Mending relations: When Rabuka stands as a repented, respected and forgiven Fiji leader in Auckland

Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ president Krish Naidu presents a plaque to Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka. Picture SUPPLIED

KING’S Birthday 2023 on Monday, June 5, 2023 was a historic day in New Zealand for two reasons.

Firstly, it was the first such birthday for the new King, Charles the Third, after many decades in waiting.
Secondly, it was of great significance to Fijians in Auckland – it was a state visit of a Fijian Prime Minister to New Zealand in over two decades. And almost packed Mahatma Gandhi Centre in Auckland with multiracial people of Fiji – iTaukei, Fiji Indian, Rotumans and other Fijians, filled up this free event.
Starting with a standing ovation for the Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, followed by Fiji national anthem, various forms of traditional welcome ceremony, formal speeches, presentation of an appreciation plaque and cultural items filled the programme of the evening.
Mr Rabuka stole the day with a speech that revealed him as a committed Pacific leader, and a likeable person with a sense of humour, as he caused some laughter and lighter moments in the duration of his speech.
Mr Rabuka revealed his commitment for a stronger Pacific, opting to visit his Pacific friends instead of attending a high – powered regional meeting in South Korea. Consequently, he was in Papua New Guinea earlier last month where he consolidated Fiji’s relations with the Pacific neighbours and also met Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. This trip was followed by his presence in Samoa for celebration of their 60th Anniversary.
The change and softer side of Fiji PM was revealed when he diverted from his official speech at the appropriately named Mahatma Gandhi Centre to reveal his cordial meeting with the Indian
PM in Port Moresby, where he took time out to bestow Modi with the highest Fijian honour – Companion of the Order of Fiji.
Mr Rabuka spent significant part of beginning of his speech in paying tribute and expressing sorrow to the Indian government for the train tragedy in India where almost 300 people lost their lives and hundreds were injured.
He pleaded for people to pray for the victims.
Closer to home, he commended the Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ and others in Auckland for organising that magnificent welcome ceremony and applauded them for an immensely successful Girmit Remembrance Day earlier in May in Auckland.
“I am told that the recent Girmit Commemoration organised by the Fiji Girmit Foundation of New Zealand packed out the hall in Auckland. I am happy that the Coalition Government was represented at this event by the Minister for Sugar and Multi- Ethnic Affairs, Honourable Charan Jeath Singh,” he said.
He added and hoped Girmit Day would be commemorated by the descendants of girmtya and all Fijians around the world. He further thanked and encouraged Fijians in New Zealand in teaching their children, the languages and cultures of Fiji. He also took opportunity to thank and show gratitude to Kiwi Fijians for supporting Fiji by sending the remittances, investing skills, time, resources and effort back in Fiji.
He paid tribute to the reconciliation efforts in Fiji and was grateful to the former deposed PM Mahendra Chaudhry.
“I have had a lot to think and pray about and I’m grateful to former prime minister Mahendra Chaudhry for publicly responding and accepting my apology at the recent reconciliation church service hosted by the Methodist Church in Fiji.”
Here was a man, who has changed, repented and apologised numerous times, once a younger coup leader thirty-six years ago, and now addressing a large multiracial audience in a foreign land, standing as a respected ageing statesman, giving advice to Kiwi Fijians to make the best use the new opportunities in New Zealand, to raise their children as law abiding and useful citizens and teaching them compassion to love others and be wise in their management of time.
He ended by assuring all Fijians that Fiji was still their home.
“Fiji will always be there for you and the door will always be open for you to return, whether on holiday or for work or for retirement,” he assured Fijians.
The respected PM concluded with a prayer from John Wesley:
“Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.”
It was indeed a significant day when he was able to unite Fijians in Auckland to come together under one roof to welcome and show respect to a leader who has shown to the world that anybody can change for the better if they show repentance and wish to change for the better.
And that change has ushered in the Girmit Day public holiday and reintroduction of Ratu Sukuna Day. Fiji Girmit Foundation had requested the previous Fiji government six years ago, but were ignored until Mr Rabuka came on board, pledged it and implemented Girmit Day public holiday within months of coming to power.
One highlight of the evening was the show of appreciation and gratitude to Mr Rabuka by Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ which presented a plaque to thank him.
In presenting the plaque, the foundation president Krish Naidu paid gratitude to Mr Rabuka for honouring his promise of making Girmit Day a public holiday as he had pledged during an earlier visit in 2022 as peoples coalition leader. He read out from the plaque:
“This plaque is presented to Prime Minister of Fiji, honourable Sitiveni L. Rabuka by Fiji Girmit Foundation NZ on 5 June, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand.
“It is presented in recognition and appreciation of the PM to have followed and implemented on our long-standing request for Fiji Girmit day to be recognised as a public holiday in Fiji.
Vinaka, PM for this honour not only for Fiji but for this worldwide acknowledgement.” Mr Naidu said.
The Prime Minister thanked the Girmit Foundation NZ for their initiatives and vision and wished them all the best in meeting their objectives in looking after interests of Fiji Indians in NZ.
The night ended with a sumptuous dinner prepared by the church community in Auckland and included lovo and Indian meals, representing the multiracial audience present to herald a new era for Fiji with building the bridges with New Zealand, and forging bilateral friendship.
And that was coupled with enhancing and consolidating that friendship with and within Fijian community in New Zealand.
Vinaka, Mr Rabuka for a long awaited state visit, to once again foster better relations between Fiji and New Zealand.

 THAKUR RANJIT SINGH is a founding trustee of Fiji Girmit Foundation, a journalist, a media commentator and blogger at FIJI PUNDIT. E-mail: The views expressed are not of this newspaper.

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