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Make that change

Sailosi Batiratu
Sunday, November 25, 2012

"E RA na oca mai na caka i soro se matanigasau." (They will get tired of presenting traditional presentations asking for forgiveness.)

This was the prevalent opinion around the tanoa when I met a few guys last month at Nadawa who had also attended Marist Brothers' High School.

At an earlier gathering not long after the violence between MBHS and Suva Grammar School students had erupted in late September and carried over into early October, I had asked some fellow old boys if they knew the origins of the rivalry between Marist and Grammar. They all answered in the negative. It was just one of those things, always something that had been and would always be. There was nothing else to say, end of the story.

I recounted something I'd heard in 2004. That was during a gathering of old boys at Lambert Hall shortly after Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara had died.

Addressing the gathering was Dr Wadan Narsey.

Dr Narsey had told us the Marist Brothers had decided they would teach boys of all races regardless of the laws set out by the then colonial government. They had already set up schools for the sons of the early planters and iTaukei but there was nothing for Fijians of Indian descent. So a school was set up for these boys too.

Some of the Europeans did not take this move very well which saw boys of different races being schooled in close proximity to each other and so took their sons to the then Suva Public School which later became Suva Grammar School. So whenever the boys from the two respective schools met, whether it be academic or sports-related, there has been that rivalry which unfortunately in recent times has taken a turn for the worse.

That was a lifetime ago. And circumstances are such that it would be against government policy, not to mention international conventions, to now have a school segregated along racial lines.

So why are the students of Marist and Grammar still at it?

Some have discounted the incidents between the students as a result of "boys being boys". Others think it is something more serious and should be dealt with accordingly.

Whatever one thinks, it was encouraging to see the former students of both schools being involved, through their respective groups, in the reconciliation efforts. As a support group, the ex-students of both schools have played important roles in the development of their schools. These two groups would make for excellent vehicles for positive changes within the two student bodies pointing out to students the folly of being involved in such thuggery.

People with a police record or those who've served jail terms find life a steeper climb than those without a record, opportunities for overseas travel may be limted as some countries do not like persons of such ilk to be visiting, and finding suitable employment might be close to impossible.

Those who were involved in the clashes should know by now the seriousness of their error after having been addressed by the Police Commissioner.

The commissioner, albeit being a senior public figure and the resources and personnel available to him, is but one individual.

Students who involved in the clashes must first recognise and accept the fact that they were wrong. It is only then that true change can begin to happen. Otherwise all the words from the former students and that used by the students themselves at the reconciliation would have been just that, words and empty words at that.

For we all know that what really counts is the course of action the students decide to take.

The onus for change is not the sole responsibility of those who took part in the violence. As part of a whole, a student body, those who were not directly involved also have their part to play in encouraging their peers their energies would be better utilised in other pursuits other than brawling.

Senior students of both schools have a responsibility, through their actions and words, to show the younger ones that there is room for competition. Healthy competition carried out within the accepted parameters of the law.

What has happened is now firmly in the past. And that is where it should remain.

What then of the future? Are there any positives the students can learn from this sad episode? Is there a silver lining to these dark clouds?

The senior students would have by now completed their external examinations and the majority would already be in holiday mode. Those who had prepared well will certainly reap the fruits of their hard work.

Some will resume secondary school studies next year and if they approach that old rivalry with a new perspective and use it to produce better students, sportsmen and women, 2013 will definitely be better year than 2012. And that will not only be a source of contentment and joy to those closely associated with both schools, but also those who view schools as one of the places where among other things; friendships are forged, students are taught to value hard work, a good work ethic developed and a healthy respect for the rule of law.

This is one occasion I would like my fellow old boys to be proven wrong that people will tire of traditional presentations asking for forgiveness.

And to those who will be students of SGS and MBHS in 2013, may you tire of the old and break free from the patterns of the past.

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