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Companies patent nature and sell us back what is already ours

Interview with Nandor Tzancos, Green MP in New Zealand

Nandor TzancosFirst published in Green World, 2003 by Derek Wall

Founded in 1972 as Values, the New Zealand Green Party was the first national Green Party in the world.  It has helped transform NZ politics moving the country from First Past the Post to PR.  As part of a loose coalition of radical groups, the Alliance, it elected the first Green Party MP in a first past the post constituency in the world.  In 1999 it supported a Labour Government but dramatically forced a snap General Election this year when Labour decided to bring GM crops into the country.  I was lucky enough to talk to its representative Nandor Tzancos, the world’s only Rastafarian MP.

He grew up in a political household, ‘My father fled his homeland, Hungary, after the 1956 uprising. My mother left her homeland, South Africa, at a time when apartheid legislation was being constructed.’  His own activism started in the 1980s, during the miners strike. ‘I ended up at RAF Molesworth when the peace village was evicted that led me to direct action and more militant politics. From there I joined the Peace Convoy and first experienced for myself police brutality at the battle of the beanfield’.

Settling in NZ he became involved in the Cannabis Legalisation Party before becoming a Green MP in 1999.  I asked him about the Greens impact ‘We have 9 MPs in a house of 120. We have a consistent level of support of 5 - 10% of the population. We have doubled our support among Maori people in the past 3 years, from 5 to 10%, We have had a number of small but successful programs, like funding for edible gardens in schools, environmental legal aid, a register of toxic sites etc etc. At the same time, the fundamental and radical change required in this time is not taking place.’

Nandor’s spiritual beliefs are closely linked to such calls for anti-capitalist transformation.  ‘It begins with private ownership - the idea that people can own the earth, as if fleas could own a dog. Ownership means the ability to sell and trade. It is different from use rights - which is what most indigenous law is about. My right to come and grow food, or gather it, in a particular place is about meeting needs. Property ownership is about the ability for me to live on one side of the world and speculate on bits of land on the other side of the world without even seeing it, without regard to whether I need it or whether people living in the area need it more.

This is what capitalism is. Since the first limited liability companies, the Dutch East India Company and the British East India Company, we have seen the kidnapping of 20 - 60 million African people as slaves, the colonisation of the planet and the rape, murder and exploitation of indigenous people around the world. Colonisation was firstly about mercantile empires, not political ones. It was all about forcing indigenous people to accept private individual ownership of land, so it can be alienated (bought or stolen) and pillaged. Political colonisation was just about how to enforce that ownership.’


He argues, that ownership is being extend through institutions such as the WTO and the crusade for privatisation,  ‘Today that is going even further with the creation of property rights over public assets such as water, intellectual property, and with private ownership of DNA sequences through genetic engineering and biopiracy. Even traditional healing plants are under threat. Here we have multinationals attempting to patent piko piko and other native plants. This is all part of the "free trade" corporate globalisation agenda, to create tradeable rights over our common wealth, accumulate ownership and then sell us back what is already ours.

‘Ital is the opposite of that. Ital is natural living. I&I say that the land is from the creator, creativity is from the creator, life is from the creator. So how can a person own any of that in any true sense?


Such views have helped fuel that anti-GM campaign, In early 1999 the Wild Greens, a direct action group associated with the Green Party, broke into Lincoln University and destroyed an experimental crop of GM potatoes. Nandor spoke on behalf of the group to explain the reasons, although no evidence ever came to light about who did the action.


The Greens forced a Royal Commission of Inquiry into GM. ‘There were heaps of representations to the inquiry - about 11 000. 92% said "keep GM in the lab". The Royal Commission ignored those people, ignored the strong evidence against growing GM in Aotearoa, and recommended 'proceed, but with caution'. The government responded with window dressing, including a temporary ban on (commercial) release of GM, which runs out next October. That is what our disagreement with the government was largely over, and is still a big issue. Last Saturday we had a march of 10 000 in Auckland, Last year we saw 15 000 on the streets. In a population of 3 million, those are big marches - the biggest for at least a decade’  Nandor argues the  Labour government are committed to GM, because they want a free trade deal with the USA.’


Another area of work has been the cannabis campaign, which Rastafarians see as a sacred herb placed on the earth for the benefit of all ‘60% of people agree some kind of change is needed. . The Prime Minister and the minister of Health both want to see change. The question is, what form will such change take?


Recent moves in the UK and Canada have helped to keep the issue on the table and there are lots of useful things to do before the next election, such as allowing medical use. After that, I hope things will be different.’


Cannabis, GM and anti-capitalism are all part of a bigger picture for Nandor, ‘Ecological thinking is not an option - it is a must.’


Black deep ecology

Rastafarianism, a religious movement founded in the 1930s in Jamaica and made global by Bob Marley, has deep green roots. Rastafarians practice ital, which means living in harmony with nature and building a local economy.  Ital involves a vegan organic diet. In the 1970s Prime Minister Michael Manley used Rasta rhetoric to win an election victory against the forces of Babylon but failed to rid Jamaica of the multinationals.


‘Rasta is about community based and cooperative ways of operating…  about self reliance  - how you get your food, how you travel, all of that. Rasta is about love - supporting each other to live right. But Rasta is also about justice. The movement for reparations to Africa, and to the descendants of slaves in the west, is about recognising that the wealth of the western powers, is built ultimately on the slavery of African people, on the theft of African, Asian, Pacifica and American resources and deliberate destruction of non-European cultures. Same way I&I must support the struggle of indigenous people here in Aotearoa for restoration and for self determination. Rasta is about knowing our past and acting on that knowledge.


Capitalism is also built on self-hatred. Consumer society depends on us being unhappy with who we are. Therefore we need to buy this car, this stereo, this clothing label, this house, to be satisfied and complete. Of course this gets us nowhere except into another cycle of self-hatred. We have to buy stuff to make us look different and smell different so we can conform to some fucked up idea of what is beautiful or right. Rasta says the most beautiful thing you can be is yourself. Natural hair, natural smell, natural living - that is ital, that is dread. Babylon hates this, because it cannot be commodified.


So I am a Rasta. I am also an MP for the Green Party. Both these ways of being are about natural law, about social justice, ecological wisdom, peace and true democracy.


Other Black deep ecology groups include the Mother Earth group in Trinidad and the MOVE organisation in Philadelphia. "MOVE's work is to stop industry from poisoning the air, the water, the soil, and to put an end to the enslavement of life - people, animals, any form of life.’ The best introduction to black deep ecology comes in Alice Walker’s essay ‘Nobody was suppose to survive’ in her book ‘Living by the Word’.


Web sites

Move -

NZ cannabis campaign



March 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism