Emperor Penguin and Rugby World Cup provide convenient political distractions -- but 30th anniversary of 1981 Springbok Tour a timely reminder of the potential of people power


There’s a classic headline in this morning’s Dominion Post ‘Happy Feet now dining royally on king salmon’.

To me this says it all about current priorities in New Zealand.

We’ve got 20% or more of our country’s children living in poverty, a Government which is quietly and unconcernedly removing half those on the state house waiting list, and the number of people officially ‘jobless’ sits at 271,400.

I reckon the resources already lavished on one lost Emperor Penguin would probably already have gone a long way towards paying for a new house for a homeless family.

Now to my animal loving friends – I’m not trying to denigrate the efforts to save Happy Feet – it’s just that the Penguin’s recovery comes at a high price, and I wonder at the care lavished on this one creature at a time when we have a government entertaining the worst attacks on beneficiaries in my lifetime.

Yes, we should care for and about the living creatures with whom we share the planet.


But at the same time, let’s show at least equal compassion for our fellow humans, without forgetting that sometimes a focus on diversions – whether penguins to rugby games – can be an extraordinarily useful tactic for those who rule over us.


In another news storyout today, Otago University lecturer Bryce Edwards is quoted as saying, "people don’t find politics meaningful anymore and elections don’t interest people in the same way they used to."

Dr Edwards is giving a lecture on this in Auckland on Thursday night and I’ll be along to hear what he has to say on this timely topic.

I’m not sure that he’s right, though, as I reckon people are interested in politics, both electoral and activist, when they’re stimulated and encouraged to take part.

I never give up on that potential, and I think Hone Harawira’s victory in the recent Te Tai Tokerau by-election is an example of what can happen when ordinary people, many quite marginalized from mainstream politics, are sufficiently inspired to engage with the process.

All the 1981 Springbok Tour nostalgia we’re wallowing in at the moment, for example via this fascinating Listener article, is another useful reminder of just how galvanised New Zealanders can be when we’re sufficiently motivated.

Watching that great documentary ‘Patu’ again on Maori Television recently was a salutary reminder of what it felt like when some of us did take our future in our own hands, doing everything we could to stop those dirty apartheid rugby games 30 years ago.

I’m hoping that this 30th anniversary of the tour, and surrounding events like the commemoration march planned for Auckland on 11 September, will be a time when we older activists can talk with younger generations, and increase awareness of the power we do hold in our hands to challenge injustice and change policies, even when the full force of the State is ranged against us.

That force hasn’t gone away, either. The recent inquiries by Police of well known activists in Auckland about what we’re planning for the Rugby World Cup has been a timely reminder of what awaits those of us who may organise activity during the RWC season.

It has been inspiring to read about the building of the Greek peoples’ resistance to the economic austerity measures being imposed on them by the IMF, the EU, the European Central Bank and their own Government.

In the birthplace of Western democracy, citizens have been coming together every day not only to demonstrate, but also to use their Syntagma Square base to debate and discuss politics and economics.

A movie called ‘Debtocracy’ has been a hit throughout urban and rural Greece, with people from every walk of life keenly watching a documentary which explains what’s happened to their country, and why they should not just blindly accede to the bankers’ demands.

Over the next few months I hope we’ll see a rising participation in politics, both electoral and street activist, from ordinary people in this country.

We’re starting from a low base. Activist politics almost always takes a dive under a Labour Government, and it’s true that we don’t face the same economic crisis as the people of Greece and many other countries.

Yet we have to start somewhere.

The rise of the Mana Party as an electoral force which openly defies political convention and stands unashamedly as a voice for the poorest and most marginalised people in Aotearoa gives Maori, low paid workers and beneficiaries a party they can support.

The current and threatened attacks by National on welfare, housing, ACC, employment law, asset sales – and the rest – are another starting point for street action beyond the ballot box.

There will be protests over the next few months. They may be small, but as in 1981, when the first demonstrations we held were tiny, the building of any movement takes time.

It also takes courage and political will, and I hope that an increasing number of my fellow citizens will free themselves of all those seductive distractions and join us on the streets – and at the polling booths – in a serious effort to challenge and change the disastrous direction in which National is leading us.

Yes, let the Penguin live – but those sad, hungry kids down your street – or just over in the next suburb or township – have a right to live too.



Comments (7)

by on July 05, 2011

Cute animals ( or uncute ones just as so) do not require forgiveness for what they are in the only real hope of anyone's own future activities. Until that is applied & understood as the justification of the nutrition for a societie's (& one's) own place at the table, as have all indigenous societies when at their most whole, un-political & long standing, there is diminishing room for the animal world's place at the table also.

The raw milk of such understanding does not glorify one's ownplace at the table by celebrating in the animal's steed with much hope, as does the nutrional eugenics of  degeneration going unheeded in the building of private fortresses from collapsing public tables bring anything other than increased tastes of blame in the dinners' future menu preparations.

by stuart munro on July 06, 2011
stuart munro

Well said Sue. I know a good few folk in NZ and none of them are remotely impressed by the Key regime, nor by the media strategy of neither reporting or commenting closely on government policies. Here in Korea, public activism is celebrated as the force that made the notional democracy of militarised rulers real. This came at a price - but the legacy is a fairly dutiful and publicly responsible quality of governance - quite at odds with the naked greed and manifest irresponsibilty of the the asset thieves.

I'll march to lynch those sons of bitches any day of any year.

by Andin on July 06, 2011

But at the same time, let’s show at least equal compassion for our fellow humans

Exhortations to compassion are'nt going to get much traction Sue. We're all sick of each other, and the old rallying crys ring hollow, based as they are on ancient philosophies so full of holes to the modern ear they evaporate with just the tiniest application of scrutiny.

And all we have are vague remnants of nationalism shoved at us by cheerleaders paid to do just that(its in their job description). And people going through the motions of rituals more suited to time when we were ignorant. Yet still we cant let go. Look we helped a penguin, god! And we support our football team!

Talk about a hollow people. And sorry I dont share your belief that the Mana party is some kind of voice for the oppressed. Hone is too parochial and gullible.

without forgetting that sometimes a focus on diversions – whether penguins to rugby games – can be an extraordinarily useful tactic for those who rule over us.

Yep "rule over us" is right. And they often like to be contradicted, or questioned too much. (Its part of the mindset)

by Rich on July 06, 2011

The challenge for Greece is whether they can move from 'indignant protest' to 'effective protest'.

I'd class the Syntagma Square demonstrations as the former - they have propaganda value and radicalise people, but there is no mechanism for them to dislodge the government.

The industrial action is more promising, and that's where Greece is way ahead of NZ. If the Greek democracy movement can maintain strikes/blockades in key service areas (power, fuel, communications and banking) then it cuts at the core of government - the economic structures that let it pay the cops and troops that keep it in power.

by stuart munro on July 07, 2011
stuart munro

Andin - missing a don't?

"And they often like to be contradicted, or questioned too much."

It is perhaps the arab spring NZ needs to learn from - a revisiting of the revolutions of 1848. But the lesson for activists is - in a country truly ready for change it can happen overnight - like Tunisia. Peter Shirtcliffe should be cowering in his boots because NZ is certainly tired of being impoverished for the benefit of political cronies . 

by on September 26, 2011
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