For Sawia Kalanga, now 84 years old, 30th July 1980 meant more than just becoming politically independent and having an own flag and passport.
It was a day when he felt he was freed from the control of the two superpowers Britain and France.
Though employed by the French administration more than half of his working life, as a chauffeur for many French Resident Commissioners, Sawia Kalanga, said he was totally relieved when the Vanuatu National flag was hoisted on July 30, at midday at the Independence Park in Port Vila.
“I stood there watching our Vanuatu national flag hoisted and at the same time, I felt this colonial burden removed from my being.
“I felt total freedom and I shed tears because I know I am no longer in the hands of colonial masters,” 84-year-old Sawia Kalanga, who served as chauffeur for many French Resident Commissioners and even he drove the French President De Gaulle during the Presidential visit to the former New Hebrides.
He described the French Resident Commissioners as very nice people and had respect for them all, but something that lingered all the time on his mind and bothered him was an experience during his earlier career as a French Policeman in the Condominium of the New Hebrides.
“At one time during my service as a French Police Officer, I was maltreated by my superiors for no apparent reasons at all.
“In fact I exercised my duty rightly, but my superiors falsely accused me.
“And because I refused to accept their reasoning, they threw me into jail.
“I would come to work in the morning wearing the French Police uniforms and every end of the day, they removed my police uniforms, made me put on civilian cloths and locked me up in jail for overnight.
“They did this to me for five days. It meant I never went back to see my family for the whole five days, but I would still work each full day and after work locked up in jail,” Kalanga related in an interview with the Daily Post. He said this went on for a week, and after this, he was allowed to go home to his family and carry on his normal daily duties.
“During my time as a French Policeman, I was one of the only New Hebrideans with a certified driving license from Noumea, New Caledonia and with verbal command of the French language so I helped many New Hebrideans who sought language translations from Bislama to French and vice versa,” Kalanga recalled.
In those days, Kalanga said young New Hebrideans did not go to school until they are old so he was sent to study in New Caledonia at the age of 15 and travelled to Noumea on a sea plane.
“There were several of us, and I was one of the students from Tanna.
“My parents agreed for me to go to Noumea to study and for me this was a good opportunity that many New Hebrideans did not have during those days,” said Kalanga.
“One of the French Resident Commissioners wanted a good New Hebridean driver or a chauffeur, and learnt from my police superiors that I had obtained my driving license in Noumea, New Caledonia, and so I was selected and appointed as driver for the French Resident Commissioners.
“It was in this position that the President of France came to the New Hebrides, and I was appointed one of his chauffeurs during his visit,” Kalanga recalled.
He remained in his position as one of the New Hebridean chauffeur for the Resident Commissioners until New Hebrides gained political Independence on July 30, 1980.
“Before July 30, 1980, I had no freedom such as when I refused to go to jail and they forcefully made me go to jail for a week, after my normal working duties.
“On July 30, 1980, when I saw the Vanuatu flag hoisted at Independence Park, I felt the true spirit of freedom engulfing me and a true sense of freedom felt inside of me,” he expressed with relief.
He concluded by adding: “I thank God that today I have my freedom through our freedom fighters, and I recalled that my father joined the Vanua’aku party back in 1976 and I have always remained with the VP with my families to this day,” Kalanga said.
Mr. Kalanga, was a chauffeur for the last French Resident Commissioner in the New Hebrides up to the Vanuatu’s Independence in 1980, before retiring.