Passing parade of the warriors of 1970

By Raffique Shah
October 29, 201

Raffique ShahLAST 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.

3 thoughts on “Passing parade of the warriors of 1970”

  1. In today’s society and education systems there are tendencies to pay little or no attention to History. For many of us we just look forward to the next meal, fete, outing, drink, event or what have you without thinking about how we got to that point in the first place! Most of what we enjoy or take for granted have at there core, many ideals of men (and women) who spent their lives thinking, fighting, working, and yes sometimes demonstrating for.
    While those of whom Raf is speaking may not make it to our memory as ‘worth thinking about’, they are the people who acted as support and inspiration to support the fight for injustice, equality, racism and poverty. In so doing, leaders are projected as the face of these concerns that we care dearly about so we allow the names of Raffique Shah,Eric Williams,CLR James, Capildeo, Rex LaSalle and Daaga to name a few to elevate to the positions of ‘leadership’ which we take for granted and expect such leaders to do and mean everything for us. These men carry the mantle of commitment, debates, disagreements, quarrels and most importantly consencious building before presenting themselves as the embodiment of an idea, fight or movement fighting for the will of the people to the public at large. In today’s we are fed a daily diet of political meals (mainly supported by surrogate entrepreneurs) to digest whether supported by success or failure or lies or truth. Money is the culprit thats behind the ideals which we accept or allow ourselves to be guided and governed by. We are in a period now where the compass of leadership is in a free-for-all zone where leadership misleads the population and drives us further into different camps of beliefs that moving together as a nation could not be captured in the way the black power movement did in years past. There was a time when issues such as discrimination (practiced by the colonials) meant light skinned was in and dark skinned was out, ethnic practices were banned and culture was something came from England (not the other way round). Leaders of that era fought to change and did succeed in changing the ills that a huge part of the population was subjected to. This is an era where all the benefits of those who paraded, suffered, died and fought for have given results that our parents and grand parents never thought possible. And what our leadership is doing with that prosperity? Deciding who to give it to. Deciding who did not get it in the past and trying to shame those who were there before they come into power. It is not easy to figure out where we are going to be in the next five years following the direction of present leadership with its yearning to ‘correct’ racial entitlements. Its leadership is not using true history as its guide nor do they care about interpreting the struggles of our past and how we conquered it. There is a hell bent intent on furthering the gains of one people over the aspirations of others and that is a recipe for disaster.

  2. Some of them Mr Shah should retire if only for the purpose of giving way to new ideas and new energy.

  3. “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.”

    The true patriots of T&T are the hard working mothers and fathers who are there for their children, grandchildren and great grand children. My mother was a patriot whose contribution to our home was unsurpassed. Working in the rice and sugar cane fields to ensure her children did not go hungry. My father was a patriot because he did the most difficult task imagined. He worked hard clearing the grass on the side of the roads. I remember taking a cutlass and trying to do the same thing, could not do it. Yet he would go work and for 5:00 am and cut some forty feet of grass. He was the patriot I admired.

    Perhaps one day the true patriots will be honored in T&T.

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