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40th anniversary of 1981 Democracy Battles – part 1

40th anniversary of 1981 Democracy Battles – part 1

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by Renwick Rose


We are fond of speaking of democracy, how precious it is and our supposed commitment to do all in our power to preserve this democracy. One would therefore logically come to the conclusion that we attach significance to our historical development and in particular the nature and origin of this “democracy”, what our local historian, Dr Adrian Fraser described as the “From whence we came”.

Unfortunately, this is far from the reality of this romantic attachment to our democracy. It is truly amazing how little we know of our history and the lack of public education about our origins and the struggles of our forebears to win back our democratic rights. We take for granted our right to vote, yet that right was not formally enshrined here until the year 1951. How many of us know the date of that momentous event? Do we know when the first election under Adult Suffrage, one person, one vote, was held?

Never in all my years on this earth do I recall any significant event publicly commemorating the establishment of that right, under Universal Adult Suffrage on May 5, 1951. Shouldn’t our Parliament at least formally acknowledge this date annually so that it can be seen as a significant milestone in our political and constitutional development, a watershed in the demarcation of equal rights to all adults in our country, where the right to choose political representation is concerned? In fact, it would be fitting if each year Parliament were to meet on November 1, the anniversary of the first sitting of Parliament under Adult Suffrage.

I am no historian by any means but my years of experience in this land of ours have afforded me rich experiences from which I have learnt to value those rights we lump together under the democracy label. I firmly believe that we must treasure, commemorate and educate about such significant milestones in our history.

These must include but not be limited to the formal constitutional developments, Adult Suffrage, Ministerial government, internal self-government (Statehood) and Independence but also the struggles of our people to preserve those very democratic rights for which our mothers and fathers sacrificed so much.

This year, 2021, marks the fortieth anniversary of a major democratic struggle in this land of ours, one which is rapidly fading from memory except for stubborn old cogs like me. Had it not been for that struggle which manifested itself in unprecedented mass mobilisation of our people, we may well have had on our law books legislation which effectively would have taken away the rights of our people.

This therefore is the first in a series aimed at recalling that titanic struggle which manifested itself between the months of March and June 1981 and which came to be known as the campaign to “Kill the Bills”. It is a period of struggle which in its nature, scope and level of mass mobilisation has a lot of valuable lessons for us all if we are indeed serious about that “democracy” of which we speak so glibly.