27 Feb 2020

Slavery trial: 12-year-old hit with secateurs, Napier High Court told

6:24 pm on 27 February 2020

A Samoan man, who the Crown says was trafficked to New Zealand and used as a slave, says the accused threw a pair of secateurs at his 12-year-old cousin so hard they stuck in his arm.

Joseph Auga Matamata aka Viliamu Samu in court

Joseph Auga Matamata in court. Photo: RNZ/ Anusha Bradley

The trial of Hastings-based Samoan chief Joseph Auga Matamata is in its third week at the High Court in Napier. He denies 24 charges of human trafficking and slavery, involving 13 Samoan nationals, over a 26-year period.

One of them, who is the 11th complainant to give evidence, said he and his two cousins, who all have name suppression, were adopted by Matamata in Samoa in June 2016.

Five months later, aged 19, 18 and 12, and with residency visas in hand, they flew to Auckland to live and work with their new adoptive father.

However, once here they often worked 10 to 14-hour days in orchards without any pay.

He described working until 11pm with headtorches and being beaten with a stick by Matamata if he worked too slowly.

Once he was hit in the face with a bottle, he told the court.

"He ... used it to hit my face. My lips were swollen. He punched by mouth."

But he got off lightly compared to how his cousins were treated, he said. His 18-year-old cousin was once badly assaulted by Matamata, who they called Auga, because he had found out the teenager had asked his orchard boss for some money, he said.

"He hit his head on the corner of the dining table... many times... and he hit him with the broom handle and the handle broke."

His 12-year-old cousin was once hit so hard with a pair of secatuers they got lodged in his upper arm, he told the court.

"There was a lot of bleeding, so he tore a part of his shirt to cover the arm. However, the bleeding was excessive so Auga took him to hospital."

After being treated at the hospital, he said his cousin came back to the orchard and continued working with one hand.

Through tears he also described how he was sometimes ordered by Matamata to beat his young cousin.

"I would do that because I was scared, otherwise I would be beaten," he said.

Matamata is a Samoan Matai, which gives him a chiefly status, and earlier witnesses have described how this meant they had to obey his every command.

After working in the fields, the three cousins would have to do chores at home and they weren't allowed to leave Matamata's house or speak with family in Samoa without his permission.

"I was just like working, working, working with no money and there were a lot of things that I wanted to go to but I was not allowed."

The man, now aged 23 and living in New Zealand, said he and his 18-year-old cousin eventually ran away from Matamata's house in November 2018, jumping the tall perimeter fence in the middle of the night, making their way to another relative's house in Hastings.

Under cross examination by defence lawyer Roger Philip, the man admitted he had never discussed money with his adoptive father before coming to New Zealand.

He said he knew from talking to other relatives that had come to New Zealand with Matamata, what life was like.

"Yes, they told me but I still wanted to come to New Zealand."

He also said Matamata was supportive of him playing club rugby while in New Zealand and he even won an award for being the best player, despite not being allowed to play all the games.

Earlier in the trial, Philip urged the jury to keep an open mind saying the trial was "really about an extended Samoan family and their relationships".

Two more complainants will give evidence this and next week, and the defendant is expected to give evidence at the end of next week.

  • Slavery trial: Defendant beat worker with firewood, court hears
  • Samoan teens allegedly kept as slaves by Hastings chief
  • Samoan nationals promised work but used as slaves High Court told