Obituary: Richard (Dick) Hart, 1917-2013

January 5, 2014 in Blog

Richard Hart (right) receiving a gift from Audrey Smith of the PNP Women's Movement, while Everton Pryce looks on during the celebration of his 75th birthday in 1992. (Credits: The Gleaner)

Richard Hart (right) receiving a gift from Audrey Smith of the PNP Women’s Movement, while Everton Pryce looks on during the celebration of his 75th birthday in 1992. (Credits: The Gleaner)

We mourn Richard Hart who joined the Ancestors after a long life of struggle for workers’ and peasants’ rights and against colonialism and neo-colonialism. Dick as he was popularly known, was a founder member and Honorary President of Caribbean Labour Solidarity. An avowed Marxist and socialist lawyer, Dick Hart acted as legal consultant to Maurice Bishop’s People’s Revolutionary Government in Grenada, becoming its Attorney General in 1982 until the demise of the Revolution and the subsequent US invasion of that island in October 1983.

Dick Hart’s life-long work started when he was not yet into his twenties. His political activism which both drew upon and informed his theorizing, his praxis in other words, and especially his writings on slavery, capitalism and colonialism places him in the same league as CLR James, Eric Williams and Walter Rodney (to name but a few).

What is common to the work of all those giants is the position of enslaved Africans on a spectrum that runs from the Middle Passage itself, to the plantations, to the reconfigured plantations under neo-colonialism, to the betrayal of workers’ and peasants’ struggles by successive neo-colonial governments that have been wagged by the tail and the nose simultaneously by former colonialists and imperialists whose shoes too many have been massively eager to fill. All those ‘giants’, irrespective of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, forged their politics against the backcloth of the work of the Rt Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the movement in the Caribbean towards Pan-Africanism to which it gave rise.

Dick Hart’s death comes at a time when the debate about reparations for the enslavement of Africans and their use as chattels to create the wealth upon which most of Western Europe was built is gaining pace.

WATCH: Gus John, Richard Hart & the campaign for the release of the Grenada 17

A report in the Jamaica Observer 12 December 2013 notes that the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Reparations Commission, chaired by historian Professor Sir Hillary Beckles, said that ‘its first report that speaks to reparatory justice for the region will be ready for submission to next February’s Heads of Government meeting. Sir Hillary Beckles said following consultations with British attorneys from Leigh Day, which he described as an internationally respected law firm that specialises in cases of this nature, the commission agreed that Caricom member states should request reparatory dialogue with past slave-owning European states — Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark in a move to formulate a new development agenda for the Caribbean’. Read the rest of this entry →

Redeeming the Heirs of Apartheid?

December 23, 2013 in Blog

Credits: Print screen from The Guardian's website (http://bit.ly/1jzNTGi)

Credits: Print screen from The Guardian’s website (http://bit.ly/1jzNTGi)

She has been dubbed Mandela’s rock’.

So began a report by David Smith in The Observer on 15 December 2013 of an interview he did with Zelda la Grange, Mandela’s ‘closest aide’.

Staying with the prevailing theme of the world wide coverage of the death of Mandela, i.e., as the all forgiving, revenge and bitterness eschewing, conciliating father of the nation, the report focused on the rise of la Grange, a young Afrikaner, from the presidential typing pool to becoming Mandela’s ‘right-hand woman and, in effect, his white granddaughter’. Read the rest of this entry →

Mandela! Mandela!

December 11, 2013 in Blog

The people of South Africa honoured the Father of their reclaimed nation on a world stage yesterday. In doing so, they honoured themselves, their suffering, their struggle of resistance against apartheid and their determination to realise Mandela’s dream. Many, I am sure, would have preferred to sing and dance and celebrate the colossus they and the world have lost, rather than listening to speeches, except perhaps that of Barack Obama.

His was the only speech (see below) that received an attentive hearing and that explored the meaning for the world and its leaders of what Mandela stood for and lived by, the only speech to challenge the assembled world leaders to live Mandela’s values and show evidence of following his example.

Jacob Zuma not only failed to inspire, he was booed repeatedly by his own people in front of the people of the world and their leaders.  Those waiting to hear what he would do with Madiba’s vision for South Africa and for a better world and how that helped to shape his own vision and direction of travel waited in vain. Read the rest of this entry →

Mandela: Goodness Personified, Terrorism Purified!

December 8, 2013 in Blog

"South Africans mourn the death of the late former President Nelson Mandela" by GCIS/GovernmentZA (Flick - CC BY-ND 2.0)

“South Africans mourn the death of the late former President Nelson Mandela” by GCIS/GovernmentZA (Flick – CC BY-ND 2.0)

There appears to be an unwritten code of conduct in most societies I know that you speak good of the dead or hold your peace and let them rest in peace.

