Racism – A Recurring Scourge of Fiji -

by Rajendra Prasad

Since the dissolution of the Great Council of Chiefs (GCC) in 2007 by the Bainimarama Government those of and from the chiefly clans, all over Fiji, have reacted variously. Largely, in the absence of any popular resistance, the Government decision has prevailed until now. However, with elections looming, the SODELPA Party, with ethno-centric ideology and following, is campaigning strongly to restore the GCC. Ro Teimumu Kepa, a paramount chief from Rewa is the leader of the SODELPA and holds the view that the GCC was a vital iTaukei institution and should be restored. It was established as an advisory body to the Government during the colonial era (1874-1970). However, after independence, the iTaukei elected their ethnic representatives to the Parliament and need for the GCC to provide such advisory service became obsolete.
GCC not missed
On reflection, such institutions are created to serve particular needs and interests of a society. Occasionally, as the society evolves, such institutions either strengthen or lose relevance and dissolve. The GCC has not met for the last seven years and it has been conclusively proven that no one has been disadvantaged except those that comprised it or those few who benefitted from it. Interestingly, the first coup in 1987 was executed by Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka to restore the chiefly power and authority, as he claimed that the chiefs were the wise men in Fijian society, “…take the power and give it to commoners and you are asking for trouble.” However, once in control, Rabuka forgot about the chiefs and claimed the position of Prime Minister of Fiji and held it from 1992-1999. As if this were not enough, he, a commoner, became the chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs, which conclusively proved that the exclusivity of the GCC for hereditary chiefs was fictitious. Further, following Rabuka’s reign, he was succeeded by Laisenia Qarase, a commoner, which further repudiated the claim that right of leadership in Fiji was the preserve of the chiefs alone. Then why are the chiefs still treasured by such leaders? The sole reason is that chiefs, as territorial leaders, bear enormous clout in uniting their flock to vote for their parties. For this, no cost as reward was too great. For example, the Qarase Government was building a $F40, 000,000 meeting house for the chiefs! Radike Qereqeretabua, a Fijian intellectual referred to it as “a monumental folly of our time” arguing that such funds could have gone a long way in alleviating iTaukei poverty.

Individual rights inviolable
Now as the election is drawing nearer, the former beneficiaries of the GCC are acutely missing it. It is, therefore, not intriguing to note SODELPA’s stridency rising by the day. In the process, the true character and content of its leaders and party philosophy is coming to the surface. Claim to racial superiority and racial supremacy on the grounds of being the indigenous race is now being pursued with vigor. Indeed, such claim grievously contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, which is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. Further, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in the 107th plenary meeting on September 13, 2007 does not claim that human rights of the indigenous people exceed the human rights of non-indigenous peoples. Simply, on the plane of humanity, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone is equal. However, equality for all does not mean that certain exclusive rights, to which the indigenous peoples are entitled, under traditional and customary rights, can also be subject to claim by others. But again such exclusive traditional and customary rights to indigenous peoples cannot and does not mean that they can subjugate or violate the rights of others.

Rabuka endorsed equality
Interestingly, when the 1997 Constitution was being considered, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka had clarified to the Parliament that that there ‘was no provision in the Draft Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples nor is there any intention that there should be provision that would confer on members of any indigenous community anywhere in the world, inherent rights of paramountcy or predominance over other citizens.’ Instead, he clarified, that the intention was to ‘obligate the State authorities in the countries concerned to ensure that members of their indigenous communities, as individuals and as groups, are given the same fundamental rights and freedoms as constitutionally guaranteed for all citizens’. However, since 1999, following defeat of his SVT Party at the polls, Mr. Rabuka has been wondering in the wilderness and was courting the extremist fringe but with little success. His use by date has long expired but for him, having tasted the blood of politics, it is not easy to hang the boots. Besides, the seismic shift in the political landscape of Fiji means those who sang hymns of racial hatred will no longer have the benefit of the music provided to them, as of right, by the RFMF!

Supremacy but no benefits
But let us go back to history on the claim for political supremacy. The iTaukei, in practice, enjoyed political supremacy since independence except for one year (1999-2000) and until 2006. So from 1970-2006 (35 years out of 36 years) every Government was iTaukei dominated. What difference did it make to the ordinary iTaukei, (excluding those who were close to the ruling elite) who continued to live in grinding poverty? With ownership of over 90 per cent of all land in Fiji and entitlement through traditional and customary resources, they had a right to prosperity but all was lost because of their leaders who failed to guide them on prudent and effective use of such resources. The leaders prospered but not their people. So, supremacy of indigenous political rights has been tested in Fiji’s white heat of racial hatred, which benefitted only a select few and not the broader community that they purported to serve. What hurt most was that Indo-Fijians were blamed for iTaukei privation and the real culprits escaped. This great lie had created a crevasse in race relations that benefitted a select few to the detriment of the majority and the nation. This is the legacy of the British colonial rule that used ‘divide and rule’, placing communities against each other to benefit from the spoils. While it did so, it spawned a powerful group that allied with it to facilitate the plunder of the nations that it ruled. Following independence, it bestowed the governance of such nations in the hands of such groups, wherever it could. In Fiji, the vastly modified chiefly system became the most powerful tool in the hands of the British to rule Fiji and after independence the chiefs with their associates were maneuvered into position of power and authority to govern Fiji.

