Fed up of the harrowing socio-political climate of early 1970, members of various social groups, led by the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), rose against the rule of the then Dr Eric Williams-led People’s National Movement (PNM), in what became known as the Black Power Revolution.
Characterised by marches and protests, the event, led by late NJAC leader Makandal Daaga (Geddes Granger), marked a turning point in TT’s history, which led to the establishment of the country’s first State-owned commercial bank and efforts to reduce unemployment.
But today, some 48 years later, NJAC’s activists claim the importance of the Black Power Revolution to national life has remained largely suppressed.
Speaking to Sunday Newsday at a memorial event, on April 21, at the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union, Port-of-Spain, party leader Kwasi Mutema claimed the history of the revolution was not being taught in schools.
“But it is very important,” he argued.
“Look at America, for example. When you apply for citizenship, one of the first things you do is learn the history of America including the American Revolution.
“You move right around the world and you notice, in those countries, they do not make joke with their history. Because when you deal with that history, it is able to give the people of your country a certain sense of confidence in themselves and the role they have to play in developing their own society.” The scenario, Mutema said, has led to what he believes is an identity crisis among many citizens.
“We tend to look always on the outside, the foreign is better and that is because of situations like these, where we have not been given a very full and strong appreciation of our history. We exist without having that level of confidence in going forward.”
Mutema argued that the message of the revolution, had it been truly internalised, could have assisted the country in grappling with many of its ills.
“I think it is very important as a nation that we reflect on significant moments in our history because within those moments, most of the time there are very significant lessons that we can learn from to guide us even in our lives today as we develop.”
Mutema said this was a major flaw of successive governments.
Referring specifically to the PNM, he said: “The party, as a government, rather than try to let the population see the truth of what occurred, I think what they did was suppress the information because they felt it would have affected their image politically in the eyes of the population.”
Mutema regarded this as unfortunate given NJAC’s concerns at that time.
“During the 70s, NJAC really delved into various facets of our lives, providing a lot of direction, perspectives, solutions to many problems that existed by suppressing the information that would have been provided to the population.
“But people were not allowed to really analyse a lot of these perspectives – the lessons that they could have learnt from that.”
He added: “So, a lot of the problems we are experiencing today, when you look at it, in truth and in fact, we should not be experiencing to the extent because when you go back and look at what NJAC was saying through those years, we would recognise that we were at that time, really analysing and making predictions to the country of what the consequences would be if we did not pay attention to certain things that were happening.”
Saying people must own up to the truth of the revolution, Mutema claimed the population has been “fed a lot of misinformation and, because of that, there has been a lot of distortions of what really took place. “There is a lot of corrective work that needs to be done in terms of the history of that period. The truth of it needs to be provided to the people and they need to be allowed to examine that honestly, truthfully and learn from that period to guide us in going forward.”
The NJAC leader said the party would do its part in promoting a heightened consciousness among citizens. However, he feels the Government also has a vital role to play in this regard.
“They are in charge of many of the institutions. Go to our schools and our children can tell you very little. Some of them know absolutely nothing about what took place.”
Mutema added: “They can tell you about what happened in South Africa years ago under (Nelson) Mandela. They can tell you about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement but what took placed right here, in their own country, just 48 years ago, they know little or nothing of. “That should not be in any society. That is totally wrong and it is a disservice to our population and I am saying that all it can serve to do is to prevent us from really moving forward as a society. We will keep spinning top in mud.”
NJAC’s deputy political leader Embau Moheni agreed that people, especially the youth, were being denied knowledge of 1970.
“My heart bleeds for the youth.... If we knew of the glorious days of 1970 which were preceded by the glorious days of the 1930s with the labour movement, we would have had greater pride,” he told Sunday Newsday. Moheni said the entire society must play its part in bringing about change firstly by encouraging the youths to develop a sense of importance in themselves.
“Too many times, we just seem to draw back and expect manna to fall from heaven, expect a government to solve our problems.”
Former NJAC president Ayiegoro Ome called for a rekindling of the spirit which triggered the Black Power Revolution, albeit with less aggression. “I am not talking about a return to all of the activities of that time. But there was a certain spirit that existed and that needs to be rejuvenated,” he said. Ome recalled that during that time, the youth was looking for approaches to improve the status of the country.
He said: “Young people were doing an intense amount of reading. We have fallen back from where that was. We are now dependent on our smart phones, laptops, which is all well and good. But the reading gave one an opportunity for contemplation.”
Ome said in the run up to the revolution, its protagonists also were heavily influenced by international occurrences, including the anti-imperialist struggles in Africa and civil rights movement in America.
“So overall the influences we had at that time, we don’t have them now. But there is hope, which would lie in the fostering of a rejuvenation of the spirit of that period.”