Reflections On Independence Day And What It Really Means To Us

This is an edited version of Nemani Delaibatiki’s My Say in the 4 the Record programme on FBC TV last night   Today (yesterday), 46 years ago, we were on
10 Oct 2016 11:00
Reflections On Independence Day And What It Really Means To Us
The late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. and The late Siddiq Koya.

This is an edited version of Nemani Delaibatiki’s My Say in the 4 the Record programme on FBC TV last night


Today (yesterday), 46 years ago, we were on the eve of the historic Independence Day. There was excitement in the air.

Rehearsals and preparations were being done to avoid any hiccups the following day.

At Queen Victoria School in Matavatucou, Tailevu, a strong battalion of cadets was also preparing to join the parade at Albert Park in Suva.

I was part of that battalion. I remember we had starched pressed and ironed Khaki shirts and sulus hanging in our dormitories.

The uniforms looked crisp and smart.

Last minute haircuts were part of the preparation. We had to look clean, tidy and immaculate.

There was no room for shoddiness or error.

We had been told that Prince Charles would hand over the instruments of Independence to the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, who was chief minister at the time.

As a sixth former, I did not fully comprehend the implications of this historic event, other than that Fiji would become independent from the British.

To me it meant that we would run our own affairs and decide what was good for our country. The idea sounded great. We were going to have democracy, the freedom to choose for ourselves and the freedom to express ourselves.

I and my peers had little idea of the political undercurrents at the time.

There was a sense of foreboding in some sections of the community on what the future held.

The British had provided peace and stability and some did not mind some of the restrictive policies.

The concept of freedom was new and there were apprehensions that independence would come at a big cost as it had happened in other countries.

Violent struggles and even bloodshed preceded the attainment of independence.

After the initial tension, independence arrived here without any incident and it surprised the skeptics.

It was the pioneers of the predominantly Indo-Fijian National Federation Party who had pushed not only for independence but for a one-man one-vote electoral system.

Most of Indo-Fijians were descendants of the Indentured labour system and naturally viewed the British with hostility.

India’s independence from the British Empire on August 15, 1947, after years of civil disobedience and non-violent struggle, gave the Indo-Fijians here the impetus to campaign for independence here.

They strongly believed that we had the capacity to be independent. To go the full way, they advocated the one-man, one-vote system.

But the iTaukei chiefs and their people were wary of being independent. They had lived a sheltered life under the British whom they trusted to protect their indigenous interests. So they were suspicious of the motive behind the independence move. At the time the population of the two major races was fairly even. In the absence of a proper census at the time, it was even thought that the Indo-Fijians had a majority.

It influenced perceptions that the Indo-Fijians were seeking political power.

A compromise was reached in London where a Constitution was agreed between a NFP delegation led by Siddiq Koya and a Fijian Association delegation led by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

One significant component of that Constitution was the conduct of voting in a general election on the basis of ethnicity.

This gave rise to racial tension and in 1977, Sakeasi Butadroka appeared on the scene with his own brand of nationalism which called for iTaukei political supremacy.

Back in 1972 at the first general election, Ratu Sir Kamisese and his Alliance Party won and formed the first democratically elected government under the new Constitution.

The party, often referred to as the three-legged stool, comprising the Fijian Association  (iTaukei), Indian Alliance (Indo-Fijians) and General Voters Party (part-Europeans and other minority races),  mirrored the electoral system.

Mr Butadroka was an assistant minister in the Alliance Government.

In the ensuing five years, his views began to change.

While the iTaukei held the political power through the Alliance, he said that could change because of the provisions of the then Constitution.

As long as Ratu Kamisese or another iTaukei was PM everything would be okay.

If people were asked at the time about the possibility of coup in future, they would have laughed it off.

Arthur Jennings, one of the first Fijians to wear an All Blacks jersey, stood on the floor of Parliament as a National Federation MP, and posed the question.

If the NFP won a general election, would there be a coup? It was quickly dismissed by the Government side.

In 1977, the NFP defeated the Alliance in the April general election. There was no coup.

But the NFP squandered the opportunity to form a government because of in-fighting and could not settle on its lineup.

By the time it finally did, it was too late.

Using his executive power, the then Governor-General, the late Ratu Sir George Cakobau, had recalled Ratu Sir Kamisese to lead a caretaker government and prepare the country for a fresh general election in September which the Alliance won by a big majority.

Mr Butadroka had won enough iTaukei votes to cause the Alliance loss. However, in the new election, the Indo Fijian votes had split because of the NFP division between the Flower and Dove factions. It gave the Alliance an easy run to victory.

Mr Butadroka’s brand of anti-Indo-Fijian politics began to take root.

Ten years later, similar sentiments were expressed by members of the Taukei Movement which marched through the streets of Suva in protest against what they described as the Indian-dominated National Federation Party-Fiji Labour Party coalition, even though it was led by an iTaukei, the late Dr Timoci Bavadra.

The demonstrations led to the first coup in 1987.

Ethnic tension continued after two coups later.

But the takeover in 2006, deposing the Laisenia Qarase government, began to set things right.

Today we have a Constitution that has eliminated voting by race and has called everyone Fijian.

The equal citizenry provision, one national constituency and voting not on the basis of race, have created an enabling environment that encourages us to live peacefully and treat each other equally with respect and dignity.

While our transition to independence has been smooth and peaceful, we know that the road that led us to this point has not been easy.

We’ve made mistakes along the way, we have learned and moved on.

As we celebrate Fiji Day we need to realise that Independence comes with responsibility and national pride.

I now know more about what Independence really means since the day the noble banner blue was hoisted for the first time at Albert Park in 1970.

It means that we must embrace principles that unite us.

It means that we must stand for peace, equality, human rights, freedom and the rule of law.

There are still some among us who want to drag us back to a dark past to relive the politics of hatred and division.

This we must resist strongly for the sake of our children’s future.

Edited by Rusiate Mataika




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