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Tributes to Black Power giant, congrats to the Comrade

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Permit me to take a page out of the book of our Parliamentarians who have adopted the practice of beginning each session of Parliament with congratulations and condolences. Today, I pay tribute to a fallen giant and brother, Makandaal Daaga (formerly known as Geddes Granger) and offer belated birthday greetings to a long-standing colleague of mine, Dr Ralph Gonsalves.

In a way, it is more than coincidental that in the same column I write about these two strong personalities, for their careers and political contribution span the same period, coinciding with my own modest involvement.{{more}} Both have made their mark, have become symbols of the struggle of the Caribbean people and have been the object of much hatred on the part of some, while greatly loved by many others. Incidentally, Daaga died on the same day that Dr Gonsalves celebrated his 70th birthday.

DAAGA – THE CHIEF SERVANT

On Monday of this week, August 8, the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean lost one of the iconic figures of the 1970s, Makandaal Daaga, just five days before his 81st birthday. He spent almost half a century in service to his people, and his espousal of the ideals of black consciousness, national and Caribbean identity gave him an undying identification as “the Black Power Man”, right to his passing. So as not to offend his colleagues, I must point out that the deputy political leader of the movement he founded in 1969 has said that the “Black Power” label is an incorrect one, an “historical imposition” and was instead a “movement for a new and just society”.

Daaga made his mark at a time of great social and political upheaval here in the Caribbean, but also in North America and Europe as well. It was a time of sweeping black consciousness, under the label of “Black Power,” made famous by the late Trinidadian activist, Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael). Students were in the forefront and Daaga, as president of the UWI (St Augustine) Students’ Guild in 1969, was in the forefront. He helped, along with others like Khafra Kambon, to organize student protests against racial discrimination at Sir George William University in Canada. They formed the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) and began widespread political education and mobilizing in Trinidad and Tobago.

These broadened in scope leading up to what is referred to as the “February Revolution” in 1970, which challenged the existing social order and rocked the foundations of the Eric Williams administration, forcing it to impose a State of Emergency in April 1970, locking up Daaga, his NJAC colleagues and many trade union leaders. So influential was the “Black Power” threat that army soldiers even staged an unsuccessful rebellion in support.

Daaga and NJAC continued over the years, though the strong influence weakened with time and in 2010, NJAC joined the people’s partnership government, with Daaga accepting a post in it.

He leaves a proud legacy of struggle. First and foremost, his contribution towards black and national consciousness is immense. His tireless campaigns and activism helped to bring about fundamental change. Before 1970, skin colour, or lack of it counted very much in his country. Daaga and NJAC, at great personal sacrifice, helped to pry open the doors towards social upliftment of black people in T&T, a fact immortalized in calypso by Chalkdust in his “Thanks to Daaga”.

He also preached and worked towards unity of the races, playing an important part in forging Afro-Indo unity. Daaga was also a committed regionalist. Together with people like Eusi Kwayana of Guyana and Bobby Clarke of Barbados, he helped to bring the progressive organizations of the Caribbean together. I, and colleagues in what was then the Black Liberation Action Committee (BLAC) here in SVG, benefitted from his guidance.

Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean and black and non-white people all over the world owe much to the dedication and sacrifice of Dagga and the many other unsung heroes and heroines. To his wife, Liseli, his children and family, I offer my condolences and humble tribute.

BELATED GREETINGS

It is not often that PM Gonsalves has to take second place, but I am sure he would appreciate the context where the tribute to Daaga takes precedence. Any committed revolutionary would so do and not mind.

As I offer this brief 70th birthday greetings, it reminds me that mine is not too far off. I have known the Comrade for almost half a century, both of us entering secondary school together in 1959, going class to class and leaving at the same time in 1965. By the early seventies, we were both influenced by the sweeping tide of world revolution, which was to change our worlds.

We proverbially “wintered and summered” in the political wilderness for long years, first with YULIMO and the United People’s Movement (UPM), before political differences resulted in us parting ways politically. Since then, his perseverance and leadership have seen him rise to the top. Love him or hate him, no one can deny his massive intellectual and political contribution.

As he savours his new milestone, this is the time to both reflect on the long journey and to begin preparations for the handing of the baton to the next generation.

Belated greetings, Comrade!

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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