Community-led rōpū SOUL launches online 'Virtual Occupation'

An online 'Virtual Occupation' has been launched to increase public support in response to the controversy regarding Special Housing Area 62 in South Auckland. 

The initiative is led by community group SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape), in association with Auckland-based creative agency Sugar and Partners.

SOUL's aim is to gather more support for its campaign against the Fletcher plan to build 480 high-priced houses on heritage land at Ihumātao, near Māngere.

Those campaigning under SOUL say they are doing all they can to prevent this from happening. The group instead wants to work alongside Fletcher, and local and central government, to create an outcome.

SOUL spokesperson Pania Newton says, “We’ve exhausted all legal and political means available to us but haven’t given up hope. We’ve been inundated with support from around the country, following the Sunday current affairs story of the campaign in September, watched by more than 500,000 viewers. Since then we’ve received tens of thousands of Facebook views.”

Brendan Corbett of SOUL says New Zealanders keep asking what they can do to support the campaign. “Our answer is a virtual occupation,” he says.

Corbett adds that those visiting the website Protect Ihumatao and registering with the occupation, are represented by a personalised place-marker.  This place-marker allows their name to appear on an early New Zealand survey map of the area.  The map locates SHA 62 next to the neighbouring Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve, which borders the Manukau Harbour. The proposed housing development is a stone’s throw from Auckland International airport. 

The Virtual Occupation site also encourages supporters to activate automated messages to Mayor Phil Goff and Housing Minister Nick Smith. These messages seek local and central government support for a process of independent facilitation with interested parties over the future of the block. 

"With the amazing help and support from Sugar & Partners we were able to boost our creative media campaign to protect Ihumātao,” says Newton. “When people choose to join this virtual occupation they call on the Auckland Council and the Crown to take action to protect Ihumātao from development. 

None of us wants a stand-off. From our point of view, a physical occupation is not an ideal way to create New Zealand history but, it has been a means in our history to get traction in relation to truly unjust situations. Instead, we want to work with Fletcher and government to explore a range of options and knit together an innovative proposal that all parties can support,” Corbett says.

The 32-hectare block in question was confiscated from local iwi in 1863 at the start of the New Zealand wars, farmed by the Wallace family, then gazetted as an SHA in 2015. 

Newton reinforces her commitment to the campaign and its kaupapa of respect. "Along with other SOUL campaigners, I am not going to stop looking for creative ways to protect Ihumātao from development,” she says. “We are in for the long haul, and have many more ideas stowed away.

In the past, I have always felt stumped when asked constantly whether there is going to be a physical occupation at Ihumātao and when it will occur. From today on I can say it has now started with the virtual occupation. Let’s see where that will lead us."