By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” April 29, 2022)
We are sleepwalking to an awful place. We may not recognise our slide now. The next generation would be tasked with arresting it. When they do, they will wonder aloud what got over those who came before. We will have to go back to the 1960s to revisit the political and ideological backwardness that currently pervades our country.
By the late 1960s, “the Forum boys” of Kenneth John, Kerwyn Morris, PR Campbell and a band of young socialists led by Caspar London, Hugh Ragguette and Glenroy Tswala Browne were beginning to stir the masses. In the 1970s and 1980s, Jim Maloney, Patches Knights, the Rose brothers — Kamara and Chivambo — Oscar Allen, Ralph Gonsalves, Mike Browne, Adrian Saunders and others spread the message of anti-colonialism and for independence, Caribbean unity and solidarity, economic development and socialism.
There was a genuine effort to uplift and enlighten the people. The discourse was raw and often strident. A clear distinction was drawn between the old depressing, suppressing policies and habits of the colonial administrators. A budding group of activists and emerging intellectuals took the message that “massa day done”. Then, the clamour was “let those who labour hold the reins of power”.
Currently, from a political and ideological standpoint, everything is in reverse. Consciousness is in reverse. Organisation is in reverse. Dark clouds are forming. Things could not look more bleak and dismal. Confusion and ignorance are rife. In an age when there’s information like never before in history, knowledge and wisdom are in short supply.
By the 70s and 80s, there was a clear and distinct anti-colonial consciousness. Not anymore. Everything is in reverse. Leaders who convinced 43% of the electorate to vote for a new constitution remain stuck in the referendum politics of 2009. They refused to admit that we have only ourselves to blame for our failure. According to them, the Queen is our queen and her son, Edward, is her representative. Therefore, we must show them ultimate respect rather than the most basic diplomatic niceties. All that we were taught about, the ravages caused by colonial conquest and settlement, genocide and enslavement, colonialism and underdevelopment are either lost or forgotten. How dare some of you rain on our pomp and ceremony with your demand for reparations, they shout? Where leaders have no vision, the people suffer.
The organisation of the people is a casualty of the modern era. Essential civic consciousness is also in reverse. The major political parties have captured the people’s imagination. To these leaders, no other organisation matters. The ruling party blocked efforts to revive the National Youth Council. The Leader of our country brags about planting spies and moles in the trade unions. He brazenly reads word-for-word everything that happens in a union meeting. He promotes the division and weakening of trade unions. Consequently, union members often vote against their interests to show solidarity and allegiance with their party of choice.
Forty years ago, trade unionists imbued union members with a level of trade union consciousness. The mantra was, “One for all and all for one”. Union leaders like Ebenezer Joshua inculcated in agricultural workers that their humanity must be respected no matter their station in life. Caspar London educated workers to understand that unless they become a class for themselves rather than merely a class in themselves, they will never control the economy’s commanding heights and wield it in their interest.
Today, our leaders have no regard for the people. Their sole concern is to ensure that citizens are corralled during elections to either return them to power or vote them into the corridors of power. We dare either side to contradict this assertion.
What SVG needs more than ever is a democratic revolution. The people need to be on the move again. Trade unions need to be strengthened. Sell out and compromised leaders need to be replaced. It is sad commentary that trade union leaders no longer go on recruitment drives. We will have to think long and hard to remember the last time a union won recognition as the bargaining agent for workers anywhere in SVG. Workers are still being ill-treated, exploited and sexploited. Their conditions of work remain hazardous and backbreakingly challenging. Their pay is depressingly low. Apart from the Teachers and Public Service Union, no other flexes their muscle in defence of workers.
Civil society organisations need to be formed and encouraged. More of our people need to be taught self-reliance. Too many have developed the bad habit of relying on government or politicians for hand-outs. We need to return to community values to become our brothers’ keepers again.
A thoroughgoing reordering of our society is urgently needed. If the political class remains unwilling to take stock and assist in turning our country around, citizens will increasingly withdraw their support. Rather than being a proper exercise in democracy, elections would become a mere formality. Politicians engage in the nasty game of political masturbation that offers no real and lasting benefits to the people.
The mind is a terrible thing to waste. If we fail to nurture the minds of citizens, most of whom are young, we will manufacture criminals and misfits. They will become the new menace that threatens the basic fabric of our society. Some may be able to barricade their homes with high walls and electronic locks. However, we will no sooner realise that we can run, but we can’t hide.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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