Rabuka pledges ‘no more coups but only democracy’ with an apology

Forgive us, there will be no more coups and democracy will prevail: Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka signing the ‘Fiji Forward Declaration’ in Suva on May 14, 2023 (Facebook Photo)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, May 15, 2023

Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka entered the pages of history on May 14, 2023 when he tendered an apology in public to Fiji Indians and other people affected by the 1987 coup.

He also pledged to protect Fiji against any more coups and promote democratic ideals.

The government of Fiji marked the Fiji Girmit Remembrance Day with the first annual public holiday on May 15, 2023 (it would normally be on May 14), while similar events were held in countries with a large Fijian population. In some cities, the event will be held this weekend.

Fiji Forward Declaration

Attending the Thanksgiving and Reconciliation Church Service at the Vodafone Arena in Suva on the Girmit Remembrance Day, Mr Rabuka and other leaders signed the ‘Fiji Forward Declaration,’ stating that it marked a new era for the country, with a commitment to work together, heal the wounds of the past and build a brighter future for the people.

“Such a brighter future for Fiji will mean supporting one another with love, respect and understanding regardless of each other’s differences,” he said.

We confess that we have hurt you: Fijian Prime Minister hugs the then Prime Minister Mahendra Choudhary, another victim of another coup on May 14, 2000 (Facebook Photo)

Among the other signatories to the Declaration were Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Biman Prasad, Methodist Church President Reverend Ili Vunisuwai, Former Prime Minister and Leader of Fiji Labour Party Mahendra Chaudhary, and other religious organisation leaders. The Declaration said that the Rule of Law will prevail, there will be no more disunity but love and understanding, no racism but respect and mutual awareness, and no religious intolerance but common good for all.

Following the Church Service, Mr Rabuka made his confession for the wrongdoings in 1987.

“I make this confession on my own behalf and on behalf of all those who took part with me in the military coup on the 14th of May, 1987. We confess our wrongdoings, we confess that we have hurt so many of our people in Fiji, particularly those of the Indo-Fijian community,” he said.

Admitting the wrongdoings, Mr Rabuka said that people who blamed the coup leaders were correct in their condemnation.

“You have every right to blame us for the difficulties you went through, we do not blame you for being angry with us or even hate us, you are justified in your anger and your hate. I stand here to confess and to ask for your forgiveness,” he said.

The power to forgive

Mr Rabuka said that reconciliation will not be successful if the parties to reconcile do not agree.

“The power to forgive is divine and I pray to God for serenity and courage to forgive. Let us develop a collective memory for Fiji so that more knowledge is available about the Girmitya,” he said.

Hundreds of Fijians gathered at Albert Park to mark Girmit Day with a float and parade.

Mr Rabuka said that it is critical for everyone to develop a collective memory for Fiji so that more knowledge is available about the Girmitya and the changes that came with them.

“In particular, young people from all our communities need a greater awareness of the Girmitya experience and other seminal events in our past. We know that the Girmityas were exploited and abused. They suffered in many ways in mind, body and spirit. When they came ashore, Fiji’s future slowly began to take shape. The country began a complex journey leading to ethnic diversity and multi-culturalism,” he said.

Mr Rabuka said that the indentured labourers worked under shocking and cruel conditions that were similar to slavery.

“It was a living nightmare, a kind of narak or hell. They were known by numbers, not names and worked from early morning to evening at pitifully low wages. Suicides were common,” he said.

Fiji Indians dancing their way towards Albert Park in Suva on May 14, 2023 (Facebook Photo)

Restoration of Fiji

Mr Rabuka spoke of a central national theme for all the activities of the last few days.

It is the healing, rebuilding, and restoration of Fiji.

“The Girmitya commemoration is linked to this. What we have witnessed is an appreciation by their descendants that the Girmit saga is now better understood by wider society. That in itself is a building block for unity. But there are many more building blocks to put in place before Fiji is complete as a nation,” he said.

India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Dr Rajkumar Ranjan, who represented his country at Remembrance Day, described Girmit Day as ‘Very Special,’ in the relationship between the two countries.

“It was on 14 May 1879, onboard the ship MV Leonidas that the first group of indentured workers or Girmityas, arrived in Fiji. Our shared heritage and kinship are strongly rooted to this day. To celebrate the journey of Girmityas and their descendants along with our brothers and sisters in Fiji is a special feeling,” he said.

Solidarity, Love and Respect: The Fiji Military Band marching towards Albert Park in Suva on May 14, 2023 (Facebook Photo)

Dr Ranjan reassured the Fijian government that India, as a trusted development partner of Fiji, reaffirmed its strong commitment to working closely with Fiji in its development journey.

The Fiji Indian Association in Wellington observed the Girmit Remembrance Day in Wellington on May 13, 2023. A larger event is being organised by the Fiji Girmit Foundation New Zealand in Auckland on May 20, 2023. More than 1500 people are expected to attend this event, along with political, business and community leaders.

Coming Up: The process of healing begins in Fiji 

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