Kaieteur News – The events at Wismar, Christianburg and Mackenzie of 1964 are the only known case of ethnic cleansing in Guyana. The forced ‘eviction’ of almost 3,400 East Indians and the violence and arson perpetuated against them could not have been possible without political backing and direction.
The events have been described as the Wismar Massacre. Burnham, himself, addressing the Legislative Assembly used the world “massacre” to describe the events.
The then Governor appointed a Commission of Inquiry to the events. The Report of that COI is henceforth referred to as the Wismar Report.
The Wismar Report summarises that “racial violence [took place] on 25 May, 1964 by Africans against the minority East Indian population residing in Wismar, Christianburg and Mackenzie, the bauxite mining communities in the upper Demerara River, 65 miles south of Georgetown. In the course of these attacks, a number of Indians were murdered, scores of others brutally beaten and injured, and women and girls publicly raped. These violent acts were accompanied by large scale arson which saw the destruction of more than 200 houses and business places owned by Indians.”
Two months later, a boat, the Sun Chapman, exploded on the river, resulting in the deaths of 36 Africans. This led to a second wave of reprisals against Indians in which five Indians died and others injured.
The Report noted that the murder of an African couple – the Sealeys – at Buxton, East Coast Demerara appeared to be the incident which precipitated the planned reprisal against the East Indians in the Wismar-Christianburg area on Monday 25th May, 1964. It, however, also injected that the economic prosperity of the East Indian community must have been a latent source of jealousy, and which led to the destruction of property.
No mention was made of any death in Mahaicony Creek having been responsible for the first wave attacks. That incident was not the trigger for Wismar.
At the time there was internal conflict between Indians and Africans in the country. But, despite incidents of violence on the part of both sides the communities of Wismar. Christianburg and Linden remained relatively calm except for the looting of a shop the previous year.
The Commission noted that those involved in the violence were well-informed about the precise location of Indian premises. The Commissioners said the perpetrators were well-equipped and trained for incendiarism.
This therefore could hardly have been a spontaneous response to the reports of the killing of the couple in Buxton. The attacks had all the hallmark of a well-planned and executed plan.
The Report observed that the Indians were shocked by the sudden enmity shown by persons who had been their friends, neighbours and fellow workers. It said that the neighbours of those attacked were afraid to lend a helping hand to those who were attacked and properties set alight. It went on to say that those persons who offered shelter to fleeing Indians were threatened. All of this suggests an orchestrated operation. The Commissioners concluded that “this was a diabolical plot, ingeniously planned and ruthlessly executed.”
The Report named some of the agitators responsible for inciting and committing violence. But by the PNC government which took command of the country later the same year never prosecuted any of those involved.
Mrs. Janet Jagan, the then Minister of Home Affairs with responsibility for public security, was not even informed of the horrific incidents while they were taking place – and this went on for 38 hours. She was merely told that the situation was tense. She resigned as Minister of Home Affairs because of the massacre.
When she inquired, she was told that there were enough troops to control the situation. Well, the troops did not act as they ought to. In fact, eyewitnesses to the raping of two girls notified the volunteers who were nearby but they refused to go to the girls’ rescue. According to Mrs. Jagan, the police and volunteers stood by while looting, arson, rape and murder were committed and made no effort to intervene, even though they were armed.
Attempts at political revisionism will not erase the facts. Even before the Sun Chapman incident, the then Minister of Home Affairs reported in the Senate that 10 persons were being trained at Congress Place in the use of explosives.
The majority of those forcibly expelled from Wismar left the area with nothing other than the clothes on their backs. Yet amazingly many, starting from scratch, rebuilt their lives and never used the incident to bemoan any failures on their part.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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