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By GHK Lall
Apartheid. We must have conversations on perceptions, realities, possible extents of apartheid in Guyana. Though dangerous to speak to the truth of what is happening in Guyana, this discussion must occur. It must be probed honestly and fearlessly, regardless of outcome. For this is more than the welfare of Black Guyanese that is at stake; it involves the character of the national well-being ultimately.
For starters, I discern broad, deep paranoia infecting governance in Guyana today, and the mere mention of this word-apartheid-mutates to the profanest 4-letter word. The most accursed of caste systems is present in Guyana today, but unlike South Africa or Israel, it has no owner, no sponsor, no godfather. This explains why those who should know better, were themselves victimized recipients in an earlier season of apartheid, in all but name, are now content to be ostriches burrowing for wisdoms (and cover) in deep mud, where neither of the three (wisdoms, cover, and mud) are present. As I proceed, I accept that when the last word is written and read today, I may have fewer friends, perhaps none. If that is the fateful verdict, I embrace it.
We gave up on governing about 60 years ago. Way back, leaders and citizens gave up on wholesome, inclusive governing, and instead seized on the delightful comforts of brainwashing, successfully dividing: misinformation, mismanagement, and misleading. Only he who knew what it is like on the outside is truly equipped to speak of torturing agonies, naked despair, cruel impotency.
In apartheid systems-legal, formal, and official-there is first discrimination and segregation, last isolation. When outside of and unsaid in the law, via informal and unacknowledged conduct, it is still apartheid, other than by constitutional sanction. And when there are broad stretches of compellingly bona fide human objects, who claim genuine victimhood, then there is a not-so-secret system of apartheid at work, which is where Guyana is today. The shoe is on another foot.
PNC loyalists will not like this, and PPP fundamentalists will pretend hypocritically for it defuses the former’s narratives, and powers the latter’s rank partisanship. From the time of LFS Burnham, the practice of apartheid was present. As a callow youth, I worked at Atkinson Field and even in the early days of my unrefined observations, there were the planeloads of Indo-Guyanese fleeing by the hundreds and thousands daily, for years. There was BOAC, the defunct PanAm, Air Canada, Air France, KLM, Lufthansa, and BWIA, ferrying Guyanese Indian exiles, who couldn’t find work or inclusion, felt commercially squeezed, shuttered their farms. They left.
Burnham maintained public postures that he was for all Guyanese, even while the flights into what is now the Guyanese diaspora multiplied. Therefore, a Little Guyana in Richmond Hill, smaller ones elsewhere. The stormy 60s, 70s, and 80s, birthed the unicorn, that Sphinx, of mostly Black Guyanese, which attracted despairing Indians, who had nothing else, nothing to lose, something possibly to gain for their citizenship. It was the WPA. Lest we forget, a heavily Black Guyanese group rising up to battle against a maximum leader, a Black leader. Said differently, he was of their own tribe. But that didn’t deter, it was incentive, because of character, and that now that great indefinable called conscience. They had the courage to say: No! Not right! Not acceptable! Bad leadership, bad governance.
From all this, I know about apartheid palpable realities. Just as present today with the PPP, no matter how denied, nuanced, camouflaged. Given the Guyana of now, it is surprising-indeed, remarkably startling-that Indo-Guyanese refuse to see, numb their senses, turn their backs on principle (and own experience), regarding what exists here today. The biases, the subtle bigotries, the separatist results. No! that conversation must never be had. Indo-Guyanese consider talk about apartheid in Guyana today as undermining and menacing their status quo (just like Burnham reacted). I contend that it may be unsettling, but it is insightful to observe the reflexive defensive tribal outpourings. On issues that require national self-examining and unraveling, we suppress the capacity, character, conscience, and courage to face our racial demons with honesty and rawest frankness.
I dive deeper, assert that there must be Indians who have what it takes, given our apartheid circumstances today. My brother Indians, from painful time in the wilderness, must have courage and conscience to say something, take some stand, and admit that what goes on in Guyana today is an informal and unofficial system of discriminatory and segregationists’ practices, the offshoots of official apartheid. When fellow Indians do so, they are just like the mainly Black Guyanese in the early WPA who went against the grain, because what Burnham was doing could not be lived with anymore, and still claim proud manhood and prime citizenhood. It was what led to the destruction of the Black middle class, and Guyana’s wider middle class, with the best and brightest exiting.
I dare again today, to point to tender awards and contracts. I identify who is favored (free passes) versus who are made examples by law enforcement. I direct attention to the public service and its ethnic hemorrhages, oppressions. Last, I refer to relief monies, and who received, who is dismissed. Besides circumstances prompting billions in aid, the rest featured prominently in Burnham’s era. Indians know this. I insist on, persist with, my interpretation, position, and conclusion that apartheid lives in the PPP Guyana of today, with Burnham’s parallels present. If this makes me hated race traitor, I am unmoved. And if convenient conclusions are that a PNC man speaks, I stand unswerving. I remind them of PPP parliamentarians chastising the PNC that one of their own (guess who?) speaking critically; and the occasions when the Coalition governed, that I called publicly for sitting ministers to be fired. Has any PPP supporter ever done that to their government, party? We defeat ourselves when we cower before truth and reality, including apartheid ones.
We face honestly and constructively what we live with, or we risk ultimately falling by our own hands.