By DAVID ROBIE
Bananas, balaclavas and banners … these were stock-in-trade for human rights activists of the New Zealand-based Coalition for Democracy in Fiji who campaigned against then Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka’s original two coups in 1987 and the “banana republic” coup culture that emerged.
Many of the activists, politicians, trade unionists, civil society advocates and supporters of democracy in Fiji gathered at an Auckland restaurant in Cornwall Park to reflect on their campaign and to remember the visionary Fiji Labour Party prime minister Dr Timoci Bavadra who was ousted by the Fiji military on 14 May 1987.
Speakers included Auckland mayor Phil Goff, who was New Zealand foreign minister at the time, and keynote Richard Naidu, then a talented young journalist who had emerged as Dr Bavadra’s spokesperson — “by accident” he recalls — and movement stalwarts.
The mood of the evening was a fun-filled and relaxed recollection of coup-related events as about 40 participants — many of them exiled from Fiji — sought to pay tribute to the kindly and inspirational leadership of Dr Bavadra who died from cancer two years after the coup.
Participants agreed that it was a tragedy that Dr Bavadra had died such an untimely death at 55, robbing Fiji of a new style of social justice leadership that stood in contrast with the autocratic style of the current Fiji “democracy”.