Did a CCF booklet titled ‘Our Voice, Our Future, Our Constitution drop out of your newspaper on the morning of the 20th? It’s a mere 23 small pages, not too wordy, well written and easy to understand; and comes complete with 5 ruled pages on which to gather one’s thoughts and ideas before writing a submission on the new constitution. 

At a first reading one can be forgiven for imagining that towards the end of 2014 Fiji will become a new Utopia. However, read it through with extra care a second time and you will see that it contains the makings of several conflicts. I shall address only one of them, because it is of prime importance to Fiji pensioners. 

On page 15 there is a list of ‘basic requirements…which the constitution-makers are likely to take a strong stance on’. Among these are: A common and equal citizenry – Elimination of discrimination. 

Now turn to page 16 where Human Rights are discussed. Should there be ‘special rights’ for certain groups of people? One such group is described as being Elderly persons. 

Now flip to page 19 on which is a list of principles which might constitute ‘The Bill of Rights’ that will become an integral part of the new constitution. Many of these rights pertain to Fiji pensioners, but there, right at the bottom of the page is Rights of older members of society. 

Silver Surfers, I ask you this: Isn’t it high time we were no longer shut up in a separate box and labelled in this way? 

It is sensible, right, and just, that society enacts laws to protect children and decide upon an age at which those children become adults. But can anybody say exactly when a human being becomes ‘elderly’? On retirement? 50? 53? 60? 68? It is utterly ridiculous! Our age should not matter one jot or tittle. We are still, and should be acknowledged as, a part of the ‘common and equal citizenry’ and to not be discriminated against. 

How often do we read in the papers a report beginning…an elderly man/woman aged 50…? The media seem to have arbitrarily decided that anybody aged 50 suddenly becomes a redundant human being! Isn’t it high time that the words that denote ‘old’ are no longer used to describe a human being? Aged should refer solely to items such as wine and port. ‘Elderly’ describes 10 to 20 year old pets such as cats and dogs. ‘Older’ should refer to the differing ages of siblings or objects. ‘Mature’ describes a good Stilton or Camembert cheese. ‘Getting on’ should apply merely to those who are making a good go of it, as in getting on with the job; otherwise it should be outlawed. Not getting any younger is not only an impossibly idiotic expression; it is always used with a tone of pity – it’s an insult! 

We must demand that we shall never again in the future be labelled ‘elderly’ and classed as a ‘special’ group, for we are not. We are human beings who worked hard, raised families, were in most cases forced to take out a pension and stop work. As a group, ‘pensioners’ are legitimate – but think about the fact that if you win the lottery or come into a huge inheritance at age 20, you can opt to retire from the banking job you have held since leaving school, take out your FNPF lump sum, or even a piddly pension, and become a ‘pensioner’! No age discrimination there. 

Simply because the language says that we are ‘elderly’ or ‘old’ or older’ or ‘getting on’ or ‘not getting any younger’ or ‘aged’ does not mean that we should become second class citizens. That mind-set simply has to go, and has no relevant place in Fiji’s new constitution. 

There is a downside to all this, as there is to every controversial idea – it would mean giving up those concessions which we ‘elderly’ people around the world enjoy, such as free bus passes. But wouldn’t you give up those things which are merely patronisation disguised as a right? A patronisation that ensures that we stay in our box and shut up? The message is ‘You are old – so think ‘old’.’ 

It is time for us Jacks and Jills to jump out of our boxes and tell those who have youth on their side – you might have a clear skin, all your teeth, no wrinkles, no specs, no arthritic fingers, and few health problems; but we have the experience, learning, and wisdom that you will have to work for many more years to come. We deserve to be listened to and we deserve respect because, Fiji’s future needs us more than it needs twenty year old greenhorns. 

So are we, Fiji’s pensioners, going to be acknowledged as being a useful part of this new Utopia? This year we have been discriminated against: we have been insulted, harangued, labelled ‘greedy’, our pensions were cut, and the law court let us down. We need to do something about that by way of a joint submission to the Constituent Assembly. 

Fiji’s youth has to learn that age bestows upon human beings so much more than any societal value granted to firm flesh and an absence of white hairs. Yes, Fiji’s future lies in the hands of its young people – but to build a true Utopia, Fiji’s young people need to respect, listen to, and heed those of us who have the experience that our extra years have granted us. 

The new constitution must acknowledge this. We must ensure that we become fully integrated into the new Utopia as equal citizens and are no longer labelled in a manner that degrades and humiliates us.