Ihumātao is a place that most people had not heard of until recently due to the escalation in protests on this land. At present there are approximately 1,500 people on the site, which has been cordoned off by the police.
Why is this protest being undertaken?
Ihumātao is culturally significant because it was one of the first places in New Zealand where Māori were able to grow their crops. They did this by using stones to create a micro-climate. It was also one of the first places where Māori grew new crops introduced by Europeans. The site sits next to an ancient stonefield which is currently protected (Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve). The land was illegally confiscated - taken by proclamation - in 1863. In 1867 the land was acquired by Crown grant. Until 2016 the land was part of a settler family farm.
In 2014 the land was declared an Special Housing Area (SHA) by the Auckland Council. Being part of a SHA means that any development there is fast tracked to address the housing shortage. Some have alleged that establishing an SHA enables developers to run rough-shod over existing regulations.
In 2016 the land was sold to Fletcher Residential (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fletcher Building), who plan on developing the 32 hectares into low-density luxury housing. They are planning on building 480 dwellings. The land has been occupied since November 2016.
In the media, the issue has sometimes been framed as a generational thing, they are saying that the protesters are being disrespectful to their elders who have given the development their blessing. Pania Newton, the spokesperson for the group SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape), has stated that that is not true: while it is a divisive issue it is about protecting the land's cultural importance for future generations to experience.
The occupation of Ihumātao by people who are demanding that the land be returned to the local iwi is a step in the right direction but it needs to have a leadership that will drive for much greater change along socialist lines.
While grassroots protests are important Leon Trotsky pointed out that “Just as a blacksmith cannot seize the red hot iron in his naked hand, so the proletariat cannot directly seize the power; it has to have an organisation accommodated to this task. The co-ordination of the mass insurrection … presupposes a correct general leadership of the masses, a flexible orientation in changing conditions, a thought-out plan of attack, cautiousness in technical preparation, and a daring blow.”
What Needs To Be Done
Ihumātao is a place of great historical and spiritual significance to Māori and is also an important part of New Zealand's agricultural history. To sell this land, which was seized illegally by the colonial government of New Zealand and later sold to a farming family, is an outrage that cannot be allowed to happen.
While returning this land to those whom the land was seized from is necessary we cannot lose sight of the fact there is a much greater issue at stake here: the critical shortage of housing in the Auckland region.
Capitalism has not solved the problem of housing shortages in the Auckland region. Neither has private-public arrangements with companies like Fletcher who are given taxpayer money to build housing that benefits only a small elite of property developers and speculators. Not even the Labour government's much vaunted Kiwibuild programme has achieved much in the way of addressing housing shortages.
The land at Ihumātao would not be needed for housing if the Labour government took a proactive approach to state housing and the scourge of land banking where speculators leave properties unoccupied and sell them when the price of the land increases thus making a large (and often untaxed) profit.
Socialist Appeal demands:
There are 30,000 homes in the Auckland region that are unoccupied. The Labour government must take ownership of all housing left unoccupied for over a year and allocate them to those people who need the housing and compensate existing owners based upom proven need.
Labour must also nationalise Fletcher and other companies involved in the building and construction industries and place them under workers' control and management.
Labour must also embark upon a major state housing building programme so that homelessness and the poverty caused by people living in properties where rents average $550 a week is eradicated.
Communities must be genuinely involved in the democratic decision making process of providing homes for people.