17 years after Manley's transition

Michael BURKE

Thursday, March 06, 2014    

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TODAY is the 17th anniversary of the death of Michael Manley, Jamaica's fourth prime minister. Much has been said and written about Michael Manley already, and I suppose there will always be more to come. But today I am interested in highlighting what has happened in the last 17 years. In this way history enthusiasts may put in perspective what has occurred since Michael Manley died.

Michael Manley did not live to see the People's National Party win a third straight term of office, let alone a fourth. He died in March 1997 and the general election was held on December 18 that year. Michael Manley did not live to see the tragic death of Princess Diana on August 30, 1997. He did not live to see the death of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta a few days after in early September 1997.

When Blessed Pope John Paul II was shot in St Peter's Square at the Vatican on May 13, 1981, Michael Manley as Opposition leader gave a stirring tribute to the then pontiff. When Blessed John Paul died in 2005, Michael Manley was already in his grave for eight years. And when his friend Archbishop Samuel Carter died in September 2002, Michael Manley was already in his grave for five and a half years.

Michael Manley did not live to see Jamaica's Reggae Boyz qualify for the World Cup in November 1997, let alone play World Cup matches in 1998.

Michael Manley did not live to see the 21st century. He did not live to see the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, in what has come to be known as 9/11, on September 11, 2001. This has caused an increase in visa restrictions and the security checks at airport throughout the entire world.

Michael Manley did not live to see the modern toll roads. Incidentally, as I have written before, there were toll roads in Jamaica up to 1859. Nor did Michael Manley live to see the advance of Highway 2000. Bruce Golding founded the National Democratic Movement in September 1995, a year and six months before Michael Manley died. But Michael Manley did not live to see Bruce Golding return to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), let alone see Golding become prime minister of Jamaica. Michael Manley did not live to see the JLP endorse the idea of free education as he and his father championed. This the JLP did in the campaign leading up to the 2002 election. Michael Manley did not live to see the road for republican status being set back again by delaying tactics. The Edward Seaga-led JLP tied their co-operation of contributing to the necessary two-thirds vote in Parliament to a condition that Jamaica should have a referendum on the court of appeal.

When Michael Manley became prime minister for the first time, 42 years ago, it was in the middle of an impatience for meaningful change. It was a time when it was fashionable to speak out against the vestiges of colonialism that were still with us. In a meeting that I was at, someone asked Michael Manley why he swore to The Queen. On one occasion he said that when he swore to The Queen he did not mean it and could not mean it. That became a hot news story. Conservatives castigated Manley for the statement, some with a political bias. Of course it is a serious offence to take an oath that one does not mean. It is tantamount to perjury. But many politicians of both sides did not have any real loyalty to The Queen. They, therefore, took the oath of office with the same lack of personal conviction.

In 2002, P J Patterson became the first prime minister of Jamaica to take an oath to the people of Jamaica. This was certainly something that was "in the pipeline" (as Dr Paul Robertson used to say), but Michael Manley did not live to see it. And he did not live to see the construction of Emancipation Park where P J Patterson took his oath of office as prime minister for the last time, while being the first not to swear allegiance to The Queen.

And because Michael Manley did not live to see the construction of Emancipation Park he never lived to see the controversy a year later about the statues of two naked ex-slaves at Emancipation Park. I never had a problem with it, because I have never seen the naked body only in sexual terms, as many of the critics seem to suggest. And the field slaves for the most part were not clothed.

While Michael Manley was around for Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 (although he was abroad during that hurricane), he was not around for the passing of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, let alone the passing of Hurricane Dean in 2007. Michael Manley did not live to see the local government elections of 2003 when Desmond McKenzie became mayor and held that office for eight years. Michael Manley did not live to see Portia Simpson Miller become prime minister of Jamaica. In the case of Andrew Holness, Michael Manley did not live to even see him elected to Parliament for the first time. Michael Manley died 10 months before Holness's election.

While the cellphone revolution in Jamaica started to emerge before Michael Manley closed his eyes to this world, it certainly never reached the stage that it is now. And Michael Manley did not live to see the telegraph service close down, 10 years ago, as the cellphone revolution made that obsolete.

Incidentally, Michael Manley wrote a letter to me less than a year before he died. He was commenting on his "five flights a day" statement in one of my articles in the now defunct Jamaica Herald. But the fact that it was letter written on paper, put in an envelope, a government stamp affixed to it, and posted suggests that Michael Manley was never au fait with computers. Today, I am sure that any such letter would have been emailed. Speaking of email, I did not even hear the term "email" until August 1996 when I had already been a newspaper columnist for eight years (two years before I started writing for the Jamaica Observer in 1998). And that was only seven months before Michael Manley died.





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