Tapu Misa on current affairs

Tapu Misa is a Herald columnist focussing on Pacific affairs

Tapu Misa: Macsyna King, a woman wronged

The book so many maligned before it came out reveals a mother we haven't met
Macsyna King deserves better. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Macsyna King deserves better. Photo / Steven McNicholl

When I last wrote about Macsyna King, I said I didn't think I'd like her. I've changed my mind. I certainly think she outclasses the Wellington radio announcer who posted on Facebook that after receiving her advance copy of "Breaking Silence", she had "spat on it, wiped my ass on it, and ripped it up".

Broadcaster Mike Hosking was more polite. He remained unmoved after he'd "flicked through" the book. But then he already knew what King was going to say. We get the story you'd expect, he says. "A story of neglect, of misery, of violence, of despair, of a hopeless mother and a tragic individual."

Detractors have read the worst possible motives into King's desire to tell her story in her own words, and publisher and journalist Ian Wishart's desire to give her the space to do it. They fixate on the fact that King may gain financially from the book, despite Wishart's repeated denials.

I say prove him a liar, folks, or move on.

I don't know Wishart, but I find the sanctimonious pronouncements on him nauseating.

Is it possible that Wishart has chosen to tell King's story because he sincerely feels, as I do, that King has been victimised enough, that she's been tried and convicted by a media juggernaut ready to believe the worst of her on the skimpiest of evidence, and that she deserves the chance to salvage some dignity, to fight back against a portrayal that tells only part of the story?

Everyone, after all, has had something to say about Macsyna. Those half-sisters she hardly knew who relished their 15 minutes of fame on national media. The criminal boyfriend who falsely claimed to have recorded her "confession" and who later admitted in the coroner's court that he wasn't all that careful with the truth.

Imagine your life reduced to sound bites of everything you've ever done wrong - and many things you haven't.

Macsyna is the Bad Mother who bred indiscriminately and then neglected her children, the predatory older woman who preyed on the baby-faced Kahui, the sexually promiscuous slut who couldn't stay faithful, the druggie who used P and loved parties more than her children, the child abuser who stayed silent during the police investigation.

Oh, how we've loved to hate her. But the woman who emerges from the book is a far more complex human being. There isn't the space here to list the ways in which she's been unfairly maligned. Yes, she made incredibly dumb choices. But she's smart, hard-working, big on cleanliness and loved her kids.

She never slept with Chris' father Banjo, for example. She smoked P once, when her children weren't around. It resulted in a manic cleaning spree.

Her addiction was to alcohol, which she was introduced to at 20, along with parties, when her relationship with her high school sweetheart was souring. They'd gone out through high school, lost their virginity in their final year, and then had two children in quick succession.

But he wouldn't "man up". While she studied, worked and ran the household, he was unemployed and addicted to video games.

Her childhood was awful, yes. Her father was a violent man; her mother abandoned her and her three younger siblings twice. The first time was when Macsyna was about 6, after her father had raped and beaten her mother so badly she had to be hospitalised.

And the second time, years later, was at the end of Macsyna's third form year, after her mother was reunited with her children and had taken them all back to Wairoa, where she'd grown up.

One day her mother and her boyfriend went for a drive and never came back.

Macsyna decided they were "irresponsible, stupid, selfish people". But she didn't sit around feeling sorry for herself. She stopped crying and hardened up.

She swore, too, that she'd be a different kind of parent - and for the most part she was. It was Macsyna who insisted that she and Chris Kahui move out of the Kahuis' Clendon house before their premature twin boys came home from hospital.

So when the story of Chris and Cru's deaths broke, and the Herald reported on the "small, shoddy" three-bedroomed house where the twin babies were thought to have lived with 12 people who were "drinking, smoking dope and cigarettes, partying, fighting - and sleeping in rotating shifts" - an image that became embedded in most people's minds. We were wrong.

They lived in a warm, clean house in Mangere, where Macsyna had seen to it that the babies had their own nursery. That's what she was doing when hospital staff were judging her for not visiting her babies often enough, which she disputes.

It was Macsyna, too, who stole hospital equipment so she could read her babies' oxygen levels at home. That's how she knew to take them to the hospital a few weeks before their deaths, when they were admitted for bronchiolitis. The night before her fateful night off, she'd taken her 1-year-old son to hospital, worried about his flu-like symptoms.

This is not a woman who would have harmed her babies, or delayed taking them to the hospital.

And despite the calculated and professional dismantling of King's reputation by Chris Kahui's defence team, the weight of evidence has never pointed in her direction.

- NZ Herald

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