By David P Rowe
As the world prays for his health today, it is worth bearing in mind that Nelson Mandela is a significant political and philosophical exemplar for the Caribbean.
Most Caribbean islands are racially black with large poor underclasses of people who in many ways do not participate in the economic lives of their countries.
When they look at Mandela, they see a man who was able to dismantle the colonial system of racial oppression called Apartheid. Mandela’s personal sacrifice after being incarcerated for 27 years in various prisons is a symbol for all Caribbean leadership.
Mandela said that “like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
The Caribbean people who have been fighting against man-made poverty are inspired by the profundity of Mandela’s philosophy.
Every Caribbean nation has recognized Mandela for his contribution to world peace. In fact, his last visit out of South Africa was to Trinidad where, seeking support for the 2010 World Cup, he was made to feel the hero that he really is.
The 2004 visit came 13 years after Mandela’s visit to Jamaica, one which stoked passions and emotions.
During the 1970s and 1980s, many Caribbean leaders including Michael Manley and Forbes Burnham were extremely critical of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, which prevented whites and blacks from working together, living together and socializing. Mandela was recognized in the Caribbean as destroying this horrid system.
Africans and Caribbean people mostly share the same racial pedigree.Most people people in the Caribbean arrived because their forebears were slaves taken from Africa to achieve the economic goals of European plantocrats. Many of these Africans died in the Middle Passage, the primitive journey of 4-6 weeks across the Atlantic, or arrived in the Caribbean with nothing. Caribbean people have always felt an affinity for their African cousins particularly where the issue of European economic exploitation arises.
It’s no surprise that in recent years a number of Caribbean countries, including Jamaica and Haiti, have sought to re-engage Africa and deepen ties with the continent.
Mandela’s plight, struggle, serene disposition and equanimity towards all people have forged a lasting liink between all Caribbean and African people and their mutual hope for a better future.
Norman Manley, Alexander Bustamante, Grantley Adams and Mandela’s other Caribbean contemporaries, eschewed violence in their struggles for self-determination: indeed, reconciliation and mediation rather than bloodshed was his reasoned approach to nation-building which took root decades before in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
Much of the current crop of Caribbean leaders seems mediocre when compared with Mandela. How many of our current politicians would go to jail on principle for anything?
As we hope for his health to improve, Mandela’s meaning to the Caribbean should not be forgotten.
David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.