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  • Thu, 10, Sep, 2020 - 5:00:AM

South Auckland bears the burden of Covid-19 in NZ

Bird's eye view of houses / Jeswin Thomas / Pexels

Living through Covid-19 has presented tough challenges for everyone in NZ.

Many elderly people feel isolated from their loved ones. Many families face uncertain financial circumstances. Many students feel stretched thin by academic demands. It’s been tough for us all.

But I can’t help but notice how the harshest of the spotlights and the heaviest of the burdens of the second round of this pandemic have fallen on my home, South Auckland.

I braced when I found out that the new cluster was a South Auckland family. I wondered how they would fare under the finger-pointing and digital stares of NZ at large. I remained braced as rumours flared and people spat venom.

I could fill a book with the ways NZ has misperceived South Auckland, but for now I will touch on the issues relevant to Covid-19 and its effect on our community.

I firstly remember the intense criticism of how much of the rest of Auckland the family at the heart of the cluster had contact with — and I especially remember that a stray Facebook troll suggested we build a wall around South Auckland to lock the virus in.

Where others see the exceptional mobility of South Aucklanders, I see a community pushed by gentrification further and further from their workplaces. And this holds true for most Aucklanders. When I was a teenager, South Auckland was Panmure, a middle-aged teacher once told me.

Secondly, students in South Auckland are being forced off the road to further education as Covid-19 continues to claim the jobs of their family. Those who turn up their noses at South Auckland’s high school dropout rate, and then about-face to praise the essential workers who have fed and supplied the nation do not realise that these are often the same people. 

200 senior students did not return after the first lockdown to Manurewa High School — NZ’s largest decile one school — having taken full-time supermarket or courier jobs to financially support their families. Of the ones that did return, many have taken on part-time jobs alongside their studies.

Mangere College Prefect Olathe Taulanga, one of the latter, tells Breakfast. “We have scholars clubs, for after-school homework help, but I can’t make it to those.” 

The plights of students like Taulanga were heralded as brave, strong and noble by the general public. The cry went up: we must do more for students in need! Then, news dropped of an $11.7 million package given to a private school by the Green Party — the timing was perfect, in a darkly comic kind of way.

Finally, racist stereotypes about Pasifika and Māori families and their ‘susceptibility’ to spreading a virus have abounded online. This is despite these communities adhering well to the lockdown guidelines and getting tested for Covid-19 at the highest rates. 

I finally stopped bracing when Ashley Bloomfield and Jacinda Ardern praised and defended the family at the heart of the cluster for their life-saving decision to get tested. It was a rare but welcome thing, to see the compassion and thoughtfulness I know as South Auckland’s displayed for the world to see.

And our compassion, our brilliance, is what I’d much rather talk about.

I want to talk about the way we folded our arms around the family who was made vulnerable by no choice or fault of theirs. 

I want to celebrate the South Auckland poets who banded together to perform a love letter to South Auckland, a spoken word poem which has celebrated the vibrance and resilience of our community.

I want to honour the Takanini Gurdwara Sri Kalgidhar Sahib, known to locals simply as the Sikh Temple, who handed out 2000 food packages to hungry families over a six-hour shift. (These events are by no means one-off.)

I raise my fist for 4TK, a South Auckland-based activist organisation that has partnered with the ASA Foundation to offer support to students struggling — academically, financially or otherwise — as a result of Covid-19. (Here are resources designed to help working Year 13s.)

NZ has tried reckoning with our issues of inequality, racism and, frankly, straight meanness before. But it’s been a slow and tepid reckoning, which during Covid-19 has felt especially apathetic in the face of the vivid anger, generosity and resolve I have seen displayed on the streets of home.

South Auckland should not have had to bear such burdens, which are entrenched in history. We will fight until the weight of our nation’s troubles are spread more evenly. Still, today, they rest heavy on us.

But we carry it with grit, and with grace.

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  • South Auckland /
  • COVID-19 /
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Aimee
Lew

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