November 22, 2008
Many African and Other Guyanese Resisted the Burnham Regime
The following letter by Christopher Ram attempts to correct the misinformation, revisionism of historical facts and the disrepect that has been shown to elder Guyanese citizens by those who have either forgotten, are ignorant of the facts, or are purposely ignoring the opposition of Africans and others to the dictatorship of Guyana’s first President, Forbes Burnham.
Walter Rodney, a Guyanese-born African historian, wrote extensively on revolutionary thought and political practice
Many African and other Guyanese resisted the Burnham dictatorship
Saturday, July 14th 2007
When Mr. Eusi Kwayana some time ago questioned the appointment of Mr. Prakash Gossai to a newly created, publicly funded position in the Office of the President, he incurred the wrath of Messrs Jerome Khan, Charandass Persaud and Vishnu Bisram in language and content that detracted from the serious issue of political appointees to the public service. I have intended for some time to write a response and regret that it has taken me so long.
Mr. Khan’s letter not only contained such angry language as “rather convoluted, spiteful and pregnant with ‘hearsay’ and may be libelous”, but questioned rhetorically who is Mr. Eusi Kwayana, asking readers to spare him the details of Mr. Kwayana’s political history, even suggesting that Mr. Kwayana had outlived his usefulness. Is the suggestion here that a person is to be judged by his age rather than by the values and principles he represents?
It would be good to hear Mr. Khan’s thoughts on whether there is any other national figure in Guyana of any era with whom words such as incorruptible, honest, full of integrity, courageous and selfless are associated, and whether he knows of Mr. Kwayana’s decades-old campaign against corruption – today, in relation to the PPP, yesterday in relation to the PNC. Does he know the role Kwayana played in the high-profile cases involving the misuse of State resources by former Prime Minister Hamilton Green and Minister of Government Mr. David Singh or the circumstances that caused his break with the PNC?
Ironically, while asking readers to spare him the details of Mr. Kwayana’s history, Mr. Khan regales us with tales of his boyhood days with Mr. Gossai some forty or more years ago. This does not prevent me from understanding that Mr. Khan can make a constructive contribution to national discourse and it is good to see that he has not followed up on his threat in Stabroek News of March 8, 2007 not to engage in the letter columns, since he finds “this process to be rather unproductive and banal.”
Mr. Bisram’s letter was far more gracious and respectful of Mr. Kwayana. Unfortunately, while acknowledging Mr. Kwayana’s contribution to the national and anti-dictatorial struggles, Mr. Bisram showed the same level of misunderstanding or misrepresentation of history when he identified Mr. Kwayana as “one of a few Africans who resisted the oppressive onslaught against the Guyanese nation by the Burnham dictatorship”. I am deliberately going to list names as my small contribution to setting the record straight with respect to the countless Afro-Guyanese who engaged in various forms of opposition to the PNC. All the names that foillow were provided me by WPA historians.
The WPA suffered three deaths: Edward Dublin, Ohene Koama, and Walter Rodney and several of its members were jailed for various periods, Dr. David Hinds and Tacuma Ogunseye each serving more than two years.
Among the thousands of non-Indians in and around the WPA in the early years who participated in various acts of defiance and anti-dictatorial struggle, including the food protests, and who were variously fired from their jobs, harassed, beaten, arrested and/or charged were, in alphabetical order: Abbyssinian, Adeshina, Andaiye, Deon Abrams, Awesi Afrani, Kwesi Afrani, Kwame Apata, Kidackie Amsterdam, Sidney Benjamin, Denise Boodie, James Blair, Olga Bone, Bunny Cadogan, Winston Haslyn Cadogan, Roland Cameron (treason accused), Norman Dalyrmple, Joycelyn Dow, Karen de Souza, Claude Ellis, Richard Feinmeisser, Othello Guyau, Ian Hall, Joan and Deryck Gravesande .Victor Hall, Bonita Harris, James Herod, Brentnol Holder, Herman Holder, Stanley Humphrey, Cecil Josiah, Dr. Adeola James, Mobutu Kamara, Victor Kersting, Brenda Koama, Eusi Kwayana, Colleen Marshall, Diane Matthews, Gordon Mckend, Kwame Odinga, Maurice Odle, Dr. Omawale, Sase Omo, Abayomi Osaze, Vanda and Danuta Radzik,!
