Wednesday, April 24, 2024

EDITORIAL: Remembering Daaga

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ONE of the genuine voices of reform in politics and race relations in Trinidad and Tobago, Makandal Daaga was finally silenced this week.

Daaga’s life sacrifice doggedly defined the unpretentious pursuit of one of the passionate philosophies that transformed our times. From his student days at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies until his decision to serve under the People’s Partnership Government in 2010, he was an example of steadfast servanthood.

It is unusual to find this level of uncompromised commitment at such an early age. For it was as a teenager that he sprung to recognition and indeed, it was his leadership that ultimately led to student activism in this region. For an entire year, while at university, Daaga mobilised the country to protest blatant injustices. This led to demonstrations and widespread strikes, forcing a re-think of the political direction of Trinidad and Tobago.

His death revives memories of the halcyon days of front-burner black power activities that mimicked the happenings of the civil rights movement of the United States in the heyday of Martin Luther King and Malcom X.

As Daaga is buried tomorrow, many will recall the glorious exertions of men like trade unionists George Weekes and Basdeo Panday and fellow activist Clive Nunez, stalwarts who were imprisoned for their defiance, but who paved the way for a more just society by resisting the obstinate government of Dr Eric Williams, whose response to public outcry was to call a state of emergency and attempt to introduce a Public Order Act to end public demonstrations.

Daaga, who changed his name from that of Geddes Granger, was also the articulate spokesperson who took the message of his mission of socio-political change beyond the shores of his native land to men and women of similar beliefs who were engaged in the struggle in North America, particularly in New York, Toronto and Montreal. It was an incident in that last city in particular, that was the crucible for new awareness of black power in the Caribbean. Black students of Sir George Williams (now Concordia) University wrecked the computers and staged a sit-in to protest racial discrimination, sparking a raging debate that spilled throughout campuses in Canada.

In a country which boasts such revolutionary stalwarts as Uriah Butler, the organisation that Daaga founded in 1970, the National Joint Acton Committee, proclaimed him by saying: “No leader has affected the course of history in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean as has Mankandal Daaga.” This is an obvious over statement, but at the same time, Daaga is among some of the outstanding reformers of the past 50 years.

Long before an independent Trinidad and Tobago sought to recognise citizens with national honours, Daaga formed PEGASUS with the specific mandate of identifying stalwarts and giving them acclaim, starting with Captain Arthur Cipriani, labour leader and founder of the Labour Party there.

Daaga’s approach to leadership is a textbook lesson for aspirants. He knew how to seize opportunities. He ardently felt that attitude triumphs over accolade. He was never surprised by assaults made on him. On no occasion did he compromise principles, preferring to take all of the heat of unpopularity, and to rise again.

Daaga was engaged in work for the larger cause while empowering others around him. He was not ashamed to seek acclaim but practiced humility throughout.

History will acclaim him as one who was never timorous about his beliefs and thus did much to reshape the fortunes of the marginalised and dispossessed of the region.

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