( dpa ) - Veteran New Zealand anti-apartheid campaigner John Minto said Monday that he had rejected the South African government's highest honour for foreigners because he is "deeply dismayed" about conditions in that country.
"When we protested and marched into police batons and barbed wire here in the struggle against apartheid, we were not fighting for a small black elite to become millionaires," Minto wrote in a weekly column in The Press newspaper of Christchurch.
"We were fighting for a better South Africa for all its citizens. The faces at the top have changed from white to black, but the substance of change is an illusion."
Minto said he was writing to the South African government to say he would not accept the Companion of OR Tambo Award, for which he had been nominated.
Minto was a leader of the Halt All Racist Tours (HART) group, which organized massive national demonstrations against South Africa's racist national rugby Springbok team that toured New Zealand in 1981.
The Tambo award is the highest honour given to non-South Africans in recognition of friendship, co-operation and support. Previous recipients include Mahatma Gandhi, Kofi Annan, Salvador Allende and Martin Luther King Jr.
Minto told Radio New Zealand that the African National Congress government had "sidelined" social and economic rights and in "many cases, if not most cases, left black South Africans worse off than they were under white-majority rule."
"For example, the number of people who are living on less than 1 dollar a day has more than doubled in the first 10 years of the ANC government," Minto said. "I'm just deeply dismayed at what's happened."
The Press quoted Trevor Richards, a fellow anti-apartheid campaigner and founder of HART, who now lives in Paris, as saying that he had been "delighted" to accept the Tambo Award in 2004.
"The role that New Zealand played in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa was exceptional," Richards said.