John Weekes

John Weekes is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Fresh doubts over race role

Dame Susan flew to play squash with a coup leader at a time where Fijian Indians, academics and activists were being persecuted.
Dame Susan flew to play squash with a coup leader at a time where Fijian Indians, academics and activists were being persecuted.

Fijian Indian community members are raising fresh questions over the contentious appointment of new Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy.

Devoy visited Fiji for an exhibition squash match with a coup leader in 1988.

As Fijian Indians, academics and activists were being persecuted, 24-year-old double world champion Devoy flew to the Pacific Island nation to boost the profile of squash one year after Brigadier Sitiveni Rabuka seized power.

Coalition for Democracy in Fiji spokesman Nik Naidu said last night: "For Susan Devoy to have gone to Fiji in 1988 to me reflects her insensitivity to racial issues."

He said sports trips were often counter-productive to those trying to restore democracy. "It was a horrible time. It was a racist regime."

Naidu said migrants needed an approachable commissioner who could empathise with them.

"The office is a critical office in terms of democracy in New Zealand."

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell and Mana Party president Annette Sykes criticised Devoy's appointment this week over opinion pieces she penned for the Bay of Plenty Times last year. One discussed Waitangi Day protests and another addressed the wearing of burqas.

Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty said Devoy was very young when she visited Fiji but it was worth asking if the squash champion had refined her thinking. "This is not a simple role and the very least you'd expect is that the minister's department looked at somebody with clear qualifications for the job."

Fiji Indian Association president Prabodh Mishra said he did not oppose Devoy's appointment and doubted she had appreciated the politics. "It's like New Zealanders playing South Africa during apartheid, I suppose."

In 1988, Devoy told NZPA there was pressure not to play Rabuka. She also said she faced criticism of the trip because of the political crisis. But Rabuka failed to keep his date. The military strongman said he had the flu.

A month before Devoy's trip, New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange told reporters of Fiji's "totally abhorrent" rule of law. "It amounts to a total destruction of personal rights and liberties."

Devoy and Justice Minister Judith Collins did not return calls before deadline but earlier this week Collins said Devoy had good communication and "relationship management" skills.

A tough week got worse on Friday night when Devoy arrived home to find an intruder in her Tauranga home. "Our front door was open and there was an axe beside it," Devoy told Newstalk ZB yesterday.

It was the fourth burglary at her home in 18 months.

- Herald on Sunday

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