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Raffique Shah


30 years later

By Raffique Shah

IT is amazing how time flies. Today, 30 years ago, the nation was under a State of Emergency and its first dusk-to-dawn curfew since World War II. Pivotal to the events of the day were two 24-year-old army lieutenants and around 300 rebel soldiers, who had seized control of the Regiment's Headquarters at Teteron Barracks on April 21, the day the emergency was declared.

There were, too, several leaders and prominent activists of NJAC, the organisation at the head of the Black Power revolution, who had been detained by the police. Among them were Makandal Daaga, George Weekes, Winston Leonard, Khafra Kambon, Winston Suite and Syl Lowhar, to name just a handful of the more prominent detainees.

We need to remember, however, some of the lofty ideals held by the leaders of the Black Power revolution and the soldiers who dared to put their lives on the line-quite literally, I should add. While it is true that external factors did influence the young and adventurous who had expected more from the nation's political independence in 1962, these were peripheral to the objectives set by those who were involved in that protracted post-independence struggle that was not uncommon in ex-colonial countries.

Specifically, the local movement sought to have imbalances in the racial and economic spheres corrected, and at long last the Negro was proud to claim his African ancestry. As a spin-off, Indo-Trinidadians, many of whom had turned Christian, would return to their roots, and we saw a resurgence of Hinduism and Islam. At the end of the day, the Williams Government effected certain token changes. The first all-local commercial bank, NCB, came into being, more non-white faces began appearing behind the counters of the other banks, and the State started exercising its muscle and money at the level of the commanding heights of the economy.

Those who made sacrifices in 1970, meaning facing jail or police batons and harassment, did enjoy a sense of satisfaction. But that is not the story I want to highlight in this column. What the younger people today must learn, and what the older ones must be reminded of, is that several of the UWI students who were detained during the emergency sat their examinations, in some instances their finals, while in jail. Suite, who today holds a doctorate and sits on several boards, is one such person. Others who wrote exams in prison included Winston Smart (a relation of Anthony Smart), Dave Darbeau, Russel Andalcio and Wayne Davis.

Although the NJAC of 1970 did not survive the post-emergency period, since many of its key activists broke with Daaga and went on to involve themselves in other groups, the ideals that they held so dearly then remain intact in their hearts to this day. NJAC itself, while it never emerged as a political force of any significance, branched off into other spheres of activity. Its work at the Butler Institute and in the field of culture is well-known.

Most of all, its key members still retain the respect they commanded many years ago, and even though Daaga has become somewhat of a recluse, he is still regarded as an icon in a society that is short on exemplars.

Weekes of course went on to be deemed a National Hero. Clive Nunez remains as active as ever, and he, too, has served well in both the cultural field and in the trade union movement. Leonard, who died a few months ago, kept his unwavering belief in revolution to his last breath.

Lowhar, who also died recently, rose to become a senior officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, and a respected intellectual. From the George Williams university, Teddy Belgrave is a teacher-cum-pan-activist, his ex-wife, Valerie, has blossomed into a writer and a batik specialist, Bukka Rennie writes for the Guardian, and Rosie Douglas of Dominica is now that island's Prime Minister. Andalcio holds a doctorate and lectures in the US.

And although I have lost track of many others, I know that they, too, have done well over the years, many of them having made tangible contributions to the development of this country, or, in instances, others.

As for the mutinous soldiers, most people know what I have done, since I remained in the public eye over the ensuing years. Rex Lassalle spent close to 20 years exploring the field of alternative medicine, and his column in the Independent gives only a hint of just how far he has advanced in this area. He has written a book on matters connected with this field of study and is well-respected in the new-age health circles in Europe and North America. Mike Bazie turned to academia and ended up working at a senior level with one of the local conglomerates. And among the soldiers who took an active part in mutiny, most have not only fitted back into the society, but they are well-respected and are making contributions to the general upliftment of the country.

So, 30 years after an uprising that saw scores of young rebels branded as traitors and suffer imprisonment and other forms of public humiliation, they have not only proved their commitment to their country, but have proved to be more patriotic than many of those who were glorified as heroes of the day. Which just underscores the reality that today's scoundrel could be tomorrow's hero. Or that history has a strange way of correcting the injustices meted out to those who dare to risk their lives in pursuit of the greater good of the country, even if it takes 30 years to prove the point. The revolutionaries of 1970, at least most of them, remain patriotic to the bone.

Yes, we tried to cleanse the soul of the nation then. We may not have succeeded, certainly not in our bid to eradicate racial divisions in the society, to mould one nation, one people. But we did provoke an awareness among the people that might yet bring about the nirvana we tried to create when we were young and full of revolutionary fervour.


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