Are Jamaicans betraying Mandela’s legacy?


Tuesday, December 10, 2013    

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IF Nelson Mandela was a Roman Catholic, he would have been canonised and made a saint in good time. Described as the "icon of icons" this African (black man) has transcended all racial, ethnic, political and religious barriers and has become almost Christ-like in his persona. There are those who may argue that this description is almost if not fully blasphemous, but I cannot recall anywhere in modern history where an embattled leader has turned the other cheek in such a fashion which was one of the admonitions of Jesus Christ to His followers when He was on Earth.

And although he did not die in captivity or was assassinated, Mandela was and is a hero to the world. Indeed, it is perhaps correct to say that he will never die, because as long as there is a human race he will stand tall as one of the greatest and most magnanimous of all human beings. If, after being released, he had followed a path of revenge and recriminations, then it boggles the mind as to what might have happened in South Africa, and ultimately the world. Instead of becoming as racist as his white oppressors, Mandela took the moral high road and embraced all of South Africa. Again, following in the footsteps of the Master whose words in the Lord's Prayer epitomise this great leap forward in human relations: "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors..."

And yet, even as we celebrate the life of this great man, we here in Jamaica need to take stock of ourselves and begin to reflect on whether or not we are behaving in a manner that is true to his legacy. To begin with, Mandela stood for black pride and dignity, but how many Jamaicans are truly proud of their African heritage? There is still a saying common among Jamaicans, especially in the lower class, that "anything black no good". Many black parents sometimes become concerned when their children marry someone of their own complexion, so it is a common practice for a black Jamaican to marry a browning so that the children will not come out looking too black. And there are still places in Jamaica where 'if you are black you must stay at the back and if you are white you are right'.

It is in this context that the bleaching phenomenon has taken hold of the national psyche, whereby many young Jamaican men and women are sufficiently convinced that if they are to successfully climb the socio-economic ladder then their complexion must change to fit into the harsh reality that skin colour does matter.

Nelson Mandela would have frowned against such a practice and undoubtedly this abominable act is anathema to his legacy. Indeed, those Jamaicans who continue to harbour feelings of inferiority, because of their blackness, are betraying his legacy. One can only hope, therefore, that even as the world focuses on his death, Jamaicans still trapped and impoverished by mental slavery will throw off those chains and claim their right to be here.


Ironically, even as we laud Mandela and remain inspired by his courageous and pragmatic leadership style, there is yet the unsettled issue of an official pardon for our first National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey. The philosophy and writings of Garvey must have played a seminal role in Mandela's evolution as well as his revolutionary stance on the issue of apartheid. Yet Garvey's legacy remains tainted by this lack of a pardon.

Of course, a pardon would suggest that he did something criminal; and there are those of us who have a problem with that nomenclature. Perhaps, it should be a case of exoneration because Garvey's fight for the rights of the black race and their freedom to exist in a world without chains, whether real or imagined, was a legitimate cause. After all, Jesus Himself could have been dubbed a criminal based on some of the actions He took and the utterances He made.

Notwithstanding our National Motto, Out of Many, One People, political tribalism and our socio-economic inequalities make us a nation that is more divided than united. I wish, therefore, that amidst all the encomiums being reeled out in praise of Mandela, Jamaicans will pause to reflect on our status as a fledgling nation that is being battered by violent crime, dishonesty, corruption, economic stagnation and one that is lacking in enough patriotism without which Jamaica will never reach the Promised Land.

Let us not fool ourselves, there is still ingrained in our culture a kind of political apartheid which exists between the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party, whereby just wearing a particular colour, be it orange or green, makes one the enemy and the other an ally.

Also, we need to re-examine how we treat persons in the minority by virtue of their lifestyle, sexual preferences or other proclivities. Mandela preached a doctrine of all-inclusiveness and tolerance, so those who espouse his way of life must practice what he preached. This would be the best way to honour his outstanding legacy.

The message of Christmas is peace on Earth and goodwill to all mankind. In true African spirit, I therefore, say Happy Kwanzaa, Madiba, you will forever live in our hearts.

Mandela wrote the poem Invictus (Unconquered, Undefeated) by William Henley on a scrap of paper in his prison cell while he was in prison for 27 years. And here I quote the second and last verses which hopefully will inspire us all even in our darkest moments as individuals and as a nation:

"In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeoning of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Lloyd B Smith is a member of Parliament and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party or the Government of Jamaica.





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