Donald Rodney, Walter Rodney, Dr. Patricia Rodney, Brian Rodway Fr. Malcolm Rodrigues, Godfrey Sage, Keith Scott, Duncan and Gordon Seaforth, Sydney Sumner, Dr. Clive Thomas, Alice Thomas, Gerald Thomas, Ronald Todd, Denzil Wills, Kathy Wills, Desmond Trotman, Dennis Vaugn-Cooke, Lincoln Vansluytman, Nigel Westmaas, and John Williams, (Most) of these women and men were, of course, Guyanese of African descent.
Of course in a multi-racial party like the WPA which incidentally came out of the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA), the Indian Political Revolutionary Associates (IPRA), the Working Peoples’ Vanguard Party (WPVP) led by Mr. Brindley Benn and Ms. Thelma Reece, RATOON, a group of intellectuals and academics, and individuals including Dr. Walter Rodney, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine and Andaiye, there were outstanding non-Africans as well who operated at the national as well as community levels. These include Amerindians Barbara Collymore, Victor Kersting, Ashton Simon, Sabanto Tokoroho, and Matheson Williams.
Among the Indians were Moses Bhagwan who was jailed for possession of the WPA’s Dayclean, Baboo, Chand, Desmond Alli, Ashford Ambedkar, ‘Parakeet’ Nathoo, Freddie Kissoon, Sheikh Hussein, Leila Jagdeo, Kadir Hussein, Rohit Kanhai, Ann Madramootoo, Wazir and Ameer Mohamed, Jai and Rishi Parasram, Kenneth Persaud, Wendell Persaud(George), Madan Pydiah, Bissoon Rajkumar, Mudas Rajkumar, Bhyro Ramdharry, Josh Ramsammy, Rupert Roopnaraine, Patrick Salaman, Susan Salaman, Andrew Seecharran, Hardeo Tiwari and the treason accused Shivpersaud, Krishjenpaul Awdhan, Jinnah Rahaman, Ivan Sookram and Tickaram.
Outside the ranks of the WPA, for their resistance senior professionals in the State sector Dr. Aubrey Armstrong, Hugh Saul, Pat Carmichael and Pat Thompson, among several others, were forced to leave their jobs and the country. Others like Terrence Fletcher and Colin Cholmondeley, Richard Fields,David de Caires, Dr. Hugh Holder, Mike James and Ron Jordon who had come together with others and initiated the publication COMPASS were visited with harassment and physical and telephone threats causing many of them to migrate.
Other lawyers, mainly non-Indian, refused to be silenced. Among them were Ashton Chase, Cleveland Hamilton, the indefatigable Miles Fitzpatrick, Joseph King and the trio Peter Britton, Llewellyn John and Martin Stephenson who acted pro bono in the ‘Ombudsman’ corruption case referred to above. Current Attorney General Doodnauth Singh, Moses Bhagwan and Miles Fitzpatrick comprised the Guyana contingent who, along with attorneys-at-law Richard Small of Jamaica, Robert Clarke of Barbados and Alan Alexander of Jamaica, successfully defended leading WPA members Omawale, Rodney and Roopnaraine on an arson charge in connection with a fire at the PNC Secretariat in 1979.
In the labour movement there were GPSU President George Daniels, and other trade union leaders like Leslie Melville, Gordon Todd and several from the bauxite unions including Sis. Hazel Campayne, Basil Collins, Brenda DoHarris, Reuben Gilbert, I. Jagnandan, Kenneth Khan, Bernadette Persaud, Chaitram Singh, V. Tiwari and Clarence Trotz.while among the teachers who resisted were Sis. Hazel Campayne, Basil Collins, Brenda DoHarris, Reuben Gilbert, I. Jagnandan, Kenneth Khan, Bernadette Persaud, Chaitram Singh, V. Tiwari and Clarence Trotz.
This is neither a numbers game nor an invitation to ethnic comparisons, but if the letter writers referred to in this letter disagree with its contents, they can refer to the PNC 1979 WPA Recognition Handbook, as well as the Catholic Standard which carried on under Fr. Andy Morrison after the murder of Fr. Bernard Darke while he took photographs of a demonstration by supporters of the WPA.
Three final thoughts. The first is that even as many of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) stalwarts may have moved on, they carry with them the philosophy and values for which the WPA stood – proof hopefully to Mr. Khan that values never outlive their usefulness.
The second: as someone with a potential contribution to the political reform of the country, Mr. Khan would do well not to ignore history while as a pollster, Mr. Bisram should bear in mind that his reputation can be easily compromised by carelessness with facts; and
Finally, we must not let the distraction about personalities take away from the issue of the creation of positions within the public service without adequate controls and accountability in place.