23 Feb 2024

Fa'anānā Efeso Collins' death brings unity in grief

From Focus on Politics, 7:00 pm on 23 February 2024
Focus on Politics: Fa'anānā Efeso Collins in front of empty parliament seat tribute

Photo: RNZ

"E le tu fa'amauga se tagata: no one stands alone, no one succeeds alone, and - for me - no one suffers alone" - Fa'anānā

Parliament was brought to a standstill on Wednesday, with politics set aside after the sudden and shocking death of  first-term Green MP Fa'anānā Efeso Collins.

A champion for his people, a tireless advocate, a good man - such were the tributes as Parliament mourned the loss of one its own. 

In keeping with Samoan custom, he is referred to here as Fa'anānā the matai or chiefly title conferred on him.

Fa'anānā collapsed about 9am on Wednesday. Emergency services rushed to revive him, but just over an hour later his death at just 49 years old was confirmed. He had been taking part in a charity event in Auckland's Britomart, this last act - as with so much of his life - focused on helping his community. 

After news of his death, Green co-leader Marama Davidson and others in the team flew north to support his wife and two daughters. Remaining behind at Parliament to front the media and steady the shocked caucus, a tearful co-leader James Shaw soon appeared before the cameras.

"Aotearoa and the Green party have lost one of the kindest, and most dedicated champions of fairness," he said.

Born and raised in Ōtara, Fa'anānā was a devout Christian who led a local church youth group and ran mentoring programmes. He studied at Auckland University where he became active in student politics, the first Polynesian to be elected president of the students' association in 1999.

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Fa'anānā's political career began as a member of the Ōtara-Papatoetoe local board from 2013, then as Auckland Councillor for the Manukau ward three years later. He stood on the Labour ticket but was not afraid to challenge the party line: ruffling feathers with criticism of the Auckland regional fuel tax and the Covid-19 vaccine rollout - in both cases arguing they left vulnerable communities behind.

In 2022, he rose to nationwide prominence as the Auckland mayoral candidate, coming second to Wayne Brown. Courted then by the Green Party, he was ranked 11th on the list - high enough to enter Parliament based on last year's election night results. Despite this shift in allegiance he maintained his links with many in Labour - and was known for his non-partisan, collaborative openness. 

He stood by his values and beliefs, even in the face of overt racism and death threats throughout his time in politics - one of them serious enough that the bomb squad did a sweep of his home. His maiden speech - delivered less than a week before his death and referred to often in the hours and days afterwards - spoke of his ethos of service: 

"I've come to this House to help. Helping is a deliberate act. I'm here to help this Government govern for all of New Zealand, and I'm here to open the door, enabling our communities to connect better with this House."

His death was deeply felt both by those close to him and those just getting to know him in Parliament, which halted proceedings for the remainder of the week after a brief session allowing leaders to pay respects. Accompanied by waiata and tears, the aroha stretched across party lines - a tragedy bringing MPs together. 

Left and right, from south Auckland to Wellington and across the Pacific, Fa'anānā's impact could be seen in the breadth and depth of grief.

In this week's Focus on Politics, Deputy Political Editor Craig McCulloch marks the death of Green MP Efeso Collins, pulling together the tributes and reflections shared this week by those whose lives he touched.

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