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Mar 09, 2023 Letters
It is surprising that the Prime Minister of Barbados, Hon. Mia Motley, would have left out the contribution of Forbes Burnham to the liberation of Southern Africa. Surprising because it is unlikely that Ms. Motley would be unaware of what Guyana did for the liberation struggle and its fighters in the 1970s and the 1980s.
This was a time when Guyana led the Caribbean with regard to support for the struggle for the liberation of Southern Africa and this was well publicized throughout the region. No other Caribbean country can match Mr. Burnham’s and Guyana’s contribution to the liberation of Southern Africa. The facts speak for themselves.
The liberation of Africa and in particular Southern Africa was a major plank of the policy of the People’s National Congress (PNC) which Mr. Burnham founded in 1957. The Party therefore celebrated Ghana Day on a regular basis. But it was the struggle for human dignity in Southern Africa which elicited not only principled support but also support of a material nature.
Ms. Motley mentioned the banning of South African goods in 1958. Mr. Burnham made one of his major presentations in the Legislative Assembly in that year calling for the banning of the exportation of goods to South Africa. This policy was adopted by the then British Guiana government. Four years after independence, at the Non-Aligned Summit in Zambia, Mr. Burnham announced an annual contribution to the liberation fund of the OAU liberation committee of fifty thousand US dollars (US$50,000).
After this, Mr. Burnham’s Party embarked on a more systematic relationship in offering assistance to the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. Mr. Burnham dispatched over a hundred public servants of varying expertise to help Zambia to withstand the attacks it suffered from the white regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa. Additionally, he created the national service association which brought the national services of Zambia, Tanzania and Guyana into an institutional relationship.
And while all of this was going on, Mr. Burnham offered scholarships to the students of Southern Africa at the University of Guyana and allowed many liberation fighters, some of them famous today, to use Guyanese passports to travel to various parts of the world. In terms of actual political diplomatic support, Guyana was vocal in supporting the liberation struggle in all of the major international fora such as the UN, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Commonwealth. The forum for the liberation of Southern Africa which Mr. Burnham held in 1981 was a major mobilizing exercise for the support of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa.
It is well known that its liberation fighters could not obtain passports from the white Rhodesian or South African governments. In a statement of this kind it is virtually impossible to list all of the contributions made by Mr. Burnham and Guyana. But of all the omissions made by Ms. Motley, the one that is most noteworthy is where she made reference to those countries which facilitated the movement of Cuban troops to Southern Africa and omitted Guyana. It is a well-known fact that Guyana was instrumental in this exercise and attracted the hostility of the then Secretary of State of America, Dr. Henry Kissinger.
Guyana’s contribution was well known by the frontline states of Africa and was acknowledged by them. It was President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania who acknowledged that even though Guyana was not geographically situated on the African continent, it was, by virtue of its contribution to the liberation struggle, considered a “frontline state.” Also, many leaders in the liberation struggle, such as Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo, members of the ANC and the PAC, all visited Guyana in the 70s and the 80s. One of the crowning achievements of Mr. Burnham’s contribution to the liberation of Southern Africa was the petition calling for the release of Nelson Mandela which was amply supported by the population at large. Along with this, Mandela Avenue in Guyana’s Capital, Georgetown, was named for the great man.
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