Analysis | Politics

The Late Mohammed Apisai Tora Was An Independent Free Spirit Who Spoke His Mind Without Fear

When we peel away these layers of perceptions we would find an incredible person, sincere and committed to helping the welfare of ordinary people.
10 Aug 2020 11:33
The Late Mohammed Apisai Tora Was An Independent Free Spirit Who Spoke His Mind Without Fear
The late Mohammed Apisai Tora addressing a TradeUnion Conference in Budapest Hungary, 1968.

Analysis:

The late Mohammed Apisai Tora was often regarded as a rebel.

He earned that tag – a rabble-rouser – from his early days as a trade unionist and voice for cane farmers and workers.

When we peel away these layers of perceptions we would find an incredible person, sincere and committed to helping the welfare of ordinary people.

History

Although he was a prominent member of the iTaukei Movement in the 1987 political upheaval, he mellowed in later years. He attended a FijiFirst rally in 2014 at his Sabeto Village where he was a chief. Although he sat quietly during the two-hour meeting, he declined to comment.

But the villagers said he was supporting FijiFirst. The party’s general secretary Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, now Attorney-General and Minister for Economy, had addressed that meeting.

Mr Tora had been earlier accused as racist and was jailed for eight months in 2005 for an illegal assembly in relation to the 2000 coup by George Speight.

He and 12 Sabeto villagers seized a military checkpoint and set up a roadblock near Nadi International Airport to demand that the late Ratu Josefa Iloilo be appointed President after the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was forced to step down. That might have been the turning point for Mr Tora.

The former veteran politician and trade unionist began his activism in the labour movement and the cane fields of the West in the 1950s.

The movement was led by Mr Tora and James Anthony who fought for better wages for oil company workers. The Colonial Sugar Refinery Company was told that cane farmers should be treated humanely because they were neither slaves nor servants of the company. Some plantations were set on fire as a result.

The late Mohammed Apisai Tora (left), with his first cousins Timoci Naco and Luisa Tulele

The late Mohammed Apisai Tora (left), with his first cousins Timoci Naco and Luisa Tulele

Politics

From the ashes of these fires and workers’ protests two political parties the Federation Party led by the late A D Patel and the late Siddiq Koya and the National Democratic Party led by Mr Tora and the late Isikeli Nadalo, merged to form the National Federation Party.

The split in the predominantly Indo-Fijian NFP in the 1977 elections must have disillusioned Mr Tora and drove him to become a nationalist, advocating indigenous issues.

In the following election in 1982, he was wooed by Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara to be the campaign manager for the ruling Alliance Party.

He gladly accepted the job. One evening he invited this writer to his residence in Domain Road in Suva and showed me a clip of a documentary on a rally by Hitler in a large German stadium during the Great Economic Depression of the 1930s.

Nationalistic music was played before Hitler gave a rousing address promising the people he would bail them out from their economic misery if they supported him. He was inspired by the facial expression of the people who were emotional and in tears.

He adopted for the first time the use of music in the Alliance election campaign which featured the Raiwaqa-based band, Rootstrata and the famous Kadavu Choir.

The Alliance won the election but narrowly. Mr Tora became a Cabinet minister but because of his vocal and inquisitive nature, he was demoted in a reshuffle.

His actions in 1987 must have been born from frustrations. When Fiji returned to democratic elections in 2014 he was happy that one of the policies he stood for in the NFP had become a reality – the one person one vote in one national electoral roll.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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