We enter the low rise Maori space on the periphery of a high rise campus. A campus otherwise dominated by the kaupapa of the Pakeha and dependent on the international market of immigration. Here is a reprieve, a sanctuary from all that. Hanging on at the edge. A bit of real in the estate. An entity of colonial resistance inside the wire. This was the venue for last weekend’s Mana AGM.
Waipapa Marae is hidden away in a corner of the Auckland University. It is on the way to Parnell – most people wouldn’t know it was there. The wharenui is large and impressively carved inside and out, but the entrance is modest and the trees obscure most of what goes on here. There is some sense of scale, but it is out the back of the sprawling, spiralling University. That’s how I remember it anyway.
Auckland was choking since Otahuhu on Friday. Mad traffic crawling all the way to the city. Listening in dismay to the newsflashes about Jerry Collins as we inched along like every other idiot on the motorway. Passing the two lane Mt Wellington overbridge with 1954 stamped on the side. 61 years and they won’t upgrade the bottleneck. Not missing a return to my hometown on a day like this. At least there are electric trains now I can see. That only took them 70 years to organise, might take them another 70 to get them over to the Shore. Everyone is in a big hurry except when it comes to committing to anything long-term. There’s no homesickness connected with this mission.
On arrival I witness from the carpark the excruciating choreography of a taxi attempting a panicked 3 point turn on a busy narrow street in the midst of Auckland’s afternoon rush. Emblematic of Auckland’s diversity, an elderly Pakeha guy was trying to communicate with a Middle-Eastern driver that he had missed a turn. The car grazes the gutter. They are in agitated conversation as the manoeuvre continues and cars come to a halt, leaving him with even less room. It scrapes back down again. Now a 5 point turn. This stuff happens all the time. You’ll see the best parking, the worst parking, the best manners, the worst manners. I’ve seen old Chinese ladies hurl themselves in front of moving buses, I’ve seen Minnies squeeze past carpark barrier arms, everything. Nothing would surprise. Someone is smashing their car through a shop every other week. The city be cray.
The university looks chaotic, but is very sane, very rational, very Borg. Every single electrical socket and light switch has its own ID label, that is the level of the system, it’s intricacy. It is a constant in and of the city. The crayest thing about the university would be the Cray computer. Like a being the university is self-aware and has achieved ego. The over-sized generic
buildings of the business and science faculties are prestige jobs that attest to the self confidence – the Owen G Glenn building near the centre of the campus. They loom everywhere, and just when you think you’ve seen it all another one looms.
As the Craccum news editor back in the day I broke the story of the University Council’s plan to start selling naming rights, and wrote in alarmist conjecture that some crazy old businessman might buy a building and we’d all have to call it after him. That would be crazy wouldn’t it? The PM wouldn’t even go anywhere physically near him when it was opened. Mad awkies in Auckies. The old merchant houses – built for show by an earlier strata of Auckland’s elite – were demolished to provide space for these clinical monstrosities and the production line education they represent. They must have views of Queen St from up there. They have corporate pretensions that are acclimatising the young Aucklanders to their indebted, air-conditioned
The windows from the wharekai overlook Stanley St. Carlaw Park is now a business park – that’s at one end, and then there’s a view down to Mechanics Bay. The traffic rumbles to and from the port unabated through the day and through the night. The commuter trains rattle up and down the line, coming into view and passing with regularity. Helicopters buzz overhead, aircraft appear and disappear on their flight paths over the city. What do the country people make of this?
It is autumn. The flag on the pole was still the whole weekend. Matariki. Wananga time.
The imported students (that the NZ government insist be deemed as export earnings) are here to learn, for better or for worse, tikanga Pakeha, and experience it in full flourish. That is mostly why they are here. The foreign students – in the antiseptic, claustrophobic pens of the apartment buildings thrown up by opportunistic developers – look down on us. What must they be thinking?
We slept under the pou of our ancestors in the wharenui. 20, 30, 40 generations. The students in their cells ponder their passports: 20, 30, 40 months to go. They are paying good money to our old overlords to become our new overlords. What are their expectations of this arrangement? All that money for a certificate from the university and a small book from the government saying they own you. They are here to exploit and to be exploited – and all done in the best possible taste, to colonise New Zealand. What would they make of these Maori, these socialists, these unionists down here? What does that Tino flag mean to them?
While the professionals across the valley in Parnell caught the business news and market quotes before popping off for drinks, we observed the karakia and waited as the kaumatua manuhiri dived into the smoked fish. We wondered how we were going to take our country back. I guess the people in the apartment buildings have little idea (and even less evidence in their everyday life) that it is our country at all, let alone have contemplated that it can or will be taken back by the indigenous people. The notion seems, paradoxically enough, both impossible and inevitable.
