There are many meanings and reasons for Emancipation in TT. One of the reasons TT celebrates Emancipation today is thanks to the actions of the National Joint Action Committee. Through what NJAC calls the TT Revolution, but what is commonly known as the 1970 Black Power Revolution, Emancipation Day and a general rise in consciousness came about.
Newsday took an in-depth look at the organisation over its 50-year existence. In articles published on July 10, 14 and 17, Newsday spoke to the organisation’s current leaders, some of its past leaders and people who played a role in the organisation.
This concludes the four-part series on NJAC and gives a perspective on whether the gains made have been eroded.
For Raffique Shah, many of the gains made through NJAC and the 1970 revolution are being eroded. Shah saw much of the effect NJAC had on TT and, today, whether or not NJAC’s philosophy still weaves itself through the fabric of TT’s consciousness.
To him, much of what NJAC fought for is being eroded. In a phone interview with Newsday, he said, when asked how: “In the sense that another position that came out of the revolution was that there should be local control of what we called the commanding heights of the economy, then meaning, oil and sugar, but also banking and insurance, the financial sector and manufacturing and so on.
“And what you’ve had recently, over the past 20 years or so, is some reversal of that, in the sense that the multinational corporations, the big oil companies...have come back.”
While he does not see anything wrong with the multinational corporations investing in TT, he believes TT and its people should get their fair share of the revenues mainly from oil and gas.
Shah has also seen reversals by looking at what has happened at Petrotrin. For him this was “probably the most glaring example of a reversal,” along with the closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd almost 16 years ago.
“I was part of the group that called for the control of the commanding heights of the economy by the nationals of this country. But I think in reflection, I can say we messed it up in many ways,” Shah said.
This “messing up” was caused, he believes, from top to bottom, political interference in the businesses and by political appointees who weren’t “necessarily competent to run the businesses.”
Secondly, he added, the work ethic that was there when ‘the white man was in charge’ (using the term loosely) has all but collapsed.
“It is as if we felt that because it was owned by TT we could all not be productive and yet get paid.
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And this was not only restricted to Petrotrin, where salaries were outrageous and productivity was at the other end of the scale. But it was also what happened at Caroni and people often forget that there was a complete collapse of the work ethic at Caroni as well.
“The work ethic collapsed, and that was across the board, but certainly in these important industries that we had an opportunity to prove that we could run them as good as any First World country, we failed. All of us have to share blame for that.”
Although Makandal Daaga’s (late chief servant of NJAC) dream, both Embau Moheni (current servant president) and Kwasi Mutema (current servant political leader) said, was of national unity, Shah said he does not know if that dream was realised in large measure.
At one point there was some kind of accord, he said, with each group recognising each other’s culture and rights to culture and religion.
“Deep down, from 1970, ‘Indians and Africans unite’ was a slogan that did not bear fruit the way the idealists who were marching on the ground had hoped to achieve,” he said.
Even in the immediate aftermath of 1970, there were divisions that were hard and fast and people were not prepared to tolerate people of other races or religions.
In his view, TT has made some gains in the direction of national unity but “those gains by comparison with the overall population, are not minuscule, but certainly a minority of people have reached the position where race does not matter to them.”
He sees it, though, as a “significant minority,” and, in fact, believes that minority makes a difference in terms of the electoral system.
“The core constituencies of the two major parties are largely controlled on the basis of race but the constituencies that determine who forms government, other people who are not heavily into the race issue make a difference, and I think we will see that growing as we go along and becoming that now small group of people, maybe 50,000 to 80,000 larger and larger as we go along.”
When Shah looks back now, there is nothing that he would do differently nor is there anything that he regrets.
He stands today by what he stood for 49 years ago. He still harbours the dream of national unity and of power to the people of the country.
“In terms of national unity, I use one example of leadership manifesting that it is possible for race to be factored out of the politics of the country.
“In 1970, I was the only Indian officer in the TT regiment. I was the first and the only in 1970.
“Ninety per cent of the soldiers were Afro-Trinidadians, and when the rebellion took place those soldiers stood up with me. They could have killed me. They could have done anything to me because I was an Indo-Trinidadian. But they did not see me that way, because I never portrayed myself that way.
“I portrayed myself as a TT national first of all, and anything else after. And what those soldiers were looking for – because there were over 300 of a 500 army who stood with me and Rex Lasalle at Teteron Barracks that we held for ten days – they saw good leadership. They did not see an Indian leader or an African leader; they saw good leadership.
“And I think it shows that if you have good leadership, race does not matter. People will support good leadership in whatever complexion it comes.”