Oppression in Fiji
wwchi at SPAMenteract.com
Tue Aug 1 20:26:32 MDT 2000
From: Philip Ferguson <plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz>
Lou Proyect is scooping me here, so I will rush into print with the first
half of my planned reply.
Phil Ferguson writes:
>Lastly, you (and a few other US people on the list) talk as if the
>Melanesian-Fijians are racially oppressed within Fiji. Yet, clearly this
>is not the case. The racially oppressed population is the Indo-Fijians,
>who are virtually banned from owning land and have consistently been kept
>out of political representation, out of the Army and out of various other
>key sectors of society. And both times a political party led by
>Indo-Fijians, but attempting to appeal across the communal divide, has won
>elections, it has been overthrown in coups.
This I think cuts directly to the root of the matter. Phil believes that
the indigenous, or Melanesian, Fijians are the oppressors, and that the
Indo-Fijians are the oppressed. If I also believed this, I would probably
be taking positions similar to his. He says it is "CLEARLY" not the case
that the indigenous, or Melanesian Fijians are racially oppressed. All
right, Phil: what is the basis for your belief that this is "clear"? I
don't think it's the least bit clear. I think there is plenty of evidence
the other way. And I don't think the evidence you cite is at all
Phil thinks it's clear that the indigenous Fijians are the oppressors and
the Indo-Fijians are the oppressed. I would NOT go so far as to say that
"the Indo-Fijians are the oppressors and the indigenous Fijians are the
oppressed," because I don't think it's that simple. It's not like South
Africa. Both groups have been oppressed by imperialism. Neither group
contains imperialists. Neither has tried to crush the other group
completely or exploit its labor.
But Phil, because you have convinced yourself that the Indo-Fijians are "the
oppressed", you have closed your ears to all the grievances of the
indigenous Fijians, and listen to them as if they were "the oppressor."
What about the evidence that has been posted here which you have not
engaged? What about Davies' articles available at the Maorinews site?
What is your case against the indigenous Fijians?
You say they have kept the Indo-Fijians from owning land. There is some
truth to this. But is there no truth on the other side: that there would
never have been a question of selling land to Indo-Fijians if not for the
action of the British colonialists who decided to grow sugar on indigenous
land? Would things be more equitable, in your view, if the British had
stolen the land outright and given freehold deeds to the Indo-Fijians? You
blame the indigenous Fijians because they didn't have their land stolen!
Furthermore, you neglect entirely the land rent question. Please read
Davies' article at this link:
and then come back. Davies makes a case that the compensation received by
the indigenous Fijian landowners for their sugar-growing land is lower than
anywhere else IN THE WORLD. In fact they get only 1/4 the rent of the next
lowest paid landowners, who are in Malawi, as I recall. The root of this
low compensation is ALTA, a law whose earliest version was enacted before
independence by the British colonialists. Also under ALTA, if the tenant
doesn't pay, the landowners can't get the land back unless they pay for
whatever the tenant has built on the property. Quite unlike the situation
in Chicago! If I make improvements to my apartment, it's still entirely the
landlord's. But if I am renting Fijian sugar land and build a house on it,
the landlords have to buy the house before they can evict me.
So even though the indigenous Fijians have TITLE to the land, they don't get
the benefits that ordinary landowners have. Why? Because they are a
conquered indigenous people! Davies calls this a system of 'land
indenture'. However you characterize it, you can't ignore it. Phil, you
and I are used to the situation where the landowner is the bourgeois and the
tenant is the poor worker, but it seems to me that the Fiji sugar situation
is one where NEITHER is very well off. The sugar grower is poor. The
indigenous land owner is also poor. This is an argument against
establishing a one-crop economy on an island in mid-Pacific! In any case,
your belief that land tenure "clearly" makes the indigenous or Melanesian
Fijians the oppressors doesn't work, I don't think.
Then you say that the Indo-Fijians "have been consistently kept out of
political representation." This is false in relation to the 1990
constitution. The 1990 constitution allocated the seats in the parliament
among communities in proportion to their population at the time. The
Indo-Fijian community elected 44%, the indigenous or Melanesian Fijians
elected 51%, the "General" voters (everyone else) elected the rest. So the
Indo-Fijians were not "kept out of political representation." They elected
44% of the parliament. Now, you are the one who is always stressing to me
that the Fijian Labour Party was intercommunal. Well, nothing stopped the
FLP from winning ALL the seats. They could have run candidates for all the
seats. They could have named an indigenous prime minister! Furthermore,
even short of that, they could make voting blocs with the other parties and
would have had influence that way.
Your whole argument that the Indo-Fijians were kept out of representation
assumes that Indo-Fijians and indigenous Fijians must always organize in
separate parties, which must always be divided on the basis of race.
I notice that you now refer to the Fiji Labour Party as "a political party
Indo-Fijians, but attempting to appeal across the communal divide", and you
say that this characterized the FLP not only in 1999, but also in 1987! I
myself would not have gone quite that far, since it seems to me that in
1987, when they named Bavedra the P.M., they were doing much better
intercommunalwise than they did in 1999, when they got only 6% of the
Melanesian or indigenous Fijian vote.
I don't think this argument that the Indo-Fijians are "clearly" oppressed by
the indigenous Fijians holds up. Furthermore, we haven't even looked at the
evidence on the other side - that there is (pace Dr. Chand) evidence of
racial discrimination against the indigenous Fijians. More of that in my
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