There is an inescapable irony in the following sick joke: instead of providing opportunities to bail ourselves out of the economic quagmire fast swallowing up our nation—a consequence of unchanging mad fiscal policies, mindless borrowing, corruption celebrated with subsidized street-partying—successive governments continue to entice us at ever-increasing public expense to forget our troubles and dance.
Hardly a month goes by without a gilt-edged invitation from our “generous and compassionate prime minister” to be irrationally exuberant. We are a people “used to hardship,” our governor general recently reminded us, and boozy feting.
Why concentrate on our depressing endemic unemployment and burgeoning crime that too often involves the worst varieties of violence?
Why complain about a clearly dysfunctional justice system that keeps citizens incarcerated for years without a trial date, when there are so many other things to be thankful for?
Instead of moaning and groaning, why not count our blessings? Life in Saint Lucia is not nearly as bad as, say, in Grenada or Bangladesh. That’s something worthy of a carnival jump-up. We still can feed our kids on five bucks a day. And perchance an ungrateful son of a Scrooge should quibble about citizens who can’t lay hands on two dollars a day, let alone five, let him be reminded that we are a creative people, especially known for our resilience in the two-sided face of misery and deprivation. We can put up with anything, if we must, even with unending official contempt!
Ours, after all, is the little island that produced Nobel winners Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott—not forgetting a senate president who started out as a deprived son of a Castries ghetto. Not for nothing are we known as The Rock of Sages!
Besides, why let reality interfere with the season to be jolly? So, having demonstrated yet again we are above all a nation of suckers and turkeys eager to gobble up any fantasy placed before us, provided it’s gift-wrapped in red or yellow, once again we are being encouraged to partay, partay, partay till we drop.
Come Friday, red-eyed hungry bellies island-wide will be expected to prance and dance in remembrance of our independent status.
Confused? After all, in relation to Independence we’ve already set aside February 22. This week’s public holiday that also marks our Independence from Britain has been designated National Day. Who knows why? There’s a positive side to this, however. It proves we’re not nearly as obeah oriented as some imagine. Otherwise, with all its ominous implications, would we have chosen to fete in freedom’s name on Friday the 13th?
Mirabile dictu, the evidence suggests more and more Saint Lucians are becoming less and less inclined to celebrate public holidays without good cause. It would appear the people are ready now to acknowledge they have indeed been fooled too many times by the politicians. Hopefully, they will not take to heart George Odlum’s suggested panacea, prescribed circa 1972!
For me, the popular reaction to Mandela’s passing was especially instructive: while a government representative had sent out the obligatory pre-recorded messages of condolence in our name, speaking for themselves, Saint Lucians had taken the opportunity to denounce all professional hypocrites—in particular the government that in 1998 had welcomed to our country the living epitome of peace, love, brotherhood and forgiveness, while at the same time concealing its own continuing hatred and intolerance and thirst for vengeance against political opponents, real and imagined.
Less than a year before Mandela’s welcome visit (few knew it had been arranged by John Compton when he was still prime minister) the leader of the newly-elected Kenny Anthony administration had caused the day’s governor general, via his specially scripted throne speech, to condemn in the worst way the government he had served as deputy prime minister and as MP for Castries Central for close to forty years, before he was relocated to Government House in the best interests of yet another yellow belly.
Never before had vindictiveness and hate been more palpable. The nauseating evidence is recorded in Hansard, to be studied by present and future generations—with shame.
And then there was the unforgettable Louis Blom-Cooper commission of inquiry that closed with the commissioner recommending his importers apologise to those whose reputations it had sought, without evidence, to besmirch. There was, of course, no apology—only the convenient flowing of messy water under the bridge.
Perhaps, an unseen hand is at work here. Henceforth it won’t be possible to celebrate the Christmas season without being confronted by images from Nelson Mandela’s triumph over evil, if at great personal sacrifice. Mandela, the movie of his life, is scheduled for release this Christmas. Could this turn out to be the new It’s a Wonderful Life?
What will forever stand out most starkly whenever grateful people gather to recall and celebrate the life of Mandela is his demonstrated unyielding determination for most of his 95 years never to be vengeful, never to emulate those who in the worst way had oppressed him as an individual and his fellow native South Africans, collectively. A lesson we should all learn, for the sake of our own miniscule nation’s survival.
Mandela (a lawyer, of all things!) will forever represent hope and unconditional love for his fellow man, regardless of race, regardless of horrific idiosyncrasies, reminiscent of another whose birth is as synonymous with Christmas as will be, from this point on, the life and death of the man they called Madiba. He will rest in peace—but only if we can follow in his footsteps and never spit on his grave!