Dr. Patricia Rodney, wife of Guyanese scholar and social activist Dr. Walter Rodney, yesterday testified before the
Commission Of Inquiry, (COI) into his death. The commencement of her testimony marked the beginning of the sixth session of the public hearings.
Rodney was killed after a bomb exploded in his car, during a period of intense political activism in Guyana.
In her evidence, Mrs. Rodney told the Commission of the life she shared with her husband before he met his demise in June, 1980.
She recalled that when they met, Dr. Rodney was a fun, loving, kind and thoughtful person, with whom she was very impressed because of his capability to relate to wide cross section of people. She said that they subsequently married and had three children, Shaka, Kanini and Asha.
Mrs. Rodney described her husband as a simple, forthright and honest person, who had the ability of making complex things simple. She said her husband was an intelligent person, who had a way of dealing with people from the grassroots.
She said that during the period of 1960 – 1970, given his activism for people of the working class, her husband became renowned in various parts of the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. She said that he became quite popular among the Jamaicans, where he lectured at the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Mrs. Rodney said that her husband conducted lectures about social conditions in Jamaica and England. In England he conducted lectures about the role of the West Indians and other emigrant workers in the British system, placing emphasis on the way in which they were treated.
She said as her husband’s popularity increased and he was noticed by the British Surveillance but this did not dissuade him.
“Walter was the kind of person that didn’t isolate himself in a community that he was supposed to be a part of …Part of the criticisms was that for an educated man he had all working class friends. I don’t think Walter ever forgot where he came from… that his parents were working class people and so he was committed to ensuring that working class people had the best quality of life.”
Mrs. Rodney told the Commission that her husband was never interested in politics. She noted that instead that Dr. Rodney had avid interest in youth and working people.
“I know this is hard to believe but Walter never had any political ambitions. Walter never wanted to be a member of Government. Walter’s whole thing was about educating people and mobilizing the masses so that they understood and could be in charge of their own futures.”
She reaffirmed that Dr. Rodney was never interested in holding a position in a political office. “To my knowledge he never wanted any reins of power,” she told the Commission.
Mrs. Rodney said that her husband’s chief concern and commitment was to bring people together, regardless of their differences.
She recalled that her husband became quite determined to return to Guyana in the early 1970s.
After his return in 1974, she recalled that her husband became increasingly involved in the work of his party; the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) which she described as more of an extended family.
Although she was not a member of the WPA, Mrs. Rodney said that she accompanied her husband to several campaign meetings. She said Dr. Rodney’s work and reputation with the population caused her family to be subject to harassment.
“It was very subtle at first…. even the children stopped coming to play with my children… Our home was constantly searched… just out of the blue, men with and without uniforms would turn up to our home claiming that they were looking for arms and ammunition. They never found anything,” the witness said as she recalled that persons who identified with the PNC also threatened to get her fired from her job. She had worked with the Mayor and City Council.
Mrs. Rodney said there was even a threat that the family’s house would be bombed forcing the family to separate. “My daughters stayed with relatives, my son stayed with a friend and Walter and I stayed in what was called safe houses.”
During that period Mrs. Rodney said that her husband maintained his non violent disposition.
Although there were rumors of her husband’s ownership of guns and other types of weaponry, the witness said that she had never seen her husband carry a gun or any such weapons in their home.
The woman said however that there was no evidence that her husband was ill-treated during the periods of his arrest since “he didn’t come home with any bruises.”
Although she feared for her husband’s life, Mrs. Rodney recalled that he maintained his composure. She said that her husband’s goal of building solidarity between the races in Guyana took precedence over any threat for his life- he remained focused.
The woman recalled that a strange man came to her house to meet her husband shortly before he was killed. She later learnt that it was Gregory Smith. Smith was subsequently fingered as a prime suspect in Dr. Rodney’s death. He died in 2002 in French Guiana.
Mrs. Rodney became tearful as she recalled the traumatic period before her husband was murdered. The woman said that her husband had attended Independence celebrations in Zimbabwe, where he met with President Robert Mugabe. She said that before the assassination the family was preparing to move to Zimbabwe, because Dr. Rodney had accepted a job offer there.
However, on Friday June 13, 1980, Mrs. Rodney recalled that she received the dreaded news that her husband had been a terrible accident and he was dead.
The witness said that close family friend and priest, Father Malcolm Rodrigues delivered the dreaded news. She said that Rodrigues was one of the persons who had been instrumental in identifying the body of her husband, after she was prevented from viewing it.
Rodney said that she was forced to host a memorial service for her husband without having a chance to see the body. During this time, Heads of State from various parts of the world extended their condolences- Guyana was not included.
Following the assassination, Mrs. Rodney said that there were numerous calls for an inquiry into her husband’s death since many people, including his supporters and relatives were seeking closure.
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