So the fifty or so staunchies of the Mana Movement that had overcome the psychologically traumatising general election defeat of 2014 convened to articulate the possible. Ok, some of us are still traumatised, but we showed up anyway clasping a handful of positives: Mana increased its party vote and eclipsed the Maori Party, Hone Harawira had a higher vote than last time, and we threatened the orthodoxy of the political system to such an extent that the only way the other parties had to defeat us was to co-ordinate against us in Te Tai Tokerau. We like to think we are dangerous, and that we remain so. We have potential.
Hone was upbeat and his indefatigable wife, Hilda, drove things along as the leaders of the host region, Te Tai Tokerau. Hone worked for us in his humbled manner and spoke for us strongly, but I can’t help but think he is rent with guilt over the GI housing episode. He was on some scenario like it was an excuse or something, trying to make it add up in his head. He needn’t have worried, it wasn’t really spoken about. Sometimes a movement is like that. Have we moved on? – we may have already moved on.
Oh – and of course no Sue, not after Dotcom. That’s well moved on. The Socialist Action were there though.
A few people from some rohe weren’t there, but a few people from others were and it was closer to a hundred on the Saturday. I suppose this is what a party looks like at the lowest ebb, in the aftermath of electoral defeat. A parliamentary wipe out to be sure. But the campaign was based on a strategy that only fell down because about 400 Te Tai Tokerau voters were freaked into voting Labour at the last minute with the help of money from the right. That’s a narrow loss, quite narrow, painfully narrow.
The party is a movement anyway, we don’t really need MPs in the House as a reason to exist. We want MPs because that is a method to effect the change we want, but we don’t need MPs to operate. That may sound extraordinary to the careerists in Labour and the Greens, but people here feel that way. We feel relevant. I suppose because our actions are relevant and our kaupapa is relevant – we don’t need well-paid people in suits on leather armchairs to be relevant. As far as the kaupapa goes, the Maori Party is lost, away yonder, over there, on the other side, having made their own bed under National as John Key’s Maori Party. And as far as strategy goes the Maori Party under Te Ururoa Flavell was founded on not talking, which is why there will not be any talks between Mana and the Maori Party about anything. If it was possible to jack-up a seat here or there, I think it would be possible to do when the time comes with them (or anyone) but beyond that we are very much in competition.
Annette Sykes, in between tangi, made an impact on the Saturday sessions with her concise and intelligent contributions before having to dart out again. She has an outstanding ability while on her feet to convert the most complex and convoluted items into a clear and logical structure. She has the presence of a natural politician – very certain, always communicating.
Lisa McNab and John Minto at the presidential level showed why they were re-elected with such confidence by the membership with their presentations. John has been very visible and active around housing, his being in Christchurch does not seemed to have lessened his activity. The outstanding – and also out-going – Secretary, Gerard Hehir, a veteran party organiser of the left, demonstrated yet more formidably efficient software to take the party to the next level of campaigning. How Andrew Paul (who very ably facilitated the war/peace component) is expected to fill those gigantic boots I don’t know – and probably neither does he. Hone graciously slid a small bowl of lollies over and announced Gerard had just received his golden handshake. We look after people.
The guest speakers arranged were a perhaps quirky mix of the practical and the political. Jane Kelsey, Keith Locke et al. A lot about housing development and sustainability. Rent control policy is going to be something to watch. Kingi Taurua wasn’t listed on the programme – he stole the show with his Malaya/Vietnam reflections because I can’t remember anyone else’s statistics. That was my highlight of the presentations. Office-holders were re-elected unopposed at the AGM on Sunday. No dramas really, not really (is putting too much cream into your porridge qualify as a drama?) So quite positive, very positive. Quite a contrast though to the heady AGM the previous year in Rotorua where there were 200+ due to Dotcom.
There was a lot of talk and unease about what the bureaucracy in Wellington is cooking up. There was a lot of apprehension about the Te Ture Whenua Maori Land Act review and the stalking horse it is for privatisation. There was apprehension over changes to the Maori Language Commission. Water rights. There was quite a bit of apprehension about how much National will erode of the minimal safeguards we have. There was the TPPA. There was a thought that James Shaw’s co-leadership of the Greens may turn a few our way in 2017 as they step to the right. We all considered the flag referendum to be a monumental waste of time and money – NZ already has a flag. Indeed most electorates hadn’t given it any consideration it was deemed so irrelevant.
There was gossip. There were tales of campaigns past. There was song. The youth rocked it with the help of only a guitar, and those who knew the kupu (which wasn’t me). There was an action song at one point, but thankfully no dancing. I don’t do dancing. On the mahau I overheard some nannies practising their Mana lyrics to the Maori Battalion song. I smiled.
So back to our local branches, back to the Rohe, back to build the movement. Back down that bloody motorway.