Racism in political discourse
The sad thing about it was that the despicable tool of racism continued to shape the future of the nation. In the first decade, following independence, multiracialism, multiculturalism and unity in diversity were widely preached but beneath the surface the ugly coals of racism smoldered. By the first election in 1972, after independence, he NFP members began distancing themselves from the Alliance Government, as fumes of covert racism reached their nostrils. The honeymoon period between the two parties, the Alliance and NFP, was over for good, as Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition rattled the Alliance Government at every turn. However, the Alliance Party effectively used such attacks by the NFP, predominantly Indo-Fijian, as anti-iTaukei. It worked. Fiji’s racial divide worsened. It advantaged the iTaukei elite but not the nation or its peoples at large, including the iTaukei. The system had created prosperity for the chosen few and bestowed poverty to others. Truth was submerged in the debris of political lies, as the iTaukei elite maintained iTaukei unity through fear that Indo-Fijians posed gravest threat to their customary and traditional rights, including land ownership. It worked.

Dubious champions
The iTaukei united and voted for their ‘champions’ and they retained their hegemony. It was in the interests of the iTaukei elite to keep the two races divided to continue their political dominance. If it lost, the RFMF was there to retake through the power of bullet what was lost through the ballot. Consequently, the power, authority and position of the iTaukei elite, led by chiefs and their associates, were unassailable. In 1987, the iTaukei elite lost and dutifully, the RFMF moved in and deposed the Bavadra Government and restored them back into power. The hidden purpose of the RFMF was realized and revealed. Democracy was trashed and decried as foreign flower. It was repeated in 2000 but with a vacillating commander and divided RFMF until it degenerated into a mutiny that claimed the lives of eight soldiers. Ratu Inoke Takiveikata, the Qaranivalu (chief of Nausori) was implicated for his role in fomenting the coup, aimed at killing the commander (Bainimarama) of the RFMF and replacing him with one that shared the ideals of the ruling iTaukei elite. With this, politics in Fiji became a blood sport. This event shook the RFMF to the core and it transformed itself and, in the process, changed from being part of the iTaukei establishment to one that took upon itself to rid the establishment from people who used iTaukei rights as a façade to secure their political hegemony for power, perks and privileges. In Fiji, the British model had degenerated grievously.

Legacy and road ahead
One of the most telling legacy of the British colonial rule was that it left a far more vicious ruling elite than itself. If the British were discreet in using racism, the post-independence ruling elite were bold, audacious and malicious. To the ruling elite in Fiji means justified the end. The Indo-Fijians were its direct victims and iTaukei were its unsuspecting victims. Both suffered the debilitating effects of its rule, as the plunder of the nation continued. The military coup of December 5, 2006 deposed the ruling iTaukei elite from power, accusing it of corruption and racial discrimination. The interim Bainimarama Government has ruled from 2006-2014. It has removed all forms of racial discrimination and strongly advocates equality, justice and dignity for all. Benefits to the iTaukei in this period have been phenomenal. What it said it delivered and, importantly, it dismantled the edifice of racism, enabling children of Fiji to think and see each other as one people. The Bainimarama Government has established the template for a future government, following the proposed elections on September 17, 2014. Indications are that if SODELPA comes back into power it will revert to the politics of the old, restoring the Great Council of Chiefs and advocating past policies and practices. Will the nation again be the captive of the chosen few? Only the voters of Fiji can decide. God Bless Fiji.

(Rajendra Prasad is the author of Tears in Paradise – Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji 1879-2004)

-- Originally published by the Fiji Sun 24 August 2014


Anonymous said…
There is a recurring scourge in Fiji and its not racism.
Anonymous said…
Do you mean the RFMF? If so I agree. These thugs are the true cancer that has infected Fijian society. Their corruption is as legendary as their braveness when it comes to beating unarmed civilians. On the battlefield they are rated a bit lower than average.
Anonymous said…
The changes Bainimarama has made to the ordinary people in Fiji is significant. He sees the problems people face in their daily lives and he goes out of his way to help their situation. His government sees what has been working in overseas and he implements the best suited to help Fijians. The progress made is substantial moving towards a modern society and a fully equipped Fiji. This comes with excellent vision. At times there were no doctors at Nadi Hospital. Who fixed this? Simple things which are not done properly irritates this great man.

