Sam Kuha ends 30 day hunger strike

By Peter de Graaf


Northland hunger striker Sam Kuha has ended his 30-day protest with a hearty "Broadway Brekky" fry-up washed down with two flat whites.

The 59-year-old invalid beneficiary lifted his hunger strike yesterday by tucking into bacon, sausages, hash browns, eggs, tomatoes and toast after Social Development Minister Paula Bennett agreed to meet him within the next two weeks to hear his concerns.

Cafe Malaahi, on Broadway in Kaikohe, was buzzing with media and a steady stream of wellwishers as Mr Kuha had his first meal in a month.

He was joined for breakfast by Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira, who picked up the tab, and Mr Harawira's brother, Arthur.

Mr Kuha said he especially enjoyed the bacon, but after so long without food he found the sausages "a bit rich" and only managed to clear half his plate.

One supporter brought him a bouquet while Millie Cooper - the Kaikohe-based grandmother of Australian rugby player Quade Cooper - dropped off a fresh batch of pipi fritters.

Mr Kuha said he was looking forward to meeting Ms Bennett and giving her a true picture of how beneficiaries were treated on the ground. He hoped their meeting could take place at the same cafe.

"We will treat her with respect and dignity, and I hope we'll get the same in return," he said.

As much as he enjoyed yesterday's breakfast, the best thing about it was what it represented.

"Just eating and having a life again ... I've got a daughter and a grandchild, and I didn't want to get sick. But I was willing to go as far down the road as I had to to make my point," Mr Kuha said.

He said he had achieved what he had set out to, which was at first to highlight his own plight and that of people like him. Later, as support started pouring in, his focus shifted to children going hungry as a result of government policies.

"The stories that came in were heart-breaking. The average New Zealander wouldn't think these things exist. It's shameful," he said.

Mr Harawira said he was honoured to be with Mr Kuha as he broke his hunger strike and praised Ms Bennett for agreeing to meet him.

"Congratulations to Paula for making that call. I think most ministers wouldn't do it."

Mr Kuha now had a chance to explain his concerns to the person in charge, and would do as good a job as anyone in putting a case for the beneficiaries and disabled of New Zealand.

Mr Harawira said sometimes beneficiaries needed a "kick in the arse" - "but you make sure they get fed, and you particularly make sure their children get fed."

Mr Kuha stopped eating on September 14 when his request for a $40 food grant was declined by Work and Income in Kaikohe. He had refused to see a budget adviser because of the two-week wait and because his situation had not changed since his last budget.

He returned a few days later on his motorised wheelchair and used a sledgehammer to smash two windows at Work and Income's Kaikohe office.

He is due back in court on October 30.

Mr Kuha said he had lost at least 13kg during his hunger strike but his financial situation had improved dramatically. Last week, after he saw a budget adviser, he had his allowances re-evaluated by Work and Income and a debt forgiven.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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