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A momentous occasion

A momentous occasion - will go down well in the annals of Fiji history: Mahendra Chaudhry

Here is the full text of former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry's response to, and acceptance of, the apology made to the Indian community (descendants of Girmityas) by the Rev Ili Vunisuwai, President of the Methodist Church in Fiji, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka and other High Chiefs at the Thanksgiving and Reconciliation Service at the Vodafone Arena on Sunday 14 May 2023:

Turaga Vunivalu – Tui Kaba Marama Roko Tui Dreketi Turaga – Tui Cakau Hon Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka The Rev Ili Vunisuwai, President Methodist Church in Fiji Ladies and Gentlemen

Ni sa Bula Vinaka, Good Afternoon and Namaste

This is a momentous occasion in the history of our nation, more so for the Girmitya community.

A sincere thank you to the Rev Ili Vunisuwai, President Methodist Church in Fiji, and to the officials and members of the Church for the initiative they have shown in conceiving and organising this Thanksgiving and Reconciliation Service.

I am deeply touched and humbled by what I view as an act of great courage, statesmanship and humility by the Rev Ili Vunisuwai. It is not easy for a person of his standing to make an apology of this nature as I cannot conceive that he would personally condone any of the acts for which he is now apologising.

It is a measure of the Reverend’s sincerity, that he personally came to my office to invite me to be part of this reconciliation service and to receive his apology. I thank you for the gesture, Sir.

On behalf of the Girmityas and the Fiji Labour Party I accept the apology by the Rev Vunisuwai and the Methodist community for the role the Church played in the coups of 1987 and 2000.

The Fiji Labour Party was a victim of these coups and its leaders, supporters and their families were subjected to violence and harassment on three dreadful occasions.

The people of Indian origin were targeted– innocent people persecuted for their ethnicity and deprived of their rights and status as citizens of the very nation they had readily accepted and worked hard to build.

The 2000 coup was particularly violent and vicious when once again innocent people particularly those in rural communities were terrorised – their homes burnt down, their crops and livestock stolen or destroyed; many were driven from their homes and the lands they had tilled for generations. The city of Suva was set alight and Indian shops smashed and looted.

Members of my Government, including women, were taken hostage, held at gunpoint and terrorised for up to 8 weeks.

Those were traumatic times and many thousands of our people were forced to leave to seek safer and more secure future elsewhere.

I honestly believe that an apology is owed to the entire nation. Everyone suffered from the misguided, unlawful and treasonous actions of the extremists who chose to take the law in their own hands – be they members of the democratically elected government, the business community, the workers, the farmers or the poor – no matter of what race or creed.

The entire nation has had to pay a heavy price for the senseless actions of a few. As Rev Vunisuwai has admitted, the economic, social and political implications of these upheavals have been utterly devastating, putting our country back many decades in terms of development.

The consequent brain drain itself deprived the nation of some of our best professionals, tradesmen and artisans – the very people we sorely need for our own development.

It is indeed, magnanimous of the Methodist Church to apologise for the wrongs inflicted on our people.

But they were not alone. It is well accepted that the 2000 coup was also supported and financed by certain elements in the business community.

While misguided nationalists and extremists claiming to protect indigenous interests did play a role in instigating destabilisation, it is also known that the key elements behind the coup were failed politicians, unscrupulous businessmen and opportunists. Greed for money and a grab for power were the main factors.

Regrettably, all four coups were either staged or supported by elements in the Army.

It is very pertinent to ask who benefited from these coups. It was certainly not the indigenous community in whose name at least the first three coups were executed.

Statistics show that despite the lofty motives given for the coups, the majority of our indigenous people today are far worse off than they were in 1987, many of them barely surviving.

Latest figures show that i-Taukeis comprise 75% of all those living in poverty. These are shocking statistics. But it also reveals how these simple people were used and misled.

Someone needs to apologise to them too. In a manner of speaking, they were also exploited to serve the agendas of a few.

I for one can vouch for the fact that indigenous rights and interests were never in danger under my government in 1999/2000 or the Bavadra Government in 1987. In fact, I remember the then President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara telling me after reading our 1999 Manifesto, that I will do a lot more for the Fijian (meaning the iTaukei ) people.

Going into the future, we must take concrete steps to prevent such treasonous acts from ever again wrecking our nation and destroying our national harmony. We are a multiracial country. There will always be elements that will seek to upset the equilibrium in the pursuit of their own vested interests by playing on the fears and emotions of the vulnerable in our society.

I accept that apologies and utterances of remorse are part of the healing process and, thus, necessary. But it must not just end with a one-off ceremony.

We must look to the future and take concrete measures to prevent coups and other forms of political violence from ever again destroying the fabric of our society.

Groups with grievances, whether real or perceived, should have an avenue/forum where they can seek redress. I suggest the establishment of an independent institution to deal with such matters.

This is nothing new. The idea of a body along the lines of that set up in South Africa after the Apartheid era was mooted here after the 1987 and 2000 coups but not acted upon by successive governments.

I believe that a specially created institution of this nature should not only be tasked with dealing with the truth of what had happened in the past. It should also be empowered to deal with grievances or concerns affecting the different groups that constitute our nation.

Its primary function: to create a better understanding between Fiji’s diverse communities and to advise government on the steps it should take to promote national harmony, understanding and peace building.

This process must start from our homes and extend to our schools, our churches, temples, mosques, and our workplaces.

It is time now to make amends. We all must be a part of the healing process and of peace building to take Fiji forward.

To end, I once again thank you Reverend Vunisuwai and members of the Methodist Church for your magnanimous gesture.

We are deeply honoured and touched by it.

#Prime Minister Rabuka, I also accept your apology... in the personal capacity that you apologised.

I accept the apologies of the Turaga Vunivalu Tui Kaba, Marama Roko tui Dreketi and the Turaga Tui Cakau.

Thank you very much for your magnanimity.

I think the spirit is there now. We can all work together. It is a great day for our nation. It will go down well in the annals of our history.

Let’s build on it.

May God Bless the Nation of Fiji

Thank You Vinaka Vaka Levu Dhanyabaad


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