Analysis

Moderates See Ro Teimumu As Guiding Light In Their Battle Against Right Wingers

She was the first in the party to embrace Fijian as a common name. As the Roko Tui Dreketi (Paramount chief of Rewa and Burebasaga) she gave her blessings to an unprecedented move to adopt descendants of Indian indentured labourers by the Tui Noco
05 Jul 2019 15:32
Moderates See Ro Teimumu As Guiding Light In Their  Battle Against Right Wingers
SODELPA MP Ro Teimumu Kepa.

Analysis:

Ro Teimumu Kepa may be in the background watching the developments in SODELPA politics.

But the MP and Roko Tui Dreketi (Paramount chief of Rewa and Burebasaga Confederacy) knows what’s going on.

She is fully briefed by party members who see her as one of the leading voices of reason in the party.

In fact, they regard her as a key mentor in the moderates’  bid to challenge the right wing ideologies of the new leadership and steer the party back to the centre.

Declaration

Among her contributions in the last term of Parliament, two issues stood out.

One was her declaration in Parliament as then Leader of the Opposition that she had accepted Fijian as a common name to foster peace and racial harmony.

Second was her  acceptance of the descendants of Girmitiya, the indentured Indian labourers , to be drafted into the chiefly mataqali of the Tui Noco as “Luvedra (children)  na (of) Ratu”.

Some Girmitiya were rescued off  Nasiliai, on the coast of Rewa by the coastal villagers at about 8.30pm, May 11, 1884 when the ship Syria hit a reef and sank.

On the common identity, Ro Teimumu went against SODELPA’s position. Her bold move only served to enrage the right wingers who were more determined to clip her wings.

She had tried to steer the party towards a multiracialism path by trying to tone down or remove racist rhetorics.

Constitution

Earlier, she had stepped down as party leader against her own free will and choice. She was forced to do it by an amended party constitution which was pushed through by the right wing reformers who had targeted her after the exposure of the controversial  Gaunavinaka Report.

The report, produced after an audit of the Opposition Office, was highly critical of her leadership and the office administration. It led to a split in the party between the reformers and Ro Teimumu’s camp. An inquiry that followed became a whitewash after all parties were pardoned.

Influence

The very issues that Ro Teimumu had been focusing on have been highlighted by independent arbiter Mesake Nawari in his report to the party.

Her concerns about growing right wing influence in the party have been vindicated.

Even Opposition and party leader Sitiveni Rabuka has not changed his stance on the common name. He revealed this in the last session of Parliament. He preferred the people of Fiji.

Last year, he told University of Fiji law students that a possible alternative common name was Fiji Islander.

SODELPA members who agree with Ro Teimumu continue to grow in numbers. She was not popular among the right wingers when she  endorsed the move by the Tui Noco to adopt the descendants of the Girmitiya.

But the unprecedented move was hailed as having a positive impact on race relations in this country, especially between the two major ethnic groups, the iTaukei and Indo-Fijians.

It was reflected in her rise in popularity in the then Fiji Sun-Razor opinion poll.

Party members vividly remember the profound words she spoke when she embraced the Girmitiya descendants last year.

She said “it is not the historical details nor the political implications of the indentured labour system I want to talk about today.”

“What I want to dwell on are the principles human decency and the milk of human kindness based on the foundation of God’s love for all mankind.

“For those who may not be aware, just a scant 6 years before the Syria ran aground, Rewa and the Roko Tui Dreketi at that time had welcomed the first Christian missionary to Viti Levu, Rev. William Cross who arrived in Rewa from Lakeba in 1878.

Principles

“Christianity could NOT have been pervasive at that time, nor taken firm root in all the villages of Rewa.

“But it is my honest belief that the principles of love and kindness, the traditions of a warm welcoming and a nurturing nature had been firmly planted.

“The very same spirit motivated our Noco villagers to such brave acts of kindness and nobility.

“It was in this spirit that the men and women of our Noco coastline dared to implement one of the greatest sea rescues of our history.

“Though they must have been bewildered and confused by the exotic new arrivals, of another race and language, the people of Noco girded their loins and raced out to the Nasilai reef in their canoes, to pull survivors to shore.

Instructions

“Stories passed down to us from our forefathers, tell of our defiance of the instructions of Colonial powers to bury the dead in a mass grave and instead honoured each one by digging individual graves.

“When this day is over, I would like to ask each and everyone of us here to take away the spirit of love and mutual respect that governed what must have been one of the first interactions between our races.

“Had we possessed the wisdom and foresight to ensure the history of this interaction as the guiding light and hallmark of all future relations between our people, Fiji would be the envy of the world and indeed be the Fiji in the old television advertisement, of the way the world should be.”

It is this spirit that the moderates want to promote and spread in the party. And they are looking at Ro Teimumu for inspiration.

Feedbacknemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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