May 13, 2013 Editorial
Now that the dust is settling (hopefully) over the debate precipitated by South Africa’s announcement that the “Order of the Companion of OR Tambo” would be conferred on the late President LFS Burnham, by its deferral, it may be time to examine the matter a bit more dispassionately. From the interventions in the debate however, it is very clear that Burnham was a man who stirred very strong opinions in some persons that are very difficult to dislodge.
During his lifetime, Burnham, who relished alluding to his familiarity with the classics, once distinguished between “causa belli” and “casus belli”. Referring to the crucial 1963 public servants’ strike against the PPP government, he pointed out that the Labour Relations Bill proposed by the government was not the causa belli, but the casus belli, of the strike. That is, the Bill was the occasion for the strike, not the reason for the strike. We would like to suggest that perhaps the Tambo Award is simply an occasion for the campaign against Burnham and not the reason.
After all, if we examine the criteria for the award, which is granted by the President of South Africa to foreign citizens who have “promoted South African interests and aspirations through cooperation, solidarity, and support”, few can make a serious case that Burnham is not deserving of the honour. No matter how we revise history, we cannot deny that in 1970, Burnham pledged the sum of US$50,000 annually to the forces then opposing apartheid in South Africa. This support had to have ‘promoted South African interests”.
What made the pledge more significant, was that as the Guyanese economy subsequently imploded there was never any thought of abandoning the contribution. This had to show strong commitment to the South African cause. There have been imputations of all sorts of motives for Burnham’s support, ranging from his desire to rehabilitate his “image”, to craving recognition as a “player” on the world stage. But in the realm of international relations and politics, Burnham’s personal motives are irrelevant. After all, the touchstone of global politics is that for countries “there are no permanent friends or enemies; only permanent interests.” Burnham was a friend of South Africa because he furthered the interests of that country. At no time can anyone say he moved against those interests, but rather buttressed them with his stance against cricketing relations with the apartheid government. In fact his move affected the fortunes of two very prominent local cricketers, Alvin Kallicharran and Colin Croft, which Burnham was willing to defend against detractors. His eloquent arguments against apartheid during Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings are also noteworthy. It is also petty to point out that Burnham “only” permitted two flights from Cuba to beleaguered anti-colonial forces in Africa. During the Cold War, governments were overthrown for less.
So we come to the causa belli for the ruckus raised against the South African gesture. This was stated right up front by the two Pan-African academics of West Indian origin – Professors Campbell and Lewis: Burnham’s alleged role in the killing of the iconic Dr Walter Rodney. The other reason proffered, that Burnham ruled in an authoritarian or dictatorial manner, was easily debunked by noting the Tambo Award was conferred to others similarly accused. Cognisant of Rodney’s standing among the intelligentsia and political activists of Africa, primarily because of his groundbreaking, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, the two professors exploited the emotions aroused by the scholar’s untimely death and succeeded in blocking the award.
Ultimately, it is for South Africa to make the final decision on its award. For us in Guyana, we must settle the causa belli – the cause of the war, because as we have seen, unless we do so, there are always casus belli – occasions for the war. Our Parliament in 2005 authorised the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into the death of Dr. Rodney. At the time, there were all sorts of red herrings dragged in to defer the Inquiry. We can hold off no longer.
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