When forgiveness heals … by Sitiveni Rabuka, Tues, Sept 02, 2008 FT online.
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1: 19&20)
No doubt the above text has been used many times about us, for us or by ourselves. One thing that anger brings out is more anger, both in the angry and the target of anger. Sometimes the target becomes fearful and may desist, but only through fear. When that target finds a weaker target, it too will vent fury in its direction. There are many times when the target may have had nothing at all to do with the cause of the anger – the cat, or the dog, or the wall or window, or, most unfortunately, another person.
In many cases, all reasonable persons know that their anger that has been directed at an innocent target, is never justified, and all would feel shame which many if not all would pretend they do not feel.
It has been 21 years since 14th May 1987.
A person upon reaching 21 years of age would get a special gift from his or her parents, if by that time the person has continued to live as a dependent of the parents. Nowadays the usual accompaniment to the birthday gift is a key signifying that the person has come of age and is capable of making mature decisions, particularly about their own life, therefore may leave home and return using their own key to the door. 21 years is a long time in the life of a person and a nation.
In May this year I said I was sorry for what I did in 1987. I apologised to those I hurt by my actions in May, September, October and December of that year. In May I removed Doctor Bavadra’s government from Parliament.
Although I handed over the executive authority to the Governor General’s Council of Advisers later that month, I removed that Council of Advisers and the Governor General in September, and in October, I declared Fiji a republic, effectively sacking the Governor General thus the Queen, ending the monarchy that had reigned for 113 years over Fiji.
In December, against the request of my military Cabinet and some senior military advisers, I appointed the ousted Governor General as our first President and surrendered all my executive authority to him to lead the nation towards a general election under a new Constitution. In actual fact, I did not sack the Governor General.
He advised the Queen that his position as Governor General and Queen’s representative in Fiji was no longer tenable, and recommended that he be relieved of his duties. The Queen accepted that position rather than send forces at her disposal to retain her reign over Fiji.
We will never know what advice she got before accepting her representative’s request to be relieved of his duties.
Of all the people I had hurt, only one told me he had forgiven me. On his death bed, a week before he died, Doctor Balwant Singh Rakka called me to say he had forgiven me. I was Prime Minister then.
Some of Dr Bavadra’s government and supporters later worked with me towards the new Constitution of 1997. Some are quite civil towards me. Three became part of my Cabinet; one in the military government and two in the elected Cabinet after 1992. But no other person has specifically said they have forgiven me. Many are still angry and many are still hurt.
We often hear angry words or read angry words in the press, but we seldom hear or read words that express hurt feelings. When I visited the Umanand Prasad Medical School of the University of Fiji on August 22, the head of the University, Professor Satendra Nandan gave me three books as his gift to me. One of them, The Loneliness of Islands, contains poems I had never heard of. The one that went straight for my heart is simply titled ‘Easter ’88’ with ‘for Timoci’ under the title. Many of Professor Nandan’s poems written after 1987 ring of the hurting feelings of a man deeply affected by my actions of that year. But no line hurt me and caused me more guilty grief than the bracketed line in the second verse:
‘I’ve travelled from an island
With a soldier’s wound in my side
(One who should have protected me);
Still I am alive
Something precious remains.’
That part in parenthesis is like a bullet to the heart! Like many people, I can effectively react to anger. Much of my young life was devoted to training to handle it. But hurt, I can hardly handle, because I was taught to defend those that are by others. So, when my eyes were opened to the hurt in the words of Professor Nandan, I realised that I have not done enough to console or repair the spirit of those I had hurt. No good deed can ever repair a non-forgiving heart.
This article is not an ‘opinion column’. It is an appeal for forgiveness from all I have hurt and have not been able to forgive me. My duty is to appeal for forgiveness; you have the right to refuse. These include the soldiers who obeyed as a matter of loyalty to superiors saying ‘ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do or die’; members, supporters, families and relatives of Dr Bavadra’s government, the vanua, churches and religious organisations, those who lost friends and relatives to emigration, those who lost jobs or promotion opportunities, and all others who were hurt, some simply as loyal subjects of the crown – to you all, I apologise, and say I will never support anyone promoting divisive strategies in this God enlightened land.
People in leadership positions now must pray for the courage to say sorry but also remember the hurt have the right not to forgive. All should know that forgiveness heals.