August 1, 1838 was obviously a watershed date in our history.
The official liberation of the slaves, who toiled mainly on plantations, was celebrated then, with muted jubilation. Some 184 years have gone by since this milestone was achieved. We commemorate the day annually by a national holiday, but with limited appreciation of its significance.
Historians and political scientists have written numerous articles, essays and other works on the emancipation of enslaved Africans and their descendants in the British West Indies. I don’t have much to add to the subject, except to say these three things:
We should use this day to remind us of the gross injustice and cruelty that our antecedents suffered and, like the Jewish people, we should reinforce our “never again” unbreakable commitment – a fundamental subject of our continuing education process and an enshrinement in our constitution.
Liberation should have perhaps come more at the instance of black slaves persistently demanding their freedom than at the instance of socially conscious influencers in London, such as William Wilberforce, or any economic imperative perceived by the English policymakers of the time. We would have gotten a better deal.
Blacks suffered because of slavery and all they got on August 1, 1838, was the freedom to set up chattel off the plantation or to remain and work literally for ‘dogs’. Our ancestors got no money. They got no land. Our planter class got billions of dollars in today’s currency value. Without seeking to diminish their hard work, those who came post – 1838 on indentureship contracts from Madeira and from India, did so with provision made for cash payments and the granting of land. To borrow a phrase from Brother Ebony, the suffering ex-slaves got nothing at all. 184 years later, the consequence of what was granted in 1838, is still present today, good and not so good.
Referendum and the time for maturity
I am glad that the subject of the Referendum is back on the table, even if it is to do one critical thing – have the country move from a constitutional monarchy to a veritable well-meaning republic. My fear, however, is that this will not go anywhere unless a greater demonstration of commitment and maturity is shown by all the key stakeholders.
It is unlikely that the New Democratic Party (NDP) will support any initiative that may help to ‘big up’ Prime Minister Gonsalves and allow him to score unassailable points whenever he decides to call the next general elections. Maybe Dr Friday will prove me wrong.
I was told a couple days ago that a candidate of the NDP in the last elections, stated on a radio programme, words to the effect that he is not interested in removing the Queen – Vincentians want jobs, food to eat and Gonsalves must go.
This position is again a poor reflection of our immature, parochial view about seizing political power. We would rather not have the country evolve into a nation state that is structurally more suited to fulfilling the development goals of its people, in favour of winning political office. The lesson of 2009 and 2010 has still not been learnt.
In 2009, we sought to introduce a comprehensive set of constitutional changes, rather than addressing the key fundamental topics only. This is not to say that the NDP would still not have rescinded on their initial commitment to the process.
IN 2009, a complete package was developed and offered to the people. Today, Dr Gonsalves reintroduces what can be considered one of the Key Fundamentals – a non-executive president, akin to Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago and recently Barbados. I say to the NDP, give it favourable but qualifying consideration, for the sake of our maturing democracy.
There are several issues that the NDP itself either advanced or supported, as a lead-up to the 2009 referendum. More than likely, some would have been included in the referendum proposal put forward for a Yes vote by the Gonsalves administration. At the risk of naivete, I say to the NDP, return to identifying one of these Key Fundamentals that you would have advanced or supported initially, and say to the Government that you could be onboard if this matter is also included. The NDP will have its say. I ask the ULP government, to accept the NDP’s fundamental proposal – especially if it was there before in the initial package, in purpose and basic form,13 years ago.
Lastly, I encourage the Parliament by consensus, to allow the NGO community to make a case for a third recurring Fundamental to be included. By this way, we can have government and society, participating in a process that each important group would have a say. It doesn’t have to be contentious. It does not have to be expensive and drawn out. It could be meaningful, inclusive, and above all, could show maturity on the part of all concerned.