Respect for Michael Manley on his 99th
Michael Manley would have been 99 this Sunday, December 10, had he been around to witness, first-hand, how some of the policies and projects that he implemented while he served as Jamaica’s prime minister, thrice, have unfolded.
Manley, son of late chief minister, and Jamaica’s only premier, National Hero Norman Washington Manley, led the People’s National Party (PNP) to victory in 1972, and served as Jamaica’s fourth prime minister from 1972 to 1976 in his first term, following a domination of leadership by the Jamaica from 1962 to 1972. He was returned as prime minister in 1976, after a messy general election campaign, and served as Jamaica’s political head up to October 1980, when the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won power in Jamaica’s bloodiest general election. By police statistics, 844 people died that year as a direct result of election violence.
Manley was triumphant again in leading the PNP to a general election win in 1989, before ill-health forced him out of active politics, and the Parliament in 1992. He died in 1997 at age 72.
As the century gets closer, four retired Members of Parliament (MP) and one active MP, among them two who were on the opposite side, hailed Manley on his special day, with praise and honour.
For Dr Fenton Ferguson, a former minister of health, and later minister of labour and social security under the PNP, Manley made him more conscious as a student of the need to return to his homeland and contribute to nation-building upon completion of his studies abroad.
“For those of us who came through the period of progressive politics in the 1960s and into the 1970s, Michael ‘Joshua’ Manley was a champion. When he ascended to become party leader and also prime minister by 1972, at that time I was a radical student at Howard University in Washington, DC. The Black Power movement was strong, and I was moving with the progressive young people at Howard. Michael and members of his Cabinet at that time would visit Howard, and not only visit, but came there with a message.
“During that period, my understanding of politics, not only locally, but globally, was significantly impacted by Michael Manley and his speeches at the time. When he was talking about the International Economic Order at that time and during the 1970s, persons would have said that he was ahead of his time. During his time in Government locally, the progressive policies that relate to women, to workers, to land reform, agriculture, the geopolitical politics, could not escape those of us who were in the academic community, as we were close to what was taking place in Jamaica and the rest of the world.
“I was fortunate to receive a Government of Jamaica dental scholarship during that period too, which made a major difference to me as an individual — my mother being a public servant, and at that time, the cost of studying was still high for many of us, especially coming from that kind of vulnerable background, having grown up in Maverley and Pembroke Hall at the time.
“By 1978 after completing my studies, I returned to Jamaica to serve my country, again with Michael Manley as prime minister, moving into rural Jamaica where I was the only dental surgeon in the parish of St Thomas for 11 years.
“Today as you look back, philosophically, although there are variations and adoptions, the philosophy and politics of Michael Manley continue to be quoted by many. When you look back at his influence in the Caribbean and beyond, there are still clear signs that if certain forces were not against Michael Manley, things would have been different. Michael Manley will always be recognised for what he has done, not just for Jamaica, but for humanity,” Dr Ferguson said.
MP for St Andrew South Eastern, former general secretary of the PNP, Julian Robinson, who did not work with Manley in the political arena, said that the former prime minister had left a lasting impression on him, nonetheless.
“Michael Manley was a strong and passionate advocate for social justice, equality of opportunities and became a powerful voice and advocate on behalf of developing countries.
“Charming, charismatic and controversial, Comrade Manley possessed a strong intellect which he used to forcefully explain the imbalances in the world order.
“I never had the opportunity of working with him but his legacy continues to motivate me to make Jamaica and the world a better place.
“As he always said — the word is love,” Robinson shared.
Former Member of Parliament for St Andrew West Rural, Paul Buchanan, who worked on projects with Manley, lauded the populist’s service to Jamaica and the world, highlighting the late prime minister as a political champion.
“Like all the transcendent purveyors of social justice humankind has known, Michael Manley was of a special phenotype, a uniquely transformative visionary, for whom there are no moulds with which he could be identified.
“Unlike others of his class, he embraced Rasta, the poor and the marginalised, when it was not fashionable so to do. He had an unshakeable commitment to equality and justice, even if it meant losing lifelong friendships or confronting the dangers wrought from opposing imperialist powers and politically aligned multinational elites during the Cold War. This he did in forging a binding friendship with Cuba and calling for economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa, while giving unvarnished support to the front-line African states in their liberation struggles.
“Beyond that, in his principled recognition of China in 1972, Michael Manley saw further than his colleagues and detractors, that China with a quarter of the world’s population would one day become an economic superpower, which would redound to Jamaica’s benefit. That has come to pass.
“And yes, for all this, in addition to promulgating an irreversible social revolution unmatched in Jamaica’s history, he will forever be celebrated as the seminal transformative icon of our time,” Buchanan stated.
Although they did not sing from the same political hymn book, retired MPs and ministers of government, Derrick Smith and Pearnel Charles Sr, gave Manley due recognition on his day.
“Former Prime Minister Michael Manley first came to my attention sometime in 1971, primarily because of the furore he created with the majority of young Jamaicans” said Smith, a former representative for St Andrew North Western, as well as minister of national security, and later development; and minister without portfolio.
“I, for one, was not not fully focused and was searching for my true identity, and he, Mr Manley, was saying the things I wanted to hear.
“A few years after becoming prime minister, there was a noticeable shift in his focus, leading to the introduction of an alien ideology that I did not believe in. I was fortunate enough to join Mr Manley in Parliament in 1989. The Government that he led introduced many social programmes which were beneficial to all Jamaicans, for which he must be commended.
“Most of all, he created an awareness to us, as a people, of our potential as a black country,” Smith added.
Charles Sr, once regarded as one of Manley’s main political and trade union foes, hailed Manley’s contribution to Jamaica, despite his personal suffering during a period when Manley was prime minister.
“Michael Manley has been one of the politicians and trade unionists that I have loved, I have hated, I have worked with, I have worked against and finally before he died, we met and settled all our differences, shook hands, and told him goodbye,” said Charles Sr, a former senator, and MP who served the people of St Thomas Eastern, and Clarendon North Central for several years.
“I have respected him because of his expression for the poor, his demonstration that he wanted, although he did not complete all of what he said he wanted to do. I had similar ideas.”
Charles Sr was among JLP members and activists detained under a State of Emergency and held at Up Park Camp, headquarters of the Jamaica Defence Force, as they were deemed a threat to Jamaica’s national security, although it was thought to be a ploy to disallow certain people from participating, directly, in the election.
“He put me in detention for a year while my family suffered, and people wondered why I would still talk to him.” Charles continued. “But I respected him because of his philosophy of helping the poor, which falls in line with my philosophy.
“I got a chance to visit him a few days before he died. We recognised each other and I asked him why he did certain things to me and he advised me why it was done, and we shook hands and forgave one another. People still wonder how I could love and forgive him but it’s all about my mother’s teaching,” Charles Sr said.