In the last few days I have longed for some people to do the latter and not pollute the spiritual balance of the Universe by rewriting history, making self indulgent claims and choosing to dissociate the goodness of Nelson Mandela from the evil he laid his life on the line to confront.  Some commentators proclaim as if Mandela’s ‘terrorist’ belief in the legitimacy of armed struggle against a genocidal regime was cured in the furnace of Robben Island, thus qualifying him to return to the fold of decent, peace loving citizens the world over.

Bizarrely, the Los Angeles Times carried an article on 7 December 2013 with the headline Robben Island:  The place that changed Nelson MandelaChanged from what to what?  This writer does not say. But, writing in the same paper the day before, David Horsey noted:

Mandela was a militant black man with a raised fist and that scared many people. But the revolution in his heart freed him from narrow ideology or racial enmity and made him able to seek the national reconciliation that led to a more complete liberty for all the citizens of South Africa, no matter the color of their skin. Yes, he was just a man, but he learned a key lesson that most revolutionaries, politicians and world leaders never learn: before you can change the world, you must change yourself.

Both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan denounced Mandela as a ‘terrorist’ and the ANC as a terrorist organisation. In 1987, Thatcher stated with all the authority at her command as British Prime Minister:

The ANC is a typical terrorist organization … Anyone who thinks it’s going to run a government is living in cloud-cuckoo land.

Thatcher was then head of a government that was buttressing the murderous apartheid regime in South Africa and breaking sanctions liberally and unapologetically. The suffering people of South Africa had been calling on the international community not just to take a stand in respect of the daily dehumanising grind of the state orchestrated barbarism of apartheid, but to refuse to do business as usual with the apartheid regime on account of massacres against an oppressed people who dared to act collectively against unjust laws and practices. Peaceful protest against the crushing pass laws brought the masses face to face with the military might of the state and resulted in the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960. Read the rest of this entry →

Barbados thanks God for Margaret Thatcher

November 19, 2013 in Blog

Two church events took place in Barbados on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th November respectively, each in thanksgiving and celebration of a life and in each case, a life lived in Britain.

On Saturday 16 November, at the magnificent St Matthew’s Church, Hothersal Turning, St Michael, Barbados, the funeral and burial service took place of Ralph Adolphus Straker, BSM, OBE, who had arrived in London from Barbados on 31 August 1956 to work on London Transport. Throughout his 57 years in the UK, Ralph Straker struggled against state-sponsored racism and for racial equality and social justice. He died in London on 12 October 2013, aged 76. The service was conducted by the Rt Rev Bishop Wilfred Wood, an anti-racist activist himself and the first African Church of England Bishop in the UK, now retired to his native Barbados.

"THE IRON LADY, MARGARET THATCHER", by ROBERT HUFFSTUTTER (Flickr - CC BY 2.0)

“THE IRON LADY, MARGARET THATCHER”, by ROBERT HUFFSTUTTER (Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

On Sunday 17 November, at St Mary’s Church, Jubilee Gardens, Bridgetown, Barbados, a Remembrance and Thanksgiving Service for Baroness Margaret Thatcher (pictured right) was held. Jubilee Gardens was established to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The land on which St Mary’s Church was built served as a burial ground for the non-white residents of the City of Bridgetown during the 45 years between the destruction by hurricane of the first St Michael’s Cathedral in 1780 and the construction of St Mary’s Church beginning in 1825. Officiating at that service, under the auspices of the Prime Minister of Barbados and the British High Commissioner, were the Bishop of Barbados, who delivered the sermon, the Dean of St Michael’s Cathedral and the Rector of St Mary’s.

The letter of invitation to the Remembrance and Thanksgiving Service, sent by Owen O Eversley OBE, founder of the Barbadian Families and Friends Relocation Association (BFFRA), stated:

‘It was Baroness Thatcher’s Conservative Party that from 1955–1965 opened the door for thousands of Barbadians of all ages to migrate to the UK, voluntary (sic) or on a contractual capacity, e.g., nurses, London Transport, British Rail, Lyons, etc. It was also the Conservative Party that lifted the imposed monetary restrictions from £10-£50 back to normal. It also introduced the ‘Right to buy housing’ policy which benefited many Barbadians. It is for those reasons this service was conceptualised’.

The contrast between these two conversations with God could not be more stark. Indeed, given what those of us who spoke at Ralph Straker’s funeral at St Mark’s Church, Dalston, in the borough of Hackney on 9 November had cause to remember, his life was extraordinary not on account of birth or title but because of his relentless struggle against what Margaret Thatcher herself and her Party in government had done and were still doing to African and Asian people ever since Ralph Straker first arrived in the UK. Read the rest of this entry →