Rodney, Belafonte and credit unions


Thursday, October 18, 2018

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This past Monday, October 15, was the 50th anniversary of the expulsion from Jamaica of the Guyanese lecturer, the late Dr Walter Rodney. This past Tuesday, October 16, marked 50 years since the protest of the expulsion of Rodney by students of The University of the West Indies. It began as a peaceful protest but it was taken over by vandals who wreaked havoc in downtown Kingston.

The day after the protest, then prime minister, Hugh Shearer, produced in Parliament a pamphlet that suggested that Rodney was attempting to incite a riot. The immediate reaction of then Opposition Leader Norman Manley was to agree with Shearer. The elder Manley spoke of his own experiences with Claudius Henry in 1960 when he was premier of Jamaica eight years earlier in 1960.

But it was David Coore, then an Opposition Member of Parliament, who responded in Parliament that there was “not a shred of evidence” that the pamphlet came from the university campus. Did Coore receive fresh information after the elder Manley's comments?

The full text of Coore's speech in Parliament was not produced in The Gleaner, but in Public Opinion, the weekly newspaper owned and operated by Osmond T Fairclough. While speaking in the House, Shearer had parliamentary privilege and could not be sued for defamation of character, libel or slander. Shearer never repeated his statement outside of Parliament, which is most significant.

The truth is that Walter Rodney was teaching poor people in the inner cities about the greatness of African civilisation and to be proud of one's African heritage, just as Jamaica's Marcus Garvey did some decades earlier. And, in my opinion, the remaining status quo that was left from colonial times did not like it and manufactured accusations of Rodney pretty much as what was done to Marcus Garvey.

One person wrote in recent times that the killing of Rodney in a car bomb blast in Guyana in 1980 was a vindication of Hugh Shearer. What nonsense! Rodney co-founded a political party in Guyana. Was he a political threat to others in Guyana? Might that have been a reason for his death?

It is most fitting that Harry Belafonte was accorded the Order of Merit on National Heroes' Day, but it is also a coincidence and an amazing irony. It is a coincidence because it happens as some Jamaicans commemorate the 50th anniversary of Rodney's expulsion from Jamaica.

Six months before Rodney was expelled from Jamaica, in April 1968, the United States Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated and Harry Belafonte had attended the funeral. It was the television news clips of that funeral that many in Jamaica understood how connected Belafonte is to the pan-African movement. It was certainly the time when I became aware that Belafonte was not just a singer of Jamaican folk music.

When, in 1937, Norman Manley founded Jamaica Welfare to make a physical and social transformation of rural Jamaica; an English professor along with Louise Bennett (later Coverley) went with some old-fashioned reel-tape recorders all over the countryside and recorded Jamaican folk music.

Jamaica Welfare hired Harry Belafonte, an American born of a Jamaican mother, to record two Jamaican folk songs Jamaica Farewell and The Banana Boat Song. The great efforts of Olive Lewin in songs and research as commissioned by Edward Seaga came some 30 years after that.

But the irony is that the Belafonte's award comes from a Jamaica Labour Party Government. In July 1982 Jimmy Cliff received the Norman Manley Award for Excellence. Harry Belafonte was the guest speaker. Incidentally, I was very much present in the Carib Theatre that night in July 1982.

Belafonte lambasted the then Jamaica Labour Party Government for some of the advertisements for Jamaican tourism viewed in the North America. One of them was “Come back to Jamaica where a black Nanny will take care of your children”. Following that, there was a resolution in Parliament tabled by former Jamaica Labour Party minister of education in the 1960s, the late Edwin Allen, to declare Harry Belafonte persona non grata from Jamaica.

A few weeks after, the resolution died a natural death. Was it because such a move would have been unconstitutional, as Harry Belafonte, by his mother's Jamaican birth, is a Jamaican citizen? Or was it because wiser heads in the Jamaica Labour Party Government of the day saw that it would be counter-productive for tourism and for their own political popularity?

Did the present Government make the award out of reparation for that embarrassing resolution in Parliament in 1982? True, Prime Minister Andrew Holness was only just reaching 10 years old in that very month.

Credit unions

Today is International Credit Union Day. The same Jamaica Welfare that was established for rural development founded many cooperative societies. In 1941 the Young Men's Sodality of Holy Trinity (Roman Catholic) Cathedral founded the first credit union in Jamaica, although it was the second one to be registered in 1942. By 1950, all cooperatives in Jamaica were registered under the Cooperative Act of 1950.

A new form of slavery caused by debt is common today in Jamaica because some employers oppress workers since they know that the workers need their jobs to pay debts. Innovative methods by cooperatives, where members work part time, should assist here.

Earnings from such cooperatives should be used to pay debts and circumvent salary deductions from regular jobs that notifies the employers of workers' debts and many times used to hold workers at ransom. Such cooperatives should be financed by the credit unions.

Further, the resolutions by some credit unions to stop nominations to committees from the floor of annual general meetings are counter-democratic. The onus of proof that any committee member is not 'fit and proper' in accordance with the law should be on the Government and not the nominating committee or the registrar of cooperative societies.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or

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