fight to reclaim their land,” Ngobeni said.

He said when you speak to the Maori people you find that they have many concerns.

“When you talk to white New Zealanders they will tell you that everything is hunky dory. But this incident has now got them talking again.”

Ngobeni said it’s been almost a week now and he has heard nothing from the police.

“They said that I fitted the profile of a drug dealer. I would like to know what that profile is. Was it a general profile or was it just the colour of my skin?”

Local police chief superintendent Glenn Dunbier rejected Ngobeni’s demand for an apology.

He told Television New Zealand: “I’m not about to apologise for our police staff acting in a lawful manner, totally within police policy and in a way that was incredibly understanding and empathetic.”

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