The gold dust of Mandela
If I were the leader of any modern Government in Trinidad and Tobago, there are five reasons why I might be very embarrassed to go to South Africa to attend the funeral of the illustrious Nelson Mandela.
First, no leader of any T&T Government ever took a firm and committed position against apartheid. They took token positions and it is only when the battle against the savage and venomous system had been won, when there was no possibility of turning back, when the governments of the UK and the USA had belatedly and mildly signalled an anti-apartheid stance, that our governments followed suit. It was the trade unions, men like George Weekes, Michael Als, David Abdullah and others, like the National Joint Action Committee, who mounted the most serious, radical and committed challenge to apartheid right here in our own streets, halls and parks. I would probably stay home, if I were a government leader, and send a delegation of trade unionists.
Second, I might be ashamed to be seen rubbing shoulders with leaders of the UK and US governments who supported, overtly and covertly, the apartheid system. It is the people of these nations, many of them white, who fought tooth and nail against a system which had its roots in the US and the UK itself. Very few Western nations took decisive action against apartheid, notable among them, Cuba, which sent troops, strategists and medics to help the oppressed.
Third, I might want to stay at home and personally go down to the schools, hospitals, jails, traffic-laden highways, farms, and tackle frontally the looming crisis which faces our nations. The poor literacy rate and rabid competition for “prestige” education; the shortage of drugs, beds and medical personnel; the overcrowding in jails which could be solved by a few deft actions; the gargantuan traffic crisis which is building daily and swallowing up work time and family time, and leading to all manner of social, economic and psychological ill; indiscriminate and unhealthy food consumption which burdens hospitals and health-care prospects, and which could be alleviated with one or two large strategic actions.
Fourth, I might want to stay home because of how shabby and hypocritical it might look. To make fabulous speeches about Mandela’s persistence, courage and sacrifice; but in your own backyard, when the ordinary folk stand up with the same persistence, courage and sacrifice, you ignore, mock, denigrate them, using every manner of infringement against law, legitimate and reasonable process, to reduce them, mash them under your heels, as if they were the most reprehensible worm and cockroach.
Fifth, I might not want to be so uninterestingly clichéd. Once more, an attempt to mamaguy the proverbial Other, or the base of the conceptual Other. With hampers, and hugs at funerals, and the kissing of the children, ghetto visits, and now, O, how much I care! I might be concerned that, just as Sparrow said, “Calypsonians too smart to fool,” the base of the Other is impossible to fool.
Mandela was a towering African and global leader. He maintained his posture of clarity, radicalism and finally love, that first caught his enemies and then the world by surprise and illuminated them. There are still those who want to exploit him: hoping for his gold dust to sprinkle on them.