Vata Ngobeni meets Ngati Tuwharetoa paramount chief Sir Tumu Te Heuheu in Taupo today

Kevin McCallum

Taupo: After the local Taupo constabulary took his skin colour and rubbed his nose in it on Saturday night, Pretoria News rugby writer Vata Ngobeni was rubbing noses with Maori leaders today.

Ngobeni was the talk of Taupo today, with television crews queueing up to interview him after he was detained and searched by police on Saturday night, accused of selling drugs in a bar in the resort city.

He was eventually allowed to leave, with profuse apologies from the police, but Ngobeni, who described himself as the “unlucky black man in Taupo”, as well as fellow South African journalists, have suggested the actions of the police were based on race rather than fact.

Ngobeni had been approached by police in a bar called The Shed at 2am and told someone had accused him of trying to sell them drugs.

The story was reported on the front page of the New Zealand Herald today, and Ngobeni found himself conducting a slew of interviews at the block of flats where many of the South African journalists are staying, and then again, after he had finished work at the Springbok press conference at lunchtime today.

Maori TV and TV3 interviewed Ngobeni before he had lunch with Ngati Tuwharetoa paramount chief, Sir Tumu Te Heuheu, and his delegation at the Bayview Wairakei Resort.

The chief and his two delegates rubbed noses with Ngobeni in the traditional Maori greeting before speaking to him of Maori traditions and the link between African and Pacific cultures. “They were very humble, very respectful and told me they were very disturbed after they read the reports of what had happened,” Ngobeni said.

“They told me the Springboks were the first team to come to the place where Ka Mate (the haka the All Blacks perform) originated and that not even the All Blacks had come to visit the place. They had a lot of respect for the Springboks and for South Africa, and had visited the country.”

SuperSport TV presenter Xola Ntshinga, who had attended the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School, sang Jikele-maweni, a traditional Xhosa tune about stick fighting that was taken by migrant labourers to the mines and adapted.

Ntshinga said he decided to sing the song to chief Sir Tumu Te Heuheu and his companions on the spur of the moment as “a response to the kindness they were extending to my friend, Vata. It was a way of giving them a gift from Africa on behalf of Vata”.

“I did laugh when one of them said he would sing me a response after he had had a glass of wine.”

Ngobeni wants to put the “drug-gate” behind him. “It was humbling for me to have met them and put my mind at ease about this whole affair. They told me they did not want me to leave Taupo with a negative impression.

“I’ve had enough of being interviewed, though. The other South African journos have been great. They’ve shown me support and keep making jokes about it. I don’t think they will stop for the rest of the World Cup, but that’s okay.

“Regan Hoskins (president of the SA Rugby Union) has called and offered his support, and has been in constant SMS contact.”

However, Ngobeni has not had any response from the Taupo mayor, Rick Cooper.

See pages 8, 10, 15, 18