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Former diplomat shaken by news

By Deborah John Publications Editor News/Features

Former diplomat Eustace Seignoret and first chairman of the Anti-Apartheid Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago (AAOTT) said last night that although he was expecting the death of Nelson Mandela, he was still shaken by the news.

“He symbolised the struggle for democratic rights in South Africa and we have not only lost him now that he has died, the loss took place when he was compelled by health to give up his contribution to the country he loved,”Seignoret said.

The Anti-Apartheid Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago had been formed on June 12, 1985 by a group of concerned citizens in response to what they saw as a lack of understanding of apartheid in South Africa. Seignoret was at the time High Commissioner to London. 

The concerned citizens felt that an anti-apartheid organisation should be formed because in spite of extensive coverage the feeling seemed to be that apartheid was something far removed.

Clive Pantin who was the public relations officer at the time had said in an interview on June 26, 1985 with the Express’s Anthony Milne, “we plan to work towards bringing home clearly to people the enormity of the crime against humanity committed daily in South Africa. UWI lecturer James Millette was also a member of that first executive.

A burning issue at the time was the question of sanctions against sportsmen who had played in apartheid South Africa. Seignoret had pointed out in an interview “Trinidadians have a superficial awareness of events in South Africa and this weakness shows itself whenever incidences such as the issue of letting cricketers who have played in South Africa play in Trinidad emerges, When you listen to some of the reactions, you realise there are definite gaps in the level of understanding, probably because South Africa is so far away,” Seignoret went on to say in that interview of July 21, 1985 that it was not then generally known, that if a white policeman suspected a black man of a crime, he could arrest him without a warrant and spend 180 days in jail without speaking to anyone.

Seignoret said then the aim was to make T&T fully aware  of apartheid’s horrors.

By March 4, 1986 it came home. A number of anti-apartheid groups had gathered outside the Queen’s Park Oval for the fourth day of protest during a West Indies vs England One Day International series. The issue was the inclusion of Graham Gooch, an English batsman who had played in South Africa. At the same time there were sanctions against West Indies players who dared to play in South Africa, notably Trinidadian Bernard Julien. Internationally there were UN sanctions against sportsmen who played there.

On March 5, 1986, 300 anti-apartheid demonstraters gathered for the fourth day outside the Oval to protest. They included members of AAOTT, the Committee in Defence of West Indies Cricket (CIDWIC) and the Group of Concerned Trade Unions. On this occasion they were arrested and beaten by the police. This event was recorded the following day, March 5, 1986 in the Express with the headline “England beat West Indies — Licks Inside, Licks Outside.

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