By Raffique Shah
October 29, 201
LAST Monday, we gathered at the Ellie Mannette Park in St James to say farewell to Dedan Kimathi. His name may not mean anything to people outside of the district he helped christen “The Village”. It encompasses De Freitas, Alfred Richards and nearby streets, with the small park as its focal point.
Although he was a key activist in the Black Power revolution of 1970—he was imprisoned during two states of emergency in 1970 and 1971—he kept a low profile, so even participants in those events may not remember him.
To the faithful who assembled to mark his passing, Dedan epitomised the symbols and spirit of that glorious period in our history. He was one of the nicest human beings I knew: friendly, intelligent, informed, vivacious, energetic, helpful. They do not make them like that anymore. As I stood there listening to a number of people pay tribute to the brother, it occurred to me that I was witnessing the passing parade of the Warriors of 1970.
A few months ago, another unsung hero of that period, a boyhood friend of mine named Randolph “Fobs” Chandrakate, also passed on. He, too, was a beautiful person in just about every way. He remained devoted to his mother until she died, pre-deceasing him by only a few years. He was committed to his wife and children, but they lost out some because he gave so much of his time to so many “causes”.
If he was not helping farmers in some far-flung district deal with an intractable problem, Fobs could be found mixing mortar at the Dattatreya Yoga Centre or tutoring younger people in yoga, history or global affairs. Years ago, when we were young and daring, he had given up his secure job to help organise cane farmers. In that period, too, he was among the core of persons who worked hard to breathe life into an organisation called the United Labour Front, well before it was transformed into a political party.
In Dedan’s case, prison only strengthened his resolve to fight for black identity, and in a broader context, to fight against injustice anywhere in the world. He resisted Eric Williams’ attempt to impose the draconian Public Order Act on the people of this country. He spoke out against apartheid in South Africa long before Nelson Mandela’s name and cause became popular. He identified with the Palestinians. And during a sojourn in the USA, he spoke out against that country’s aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Within their communities, Dedan and Fobs were recognised as leaders who could get things done. They would transform ideas into reality. At both funerals, I saw four generations of people pay respect to these brothers. Ma Doris in St James, Tambie’s mother, now 90 years old, is somewhat of a surrogate mother to the Legends of 1970. She knew us as brave young men, and whatever her politics, she looked out for us. I felt saddened last week when I saw her trying to cope with Dedan’s passing.
There were the fallen warrior’s contemporaries, facing reality and our own mortality: Kambon, Nunez, Apoesho, Asha, Josanne (younger, but still a sister), Owen, Esmond, Tambie, Ivan, Georgie, Purnell, “De Prive”.
Then there were the younger ones, those from the “Village Drums of Freedom” who beat rhythms to mark an elder’s passing. There was the immediate family, including the beautiful grandchildren he mentioned lovingly mere weeks ago, who will never know their granddad, an outstanding son of St James.
But there was also a spirit of defiance. For the first time in years, echoes of “Power to the People!” could be heard, loud and clear. The spirit of ’70 came through many of the tributes. You see, among those who were at the forefront of that revolution, not many have stayed the course. Mere weeks ago, Dedan and I spoke about that. We counted those who have remained loyal to the cause on two hands.
All that I have written thus far must tell readers that these were two remarkable men, Fobs and Dedan. I can assure you that I have not done them justice. Nor have I mentioned Ambrose, who also passed on a few months ago—another lion of ’70. These men’s commitment to fighting for justice, for standing up for the downtrodden in society, in the world, cannot be questioned.
Yet, they pass on and the wider society that benefitted from their struggles hardly knew them. As someone noted at Dedan’s funeral, whenever he ran into problems at a bank with some young Indo or Afro clerk, he would politely tell the person, “Listen, I made jail for you to be where you are today!” A gentle reminder of what ’70 was partly about, to a generation that takes for granted some of what they enjoy today, which their forebears could not 40 years ago.
So I stood there in the park musing on the manner in which true patriots make their exit from the land of the living, from the country they were prepared to give their lives for. Except for families, friends and those of us who will never forget their contributions, they depart without song, trumpets.
Not that these brothers would have wanted the fanfares that other, less deserving departed, would have enjoyed. Other than yearning to see their country and people progress, they asked for nothing in return—not office, accolades, wealth, or awards. Humility was their hallmark.
Those of us they have left behind will carry on, speaking out when we need to, shouting from the rooftops if we must, but never letting an injustice go unnoticed. Revolutionaries do not retire.