Trevor Richards got his start in radical politics at Auckland University in the late ’60s. In 1969 he was a political science student and AUSA International Affairs officer.
The same year he convened a meeting at Auckland University to form a new, anti Apartheid organisation. The Citizens Association for Racial Equality (CARE) had been active for some time, but Richards and his friends wanted something more radical.
Richards was inspired to set up a new group to oppose the proposed 1970 Springbok Tour of NZ after attending a meeting with South African anti Apartheid campaigner, Dennis Brutus.
According to Geoff Chapple writing in “The Tour” p11, the organising meeting was held in July 1969. “It included in its membership CARE, the Student Christian Movement, the NZ Federation of Maori Students, the NZUSA, the Socialist Forum, and the Maori Organisation On Human Rights, whose secretary, Tom Poata, drove up from Wellington and suggested a name: Halt All Racist Tours – HART.”
Richard’s remained chairman of HART from its foundation, until 1980 and remained International Secretary until 1985. Almost all of HART’s leaders were Maoists. As Richards wrote in his book “Dancing On Our Bones” p 210 “In the late 70s, a number of people within HART and its leadership including myself, were sympathetic to what was referred to as Marxist-Leninist-Mao Tse Tung Thought“. Thankfully Helen Clark was on HART’s executive in the early ’70s.
In 1970, over Waitangi weekend, Richards attended a Waikato Uni meeting to set up the NZ Race Relations Council. Yet another Maoist dominated organisation, its vice President was Richards’ offsider, Maoist and HART deputy leader, Mike Law.
In 1972 HART announced plans for a special school of non-violent protest in conjunction with the CARE front PRISM (Passive but Resolute Invasion of Springbok Matches). Richards said HART tactics “would throw the country into its greatest turmoil since the Depression.”
In March 1973 Richards traveled with CARE’s Tom Newnham and Pat Hohepa to UN headquarters in New York, to testify before the UN Special Committee on Apartheid-against the proposed 1973 Springbok tour of NZ.
In March 1974, Richards addressed a conference organised by the Chhristchurch Committe on South Africa (of which Marian Hobbs was a leading member)on his recent trip to Zambia and Tanzania where he met with ANC, SWAPO, ZANU, ZAPU, Angola’s FRELIMO and Mozambique’s MPLA. The same month Keith Locke wrote an article for Socialist Action in which he claimed Trevor Richards called Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere “a good chap“.
In July 1974 Richards traveled with Dave Cuthbert, on a trip to Dar es Salaam, Paris, London, Amsterdam, New York, Toronto and Montreal. They had discussions with Samora Machel and Marcellino dos Santos (president and VP of FRELIMO), the ANC’s, Oliver Tambo (who they invited to tour NZ in 1975), ZANU, SWAPO, the Pan African Congress and the African independence Party of guinea Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands. They also made contact with Dutch, Italian, West German and Canadian anti Apartheid activists and met with several UN bodies. These included the Special Committee on Apartheid, the council on Namibia, and the Sanctions Committee.
In February 1975, Trotskyite, Russell Johnson wrote in Socialist Action on the rival Maoists plan to cease publishing their newspaper, “Maoists discuss dumping’The Paper’“. Johnson claimed that “The Paper” was founded 18 months ago by “Wgtn adherents of Stalin and Mao” and went on to name names Trevor Richards (HART) and Joris de Bres (CARE) as “The Paper” supporters.
In August 1977 Richards attended a UN World Anti-Apartheid Conference in Lagos, Nigeria, with David Williams (CARE) and Maoist, Dave Stott (NAAC). According to a letter from Rona Bailey, published in NZ Monthly Review in October, they
“played an important part in helping to prepare a ‘Programme of Action’ in the Commission of the conference.”
By 1980, Richards was working for the Public Service Association and was an HART National Councillor and International Affairs officer and editor of the organisation’s journal “Amandla“.
In May 1981, Richards traveled to Paris for a UN Conference on Sanctions against South Africa (paid by the UN). He went on to visit Dar Es Salaam, Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Lagos (paid by HART supporters).
HART had been gearing up to oppose the 1981 Springbok Tour of NZ for some time. As early as 1979 they had organised a “Stop the Tour” conference in Porirua attended by 100 people.
In early 1981 Richards, Dave Cuthbert and Labour MP Russell Marshall worked on the idea of organising an anti Tour umbrella group in each main centre. As a result, during March and April coalitions such MOST, COST, CAST, CAT and MAST were formed.
Being Wellington based, Richards and his partner Patti O’Neill were active in the capital’s COST (Citizens Opposed to the Springbok Tour).
Despite touring the country for HART, Richards played a big role in COST, including leading, with Alick Shaw a large demonstration in Wellington, just before the Palmerston North, Springbok/Manawatu game.
COST was completely controlled by the ultra secretive Maoist organistion, the Workers Communist League. Richards has jokingly denied ever being a member of any political organisation beyond “Hedonists for Social Change“, but he was certainly extremely close to the WCL for a number of years.
The Security Intelligence Service apparently saw some connection and in an August 1981 report on radicals in the anti Tour movement, specifically named Richards’ former partner, Briony Hales as a WCL member (a fact she has subsequently confirmed).
After the Tour was over, Richards maintained his anti-Apartheid activity through HART and later through his editorship of the Public Service Association Journal.
In September 1987 an article in Peacelink “The Case for Sanctions against South Africa” described as “an edited version of a paper presented by former HART chairperson Trevor Richards to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence in October 1986″. stated “to impose comprehensive economice sanctions would be to act in accordance with moral principles and the spirit of internationalism.”
In 1988 Richards, along with Tom Poata and several other activists was appointed as a member of Minister of Foreign Affairs “Red Reverend” Russell Marshall’s “Advisory Committee on Southern Africa”. Marshall said “goverment’s policy was to oppose apartheid and the committee had been chosen to work for this aim.”
The same year, Richards left the PSA to become Volunteer Service Abroad’s first Executive Officer for Africa.
In February 1990 Richards was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for his services to the anti-Apartheid movement. Christchurch based “Treaty Times“, partly written by HART activist and self proclaimed communist, Joe Davies, accused Richards of “selling out“.
Not all communists were disgusted at Richards however. In April 1990 he was interviewed in the pro-Soviet, Socialist Unity Party’s newspaper, “Tribune” advertising for VSA workers to work in Namibia.
In September 1992 Richards traveled to Southern Africa, visited VSA projects in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Tanzania, plus two weeks in South Africa where he planned to talk to the South African Council of Churches , the ANC, COSATU and government officials.
In 1994 he returned to South Africa to monitor the elections which brought the ANC and South African Communist Party to power.
Currently Richards lives in Paris. Always a gourmet cook, he occasionally writes articles for his old mate Simon Wilson’s “Cuisine” magazine.