By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” July 28, 2023)
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” — Audre Lorde.
“Instead of choosing leaders according to their rhetoric and promises, we need to choose leaders who mimic the same value system of you and I.” — Ndelika Mandela
Next Tuesday, the people of our country, like the rest of our sisters and brothers across the English-speaking Caribbean, will celebrate the 189th anniversary since the British Parliament passed legislation to end slavery. It is a significant milestone because we are children of the formerly enslaved who, through their blood, sweat and tears, fought valiantly to bring an end to this horrific crime against humanity.
The scars of slavery: the African Holocaust remains and continues to impede our people’s advancement.
Beginning with the consciousness-raising Black power era of the 1960s and 70s, our people started celebrating events to mark significant dates like African Liberation Day in May and Emancipation Day in August. In recent times, Emancipation events have become a shadow of their former selves. With the conscious effort of the governing political elite to kill off independent civil society organisations, events marking these significant days became official gatherings dependent on government financing. Our drummers, poets, cultural artists and progressive activists continued to hold events, but not with the same purpose, people’s participation or effectiveness.
This year, the government decided it would continue to water down the significance of Emancipation Day by reducing the celebration to a fun day. CARICOM Day is now celebrated with Emancipation Day, thus taking from its relevance. Dubbed a “Celebration of Freedom and Unity”, the proposed event takes place at Victoria Park and will be headlined by a bevy of local and regional artistes.
This is not the first Gonsalves assault on Emancipation Day. Four years ago, on Emancipation Day, Aug. 1, 2019, he cynically named Susan Dougan as the new governor-general to replace the retiring Dr. Frederick Ballantyne. To declare a colonial representative as head of state on Emancipation Day was a slap in the face of our ancestors who fought against slavery, colonial oppression and exploitation.
This official event next Tuesday continues the insult. It not only trivialises an essential milestone in our people’s long march to freedom. It bastardises Emancipation Day by adding CARICOM Day under the guise of promoting Caribbean unity. The government fails to recognise or disregard the importance of keeping Emancipation Day sacrosanct.
To mark the 50th anniversary, the CARICOM Secretariat asked all regional governments to mark the milestone with an official holiday. Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Guyana, and St Kitts acceded to the wish. Barbados announced it would mark the anniversary with an entire year of events.
Not so, Gonsalves. He opts for a fete, vainly hoping to desensitise the youth from the pressing social and economic problems and corruption that permeate every facet of Vincentian society.
Another point of note is this: Sept. 15 marks 10 years since the first Caribbean Reparations Conference was held here in SVG. Gonsalves deserves credit for steering CARICOM to champion the issue of reparations for Genocide, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery. However, history may record this effort as political expediency rather than a deep-seated commitment to remedy the situation of people of African descent in the Caribbean. Gonsalves demonstrates no desire to help our people free themselves of mental slavery. In fact, he uses every opportunity to exploit our low cultural level and religious sensibilities.
Ten years ago, Gonsalves’ government announced an SVG Reparations Committee. Proof that he lacked commitment to the reparations cause can be gleaned from the fact in the committee’s entire existence, he never budgeted a single cent for the committee’s operations. He sabotaged the committee’s right-to-return policy by claiming our exiled Garifuna brothers and sisters who live mainly in Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the United States will return to their ancestral homeland to take away “jobs and homes” of Vincentians.
Following 10 years of neglect of the local reparations movement, Gonsalves contracted to spend tens of thousands of dollars to bring Luciano and Jahmeil from Jamaica, Trinidadian soca dan Benjai and Grenada’s Jab Jab rhythm king, Tallpree.
What a monumental waste of resources! Consider the missed opportunity for consciousness-raising around the genocide of our indigenous people, conquest, Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, slavery, colonialism and empire if, over the years, some of this money was allotted to the reparations committee.
But alas. Gonsalves and his clansmen are not interested in our people’s political and cultural upliftment. They want the people to remain ignorant and confused. They want the people to value loyalty to them over discipline and commitment to the nation.
It is a small wonder that Gonsalves speaks interchangeably about slaves or the enslavement of African bodies rather than the plight of enslaved African people. This is why, for all the rhetoric about slavery and reparations, African and Caribbean history are not compulsory subjects in our schools. It explains why important events like National Heroes Day, African Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day are reduced to political sideshows rather than cultural and political upliftment manifestations.
This is no celebration of freedom and unity. This so-called emancipation event is a political hustle by a leader intending to pimp the people for all the mileage he can muster. We hope the gambit fails. The youth must enjoy the free concert and keep Gonsalves and his clansmen in their political bull’s eye.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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