By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(Plain Talk, Aug. 9, 2019)
“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.” Frantz Fanon.
Robert Milton Cato, the leader of the St. Vincent Labour Party, once described a group of budding Vincentian progressives as “Damn Foolish Men”, a vulgarisation of the group’s name, Democratic Freedom Movement (DFM). That was in 1972. Today, a half century on, this label aptly fits some so-called progressives who now support the Unity Labour Party. In an attempt to defend the indefensible, they have exposed their buffoonery, political nakedness and ideological bankruptcy.
This may seem harsh commentary, but no less accurate.
A little history is in order. Aug. 1, 2019 marked the 186th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation passed by the British Parliament in 1833. As a youngster, progressive organisations like Black Liberation Action Committee (BLAC) led by Renwick Rose and Organisation for Black Cultural Awareness (OBCA) of Jim Maloney and now legendary calypsonian, Patches, organised marches and rallies to commemorate this very important day. These were the Black Power days. Consciousness was high among a vanguard contingent and growing among the people.
In the last two decades, particularly after the ULP of Prime Minister Gonsalves took over the country, civil society, whose leadership was co-opted, went in sharp decline. The government’s Department of Culture spearheaded most of the important activities: Black History Month in February, National Heroes Month in March, African Liberation Month in May and Emancipation Day activities in August. For a while, this worked well, but as government support waned, civil society, now dependent on the government initiative and support, remains paralysed. A rebirth of civil society with an emphasis on independence from the political class is urgently needed.
Matters came to a head this Emancipation Day. A level of confusion took centre stage. The Government decided to install Mrs. Susan Dougan, a fine, decent and dignified woman, as the new representative of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Apart from the fanfare that accompanied Mrs Dougan being the first female to be nominated to this post here, this swearing-in ceremony would not have caused a stir.
Sadly however, as Mrs. Dougan was sworn in, our Police band blared out “God Save the Queen”. This was on Emancipation Day… Not the day before, nor the day after, or any other day… This was the date, which marked the day on which enslaved Africans were pronounced legally free. Clearly, no one could square this circle except for those who think that anything government does, no matter how thoughtless, ridiculous or contradictory, must be met with total and complete support. There seems to be a mindless section of our citizenry that is evidently convinced that any shade with the government demonstrates a break in the ranks, a virtual end of civilisation moment.
PM Gonsalves should disabuse them of this silly notion.
So, they went on an idle campaign to prove the unprovable; to justify the unjustifiable. “The queen is our queen too; if we did not want Queen Elizabeth, a ceremonial figure with little or no legal and constitutional relevance, we should have voted ‘yes’ for the revised constitution in 2009; we are only giving Vincentians what they voted for and desired,” they argued vainly.
Everyone knows that this is nonsense on steroids. But they persist and then with a straight face embrace the description “progressives”.
For starters, why would those who claim to be the advanced, progressive contingent of our people, submerge and reduce themselves to the so-called “backward masses?” They must know that at best, to install the Queen’s representative on Emancipation Day is bad policy and bad practice. Why not any other day? Such an act is an affront to our ancestors who fought and won their freedom almost two centuries ago. They know that the people of our country are owed an apology; an admission that this was, at a minimum, an oversight grounded in administrative convenience.
To listen to radio and visit social media and hear the excuses and justifications for the instalment of the representative of slavery and colonialism, backwardness and oppression of our people on the same day we celebrate our formal and legal emancipation from our British enslavers is painful. Oscar Allen’s wise words are apropos: “If you know better, do better; be more and do more.”
As sister Ideisha Jackson, in an honourable and valiant defence of our ancestors’ dignity and valour, the respect and education of this generation, told the host of the WE FM’s “Issue at Hand” programme last Sunday: “I did not even think I would have to defend this.”
The confusion around the place of Emancipation Day in our calendar is clear proof that we have long ways to go in order to achieve true and lasting freedom.
Sadly, some of those whom the ancestors have ordered into the front ranks as opinion makers and leaders have demonstrated on this issue that they have neither the political and ideological clarity or commitment that will help our people build up the consciousness so critical for the next stage of struggle. Or is it plain dishonesty?
SVG needs another criminal court judge
The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court took its vacation last Friday and will reconvene on Sept. 18, 2019. At the closing of the assizes, it was disclosed that there are 109 persons sitting in prisons awaiting trial. This number accounts for 25% of all persons behind prison walls.
Many of these persons are young, first-time offenders, who, as Don Mitchell, former Justice of Appeal on the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, said, may not even be sentenced to prison when the matters are finally disposed of. Justice Mitchell made this comment in a report about the state and condition of our prisons in 2001. Very little has changed since then, even though our country sports another correctional facility at Belle Isle.
There are persons who have not even been tried for alleged crimes committed in 2005! Some of these detainees are no longer brought to the court to have their matters case-managed. They are simply warehoused among convicted murderers, rapists and other hardened and violent prisoners.
We have a repeat offenders’ rate of 53%. Over 200 of the 400 inmates have been there at least twice. This is hardly surprising, because rehabilitation is not a priority. Deterrence and retribution take pride of place as law and order trumps human rights concerns.
Interestingly, there are two civil court judges which evidences that society cherishes property and business rights over liberty of citizens, especially of those at the bottom of our societal ladder.
For starters, we can attempt to turn this sad situation around by appointing a second judge whose task will be to speedily bring to trial all those on remand.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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