When an issue needs tackling just follow global standards and get it done. Multiracialism should be promoted. Racial discrimination should not be condoned and a legislative effort is required for a more specific anti-discrimination law. Collectively we can make profound changes. Not by divided racial groups.
Baleta said…
The biggest question for ordinary citizens going into this election is are they better off now then when they were eight years ago and this usually means quality of life issues. I am guessing in terms of disposable income many ordinary citizens are significantly worse off.

I disagree about being divided into racial groups. Canada and Australia are usually ranked in the top three countries to live in and one of the most significant factors about both of those countries is the improvement in how they treat the indigenous people of their countries.

In Australia by being of Aboriginal or Torres Trait Islander descent you are treated significantly better by social services then other racial groups. Goes back to the question of fairness being one o equity or equality where I argue aiming for equity is more important for a functional society in todays world.
Anonymous said…
Perhaps you should tell this chin dribbling crap to the islamists who have captured Fijians and are threatening to commit them to sharia law?
Anonymous said…
What has that got to do with the progress in Fiji? There should have been more soldiers at the base with rules of engagement in favor of Fiji. Better equipped with heavy machine guns.
Anonymous said…
Include a polticized GCC and Methodist Church, both being vectors for radical Fijian ethno-nationalism.
Anonymous said…
Anon 2 8.44 PM.......Aboriginal & Torres Islanders are "Tretaed significantly better..." etc.

What a load of hogwash!

They don't even own vast tracts of their own land! They have a lower life expectancy than others in the developing world etc....etc....
Anonymous said…
Welcome to both. They are trying to remove the cancerous scourge destroying Fiji.
Anonymous said…
Tikoitoga. Have you got your innocent soldiers captured by the islamists released yet? Get your finger out you gutless wonder.
Anonymous said…
And where is the cowardly regime UN scumbag Peter Thompson? We have not heard a word from this cowardly piece of shyte since the brave Fiji military UN sleaze keepers surrendered to who cares?
Anonymous said…
You are the cowardly piece of "shyte" posting a snippet of character assassination under "Anonymous". What a low life.
Anonymous said…
SODELPA supporters are beside themselves over the latest Fiji Times-Tebbutt Poll, which accounts for their growing hysteria. Bainimarama 49 per cent, Ro Teimumu Kepa 20 per cent, 15 per cent undecided. Both will be trying to get the undecideds in the next 10 days but even if SODELPA gets them all, it has lost the election.
Anonymous said…
Tell that to Bainimarama. The soldiers should have been trained to fight a battle and not its own citizens
Anonymous said…
They never had any chance of winning did they? Not exactly an even battlefield from the word go.
Baleta said…
Aboriginal Life Expectancy for males is around 69 which and has improved over the last five years. To argue that Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders are not treated better by Social Services and their treatment and role in Australian Society has not improved is so false that for me I question your motives.

To me this shows problems with superficial arguments and not fully understanding depth of what is happening in a country. That's biggest issue I have with FijiFirst supporters is that they argue superficially on what Franks and Khaiyum are saying but not actually what is happening on the ground.

Growing up in Australia the majority of people I interacted with considered me as Aboriginal. So some of my closest friends were aboriginal and now my kids best friend is an aboriginal. So after coming back to Australia after many years in Fiji, I have seen a huge change in the way the indigenous are perceived in Australian society and also the amount of social services and beneficial treatment that is available to them. I believe that that change is largely because of the amount of immigration that has occurred and Aboriginals having significantly more influence in the Media. One of the best examples is NITV.

I agree that that in terms of quality of life the indigenous people of Australia are worse off then a lot of other Australians but that does not mean that the indigenous people of Australia's quality of life has not improved. It does show though that different racial groups can function in a successful modern society and positive discrimination can work.
Baleta said…
Last week if someone told me that SODELPA will only get 20 percent of the vote. I would have told them that that I have a bridge in Nausori that I am willing to sell them. As its not logical for me for that in a racially divided country like Fiji, the majority of people will votes for person that is ethnically, religiously and culturally different to themselves especially when they have major leaders that they can identify with. Just doesn't happen in developing nations

Now after the debacle in Syria, I am sure the results will be even worse except for the base Muslim vote which will probably be stronger for Fijifirst.
Anonymous said…
@ Baleta .....your argument that people in Fiji cant think and vote beyond their own ethnicity ...is an insult to their intelligence. And whats with the dig at the Muslims? You have been in Australia too long which explains your paranoia about 'foreigners' and Muslims especially. Muslims in Fiji comprise less than three percent of the population'. Stop targeting ethnic and religious minorities; they have never been a problem in Fiji.
Baleta said…
Reason I am saying people vote based on their ethnicity is that its nothing to do with intelligence its more an emotional response that is instilled in us through natural selection in which people that stick together had a better chance of surviving the elements then ones that didn't have that trait. So when selecting people to lead us we usually choose people from our own tribes, so you have to be well conditioned to go against this emotional response to choose a person from a different tribe. I don't believe Fiji has reached a level of maturity where majority of people will vote against their ethnicity and there aren't many examples in the world where this happens. Especially where countries are significantly racially and religiously divided.

