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ANALYSIS: Golden Years Here After Our Cleansing Process

ANALYSIS: Golden Years Here After Our Cleansing Process
October 10
10:38 2015

The transformation has not been easy but we have made changes that matter

I was among the thousands who were present at Albert Park for Independence Day on October 10, 1970.

For weeks prior to his momentous occasion, the Queen Victoria School Cadet Battalion, of which I was a member, methodically went through the drills to make sure we were ready for the big day.

It was my final year at QVS, in Form Six and preparing to sit for my New Zealand University Entrance (NZUE). The QVS battalion was part of the parade.

We were constantly reminded at school to ensure that our khaki uniforms (shirt and sulu) were well starched and ironed. They had to be neat and crisp, no crumples. We had to look immaculate for the parade.

Personally, I knew this was the biggest event in Fijian history after the Deed of Cession in Levuka on October 10,  1874. I did not fully comprehend the implications. All that I knew was that we were becoming an independent nation. Britain had cut the apron strings. In a sense we were on our own now. I had mixed feelings, one of indifference. I had been taught by British expatriates so their powerful influence weighed heavily on me.

I was sad to see Britain go because it had provided us a sense of security and belonging. But I was nervous and excited about the future. If I was able to look at the crystal ball and know what the future held in store, I might have done some things differently.

But I went with my instincts. Foremost on my mind was to pass my NZUE. Then I was going to go to medical school if my marks permitted that.

I passed my UE but decided to take up one of my life’s passions, reading and writing. I joined the Fiji Times as a cadet journalist in 1972.

It was when I started work that I began to appreciate the education and training on life’s lessons I received at QVS.

At 17 years old, standing on Albert Park and participating in the Independence celebrations, I wondered where would I be when I turned 21.

I had made a major transition when I shifted from a rural school to QVS in 1965 as a Form One student.

The new intakes were told that the school was a level playing field.

One prefect told us: “If you are a Ratu or chief, hang it at the gate and enter. When you leave the school compound, you can pick it up and wear it again. Everyone is equal here. There are no classes or preferential treatment. The school rules apply to everyone equally.”

I had a number of Ratu in my class. We understood each other and we became very good friends. We ate together, played together, studied together and prayed together. When it came to tradition and culture, we learned where to draw the line. We could smash each other in a rugby game or order them to carry out a task when you  were in authority. But it would be different in a cultural and traditional setting which demanded iTaukei protocol was observed.

It was unwritten but clearly understood.

It was a principle that stood me in good stead in the years that followed as a journalist. As a political writer for the old Lami-based Fiji Sun, I used to get calls from the late Aid Lady Lala Mara (Ro Teimumu Kepa’s elder sister), wife of Fiji’s longest-serving prime minister, the late Ratu Sir Kamisese. She was my paramount chief as Roko Tui Dreketi.

If she did not like something I wrote, she would say it in a round-about way, in a nice way. They were friendly calls and my training at QVS helped me recognise that she understood my role as a journalist as opposed to my position as one of her subjects in the traditional sense.

At QVS I found the Ratu in my class very humble and dignified. We developed a strong spirit of camaraderie that saw QVS excel in sports and the academic field. We were taught and trained that we were the leaders and fathers of tomorrow and education provided us the foundation to succeed.

Discrimination was a foreign word. While we were predominantly iTaukei, I could not recall any discriminatory comments against any race or gender. I supposed we were all focused on the purpose why we were at QVS. There was little time to think of other things other than school. When we received our first Indo-Fijian students and later female students, it was business as usual. They were embraced with open arms.

That was the QVS I knew and will always treasure because it taught me principles that I still apply today. They have significantly influenced my outlook about life.

Prior to 1970, our national political leaders from the Fijian Association later to become the main constituent body of the Alliance Party and the National Federation Party debated what sort of independent Fiji we wanted.

The predominantly Indo-Fijian NFP under the late A.D Patel, S. M Koya and others wanted a common roll voting system as we have today, or one man one vote. The only difference was that they would still have constituencies. Today there is one  constituency.

But the Fijian Association led by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara fought for the inclusion of  communal seats based on ethnic voting.

When the constitutional talks ended in London, Ratu Sir Kamisese declared in iTaukei “Sa noda na qaqa” (Victory is ours). Mr Koya also recognised that while they could not achieve A.D Patel’s dream, the compromise was the best way for Fiji at the time.

But radicals from both sides of the political divide criticised it.

Those on the NFP side said the Constitution did not go far enough. While pro-iTaukei activists said it was a sellout of iTaukei interests.

It was fortunate that the moderate heads steered Fiji to a new constitution in 1970.

It was not a perfect constitution and it was destined to be reviewed at one stage because since 1970, racial tension continued to dominate political discussions. Within the iTaukei community there was this perception and fear that the Indo-Fijian community wanted political control. It exploded in 1977 when ultra-nationalist Sakeasi Butadroka called for the repatriation of Indo-Fijians back to India. He was expelled from the Alliance Party and formed his own Fijian Nationalist Party. As a result the Alliance lost the April 1977 elections when Mr Butadroka took enough iTaukei votes to allow the NFP to romp in with a historic victory. But internal squabbling within the NFP prevented it from forming the Government. The then Governor-General, Ratu Sir George Cakobau used his powers to call for fresh elections which returned Ratu Sir Kamisese to power.

The racial tension continued and spilled into the streets of Suva in 1987 when the Taukei Movement protested against the    Dr Timoci Bavadra-led Fiji Labour Party-NFP coalition government. This was followed by the military coup of Sitiveni Rabuka.

Racial tension continued to deteriorate and it manifested itself in the 2000 Speight coup and the riots and violence that followed.

Even after the 2001 and 2006 general elections, the tension carried on. Some of the most bitter and acrimonious clashes between FLP’s leader and former PM Mahendra Chaudhry and SDL PM Laisenia Qarase took place during this period. That is why the 2013 Constitution was long overdue. It removed the racial compartments that bred suspicion and distrust between ethnic groups.

It brought everyone back to a level playing field where we are equal and due recognition is given to the indigenous people or the iTaukei, their ownership of iTaukei lands, their unique culture, customs, traditions and language.

These principles are sacrosanct. They are critical for our future destiny as a nation.

The new Fiji is a far cry from the 1970 Independence Day celebrations. We have gone through the cleansing process and we are now living the golden years.

Some members of my 1970 QVS Form Six class have passed on and missed out on these exciting times. But I am grateful to witness the dawn of a new era in our political evolution as a nation.

The transformation has not been easy but we are there at last.

Feedback:  nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

 

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