In 1965, buoyed by the outcomes of the constitutional conference in London, the Leader of Government Business in Fiji’s colonial government, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara sent a cable home: ‘Ni yalovinaka ni kakua ni taqaya, na veika kece koni taqayataka e sega ni yaco, sa nomuni na lagilagi. [Do not be concerned. All that you were concerned about did not materialise. The victory is yours].’
Those poignant words were captured by renowned Fijian historian and author, Professor Brij Lal in his book A Time Bomb Lies Buried – Fiji’s Road to Independence, 1960-1970.
Some 22 years later, Professor Lal described a public event in Suva, seven days after then Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka had overthrown Fiji’s democratically government in a coup d’état.
“A hush descended upon the lawn as the coup-maker, Lt Col. Sitiveni Rabuka appeared on the balcony. An athletic, handsome young man with a massive handlebar moustache, and dressed in powder blue safari jacket and sulu, he spoke in Fijian for a few minutes, explaining why he had carried out the coup and urging his people to remain calm. Then, with both fists punching the air, as the crowd roared approval, he said: “Sa noda na qaqa” (Rest assured, we have won).
In uttering essentially the same words two decades apart, the leaders were addressing the one issue that has plagued Fiji’s political journey for 50 years: the political paramountcy of Fiji’s indigenous community as the first settlers of the island nation.
Fiji’s political journey since independence from Great Britain in 1970 has been one of attempting to strive to strike a balance between the interests of the indigenous or iTaukei community and those of the other ethnicities that call Fiji home, in particular the descendants of Indian indentured labourers the British brought to Fiji to work sugarcane plantations during the late 1870s.
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Some 400 people have arrived on Vanuabalavu – a remote island on Fiji’s eastern sea borders – as they prepare to bury one of their favourite sons who became the country’s sixth prime minister.
They are the first of many people that Mavana village expects to host for Laisenia Qarase’s funeral, planned for tomorrow (Wed).
A delegation from the Fiji Government is expected to arrive later today aboard the government boat, the Veivueti.
Mourners underwent body temperature screening when they boarded last night, as Fiji’s medical officials continued their efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The body of Qarase will be flown in by chartered plane tomorrow, and driven to Mavana by road for a church service before burial. He will be accompanied by his widow, Leba Qarase and close family members.
Qarase was chief of Mavana, bestowed with the traditional Tui Kobuca title.
He rose to national prominence in 2000, when he was handpicked by then-military Commander Frank Bainimarama to head an interim government after the elected government of Mahendra Chaudhry was ousted in a coup in May of that year.
Qarase went on to contest and win the general elections of 2001 and 2006, before he was ousted by Bainimarama in a coup on 5 December, 2006. Prosecuted for a corruption- related offence when he was on the board of Fijian Holdings 16 years earlier, Qarase was jailed for a year in 2012.
Ironically, Qarase was instrumental in the creation of Fijian Holdings as the main investment vehicle for Fiji’s indigenous community.
Following his release, and barred from contesting the 2014 elections, the 79-year old banker plunged himself into the affairs of his home island, successfully uniting what used to be two divisive districts into forming one united investment company.
Vanuabalavu Vision Limited was registered in 2018, and now has a paid up capital of $3.5 million and an asset portfolio valued at $10m.
Qarase died Tuesday last at a private hospital in Suva after suffering from a mild stroke.