Not having a dig at Muslims just calling it as I see it as I am guessing the majority of FijiFirst supporters would come from Muslims, Catholics, Army and part Europeans.

My understanding is Muslims make up around 7 percent or around 60,000 of Fiji's population and not sure why you would think am targeting them, its just opinion on how they will vote in the election based on my understanding of current situation in Fiji.

So who do you think the majority of Muslims in Fiji will vote for in the election or you do you think that religion and race of a candidate has no bearing on a muslim voter?
Anonymous said…
If your thesis holds true, then how about Obama in the US? Even though the leader of Fiji First is a 'taukei' you dont think the taukei will embrace him as their leader? Why not? Again your myopia on ethnic minorities; grouping Muslims, Catholics, Army (??) and part Europeans. Two religions, one organisational and the other an ethnic category. Your inclusion of the latter (PE) confounds me as there is a PE (Mick) standing for the SODELPA ticket. Are you suggesting he will not gain the votes of PE community? (not that it matters in the new voting system as we no longer have ethnic seats). Cheers
Anonymous said…
Anon @ 11:08 Race or religion will have no bearing on Muslim voters (or even Catholics, the Army and the PE's) this time around. They will vote for a i'taukei. That taukei being the leader of Fiji First.

Only the i'taukei will be fixated on race at the polling booth as many of them will be voting on the basis of lies and fears stirred up by the 'So Help Me God Party' who have targeted them.
Baleta said…
From the last US election in 2012. 93% African Americans, 70% Latinos and 73% Asians voted or Obama while more then 60% of white males voted for Romney. Over 85% of Muslims also voted for Obama. These are all significant figures and show how Race and Religion is significant to elections in modern world.

To argue argue race and religion will not have an effect on these elections which is more diverse in terms of language, culture and religion then USA, is in effect believing that Frank will lead us on a unicorn over the rainbow into the promised land.

In terms of Mick Beddoes, there are also black Republican Candidates but its usually who the voter will identify with that is the key indicator of predicting elections. If you believe that the Methodist Fijian in the village identifies more with Frank then SODELPA candidates in their region then refer unicorns and rainbows.

Good thing about arguing politics instead of policies is going forward we can actually see who has the more myopic view based on the Elections results.
Anonymous said…
No I didnt say that Methodists in the village will identify with Frank (he is a Methodist). This is where I am having trouble following your line; you say people will vote according to their ethnicity and religion - by your own logic this therefore means that Methodists will vote for Frank, not for a Roman Catholic? Many Methodists voted for Rt Mara, a Catholic. So what exactly is the issue? Please tell us why Methodist i'taukei will not vote for Frank. There is something else you should tell us.
Baleta said…
As a Methodist I assure you I don't identify Frank as being of Methodist denomination. I can say I am whatever religion I am but actions speak louder then words and Methodist in Fiji have felt persecuted by Franks Regime so will think that FijiFirst will be of the same ilk.

Majority of Methodist will not vote for Frank because Sodelpa is biased towards the Methodist denomination of Christianity as can be seen in their manifesto. That's part of politics you have to have a manifesto that biased to certain areas of the population where the main aim is to get elected.

That's why it would be surprising for me for a Muslim or Hindu to chose Sodelpa and this is shown in the latest Tebutt poll in which less then one Percent of Indians choose Sodelpa as their party of choice.

Frank religion is catholic based on his wiki page so not sure where you got the understanding that he was a Methodist. I love arguing with people that get their basic facts wrong, shows how shaky the rest of their arguments are.

I believe in my opinion so strongly that am willing to wager something on it. What are the stakes I will bet that more indigenous Methodist will vote for Sodelpa then FijiFirst.
Anonymous said…
It is obvious by reading this article the writer is blinded by his own ego, that he has almost completely misinterpreted everything that he is writing about. It is because of misinformation such as these that there will be always be victims, on both sides.
Anonymous said…
Here, here :) He lost me at the second sentence.."Largely in the absence of anypopular resistance..." umm excuse me but weren't people silenced by threats of violence? Talk about selective memory and a skewed perspective and this article tops it.