On this day in 1970, John Lennon paid the £1,344 fine for the demonstrators of the South African Rugby team. The individuals were protesting while the team toured England.
To get a better understanding of what was going on, we must remember that sports played a huge role in the anti-apartheid movement. Any sort of cricket or rugby tour by a South African team in the UK or New Zealand, for example, was met with mass protests.
The international sports boycott of South Africa played a major role in bringing an end to apartheid: “We understood, as South Africans, the significance of sport for white South Africa. It was like a religion. And if you hit them hard, then you were really getting the message across that they were not welcome in the world as long as they practiced racism in sport.” Abdul Minty, South African exile, British Anti-Apartheid Movement 1959 – 1994
This specific demonstration, which later resulted in hundreds of students being arrested, against the South African rugby tourists took place in Edinburgh. The fines were bad enough to cripple the student’s unions which had organized the demonstration, until a check which covered the entire amount arrived in the post from John Lennon, along with a note that insisted that there be no publicity attached with the gift.
One of the alleged protesters briefly told his side of the story:
I got arrested with 100 others in Aberdeen after running onto the pitch during a Springboks match in 1969. We all got a night in the cells (and had a ball!) filling them completely. Others arrested after us were bussed down to the beach and dumped so they had to walk back, arriving after the game’s end. We in the cells were charged with breach of the peace, and later were each fined £15 – a lot of money then. One of us who used to work for the NME had the bright idea of phoning them to get John Lennon’s New York phone number, phoned and left a message with his office. A week later a cheque for £1,500 arrived.