Student in eye of racial storm

January 5, 2001

The student leader at the University of the South Pacific suspected of leaking the recommendation to appoint an Indo-Fijian as vice-chancellor has been the focus of tensions between students and staff and between Taukei and Indo-Fijian students, writes Philip Cass.

Veresi Bainivualiki Bainivualiki was last year accused of leaking news of deputy vice-chancellor Rajesh Chandra's nomination for the post.

The leak sparked protests from Fijian nationalist students, and the university council re-opened the election process. The job went to a Fijian, Savenaca Siwatibau.

USP staff association president Biman Prasad said the university's failure to investigate allegations that Mr Bainivualiki was involved in leaking information had led Mr Bainivualiki to believe he could do whatever he wanted.

Dr Prasad alleged that Mr Bainivualiki had threatened to attack Indo-Fijian staff members and threatened Indo-Fijian students. Mr Bainivualiki, has accused staff of being involved in politics and has claimed that a lecturer attempted to rape a student.

A five-hour boycott of classes organised by the student association drew limited support. According to reports, Mr Bainivualiki and his supporters spent most of the time sitting around a grog bowl outside the USP library, drinking kava and singing.

Last August Mr Bainivualiki was fined F$150 (£46) by the student disciplinary council for "manhandling" an Indo-Fijian student.

In a separate incident, Indo-Fijian students said that a group of drunken male students had entered the women's dormitory.

The university's spokesman said media reports of tensions on campus were sensationalised.

Mr Bainivualiki has refused to hold elections for the student association. At a meeting of the association in November, students voted to defer elections until the new year. Mr Bainivualiki will still be president when semester starts this month.

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