Ro Teimumu Kepa, who heads the Burebasaga Confederacy, says her letter to Commodore Bainimarama simply stated that the role of the Great Council of Chief in the life of Fijians should not be discounted.
An opinion article in a pro-government newspaper criticised her for threatening a calamity, but she says she was simply raising the concerns of indigenous Fijians, and was making no threats.
Presenter: Bruce Hill.
Speakers: Graeme Davis, Fiji-born Australia-based journalist; Ro Teimumu Kepa, who heads the Burebasaga Confederacy of Fiji
KEPA: What I was trying to say in that letter is that there is a place for the GCC in our country and that is that we have over half the population that are indigenous Fijian and those people have the highest forum with the GCC where they can bring matters of concern or of interest to them to the GCC. So with the abolishment of the GCC which he… I think it was one of the first things he did was to suspend it, that was in 2007 and then this year he has brought about in the decree, the total abolishment of the GCC.
HILL: In your letter you say that any calamity between the races or even between indigenous Fijians themselves can only be resolved with the involvement of the GCC. This word “calamity”, that’s been criticized as being some kind of a threat perhaps some sort of prediction that violence might break out?
Kepa: There is no threat from me or from anyone else. We do not have anything that can cause calamity. They are the ones that have everything, and right from the beginning, they’ve been taking away things slowly from the population, but especially from Fijians
Hill: It’s been suggested that with this letter, that in some way you are playing the race card an that this is a symbol of the old Fiji?
Kepa: You know, we live in a country that’s multi-racial. It’s not talking about any particular race except that it is addressing the interests of the Fijians, in that the things that he has been doing, he has been taking away our rights and privileges as Fijians. So this, you know, if it is talking about a particular race, all right, its talking about a particular race, and that is the indigenous Fijians. Now I’m not saying that we are better or worse than any other race in Fiji. You’ve been here, you know how everyone gets on well with one another. What I’m speaking about is from the perspective of the Fijians. We are happy to live in, I am privileged to live in a country where we have all different races, and the different foods that we have here that are contributed by the different races, it makes it a very interesting country for us to live in.
Hill: But Graham Davis, a Fiji born, Australia-based journalist wrote an opinion piece which was published in the Fiji Sun newspaper strongly critical of Ro Teimumu’s stance. He’s not impressed with her public commitment to a multi-cultural Fiji.
Davis: Well I’m very pleased to hear that Ro Teimumu Kepa is saying that Fiji is a multiracial, multicultural society. If you look at multiracial, multicultural societies in Australia and New Zealand, no citizen in those countries uses the word ‘calamity’ in a debate about interracial relationships. And the word calamity means great disaster, causing great suffering, and great disruption, great dislocation. And I’m wondering, and a lot of other people in Fiji are wondering why she would choose to use that word, unless she was signaling, that if the government continues to marginalize the GCC, that there will be a calamity. I mean this is a buzzword, these are button-pushers in the Fiji context and that’s what people are very concerned about in relation to some of her statements.
Hill: Is there any concern that perhaps some of the iTaukei, the indigenous Fijians might react to the abolition of the Great Council of Chiefs in an inappropriate way?
Davis: Well of course there’s concern. I mean there’s concern throughout the country about this because you know, there… nobody really knows the extent of… to which the GCC can still command loyalty at the grassroots. I mean the evidence for this is a bit conflicting. I mean you have the Prime Minister Bainimarama saying that the chiefs have lost their mana with ordinary people … but ahh… one significant thing that has happened is that the GCC have forged what seems to be an alliance with the Methodist Church which has the allegiance of the majority of indigenous people as well, and of course the other races in Fiji would be concerned that an alliance like that, which confronts the government head on about this fallacy that Fijians have been disadvantaged, could cause a lot of trouble for a lot of people.
Hill: I asked Ro Teimumu Kepa if she herself think the abolition of the GCC might lead to some sort of reaction from indigenous Fijians.
Kepa: I think Bruce you have to ask the people about it because I’ve put my case forward, I think it would be best if you were to ask other people as to what they think about it.
Hill: Graham Davis says although everyone in Fiji publicly agrees with the idea of it being multiracial, multicultural, the race card is still a factor.
Davis: Well it is being played and its being played by Ro Teimumu Kepa when she says Fijians are being disadvantaged. They are not being disadvantaged, what is happening in Fiji is that the other races are finally getting some satisfaction after two or three decades of indigenous policies and indigenous supremacy. This is the canard that she is playing, that somehow, the Bainimarama regime is out to disadvantage ordinary people. Its not. Its about creating a level playing field for every Fiji citizen irrespective of race. Its just a complete and utter fallacy under the circumstances.