The O.R.Tambo Award and Forbes Burnham by GTUC General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 April 2013, 19:37 by GxMedia

As a people, we have a choice to make. And to this end the GTUC will be dispatching messages to the South Africa government and the trade union community, reminding them of the workers’ commitment and contributions to the apartheid struggle, making known our support for the O.R.Tambo award to Forbes Burnham, and expressing our concern that they have allowed an issue of national character to be hijacked by red-herring and egos. We are going to be making it known that those against the award are not speaking for us. 


It is known that Guyana’s support for the struggle against apartheid and injustices in South Africa was one of national character, led and articulated by Forbes Burnham and the government of the People’s National Congress.  Regardless of one’s political persuasion and differences on issues and positions taken by Burnham, the position taken by him to bring about justice and fair play in South Africa was correct and we all must acknowledge that his leadership on this issue, on behalf of the people, must be correctly written and acknowledged in the annals of history. This issue speaks to our strength of character as people, who saw that injustice in Southern Africa translated to injustice in Guyana and every part of the world and to this end we fought it.

That the South African government has sought to recognise the leadership of Forbes Burnham in fighting apartheid, is justly deserving. For the vision and dexterity he had shown, in whipping up support at home and taking Guyana’s voice to the international platform, even at the time when he invoked the wrath of the developed countries who were lukewarm on the issue, since they placed their economic benefits ahead of rights, justice and fair play which are tenets in the construction of every civilised society, cannot be denied.  

The objection to this award by Guyanese and non-Guyanese speaks to minds that are enmeshed in unprincipled thinking and seeking to hold this nation captive; as clearly the reasons being given have absolutely nothing to do with the conditions under which this award is granted. The denial of society-present and future- for a clear understanding of the role this country played in the removal of the yoke of oppression against the people of Southern Africa by seeking to rewrite history and unnecessarily demonising the man who was the architect of that struggle do not say much of those engaged in this behaviour. 

One must ask, ‘What the death of Walter Rodney has to do with the O.R. Tambo award, even moreso in the absence of an impartial enquiry, or a pronouncement by the court of this land, that Burnham was responsible for Rodney’s death?’ The clamour at this time speaks to the nature of those who continue to hold this nation hostage by using Rodney’s death as a milch cow for their self serving purposes. These institutions and persons who have over the years accused Burnham for the assassination of Rodney are aware that the National Assembly on the 29th June 2005 unanimously passed a resolution for a commission of inquiry to be established to determine culpability and bring closure to the issue.

Conscious of this decision and the failure by these persons to agitate locally and internationally for the appointment of this commission is indicative that persons are prepared to deny the society healing and the opportunity to know the truth about Rodney’s death. Today, once again, there are representatives in the National Assembly drawn from the party Rodney founded and their failure to lobby the opposition majority and government to act on this issue brings into serious question the motive for ignoring or suppressing an enquiry and perpetuating their story on the matter. The Rodney issue continues to be used as a weapon in dividing this nation, not only along the lines of political party, but also on the issue of race, both at inter and intra-group levels. And this nation must demand closure, once and for all, by calling on these persons to act, or view their inaction as driven by ulterior motives.

There are some people that have to be called out- Rickey Singh, a Guyanese, has spent the cream of his life benefitting from demonising Burnham, but when he found himself in problems on the issue of the right to work in the Caribbean, it was the Government of Guyana, under the leadership of Burnham that argued for this right to be respected and his continuity of employment in the region. This was secured even as Singh was among Burnham’s most vocal critic not only about his government, but also his person. Today Singh uses his pen in the region and State papers, not only to advance the PPP’s government wrongdoing, but turned a blind when the State turned on its people, violating the laws and transgressing their rights.

The WPA has reportedly said that they are aware of the agitation against the award and was to meet to discuss the issue. What is there to discuss when we are faced with a national cause and the award is based on merit. The principled and decent thing would be that all political parties, institutions and individual will today unite in pursuit of having the contribution of the people of this country properly recorded and acknowledged as it relates to the apartheid struggle in South Africa.

The GTUC solidly supported- in words and deeds- and collaborated with the Guyana Government in pursuit of freedom for South Africans. One may have had differences with Burnham, that is understood, the GTUC also had, but it would be a demonstration of weak character to deny one what is justly theirs, even if that person is considered an enemy, or persona non grata. This nation is aware that some politicians accused the Burnham government that the dexterity shown to the South African cause was only because those who were affected were of his race. It is instructive to note that Cheddi Jagan opposition leader during the struggle; and Shridat Ramphal, who served as minister of foreign affairs under Burnham government, were recipients of the award, and those now attacking Burnham remained silent, fully conscious that the decision to support the fight against apartheid was formulated, articulated and executed under Burnham’s leadership.

It is also rumoured that the PPP has done its bit of diplomatic lobbying to have Burnham denied, and if this is not so the government must come out and denounce the rumour. And in the instance of the non-Guyanese Professor Horace Campbell of Syracuse University, New York, who is leading or fronting the campaign against the award, his team and supporters must not be allowed to deny us our rightful place in history, under any guise. The contributions by the People of Guyana to South Africa’s struggle must not be held hostage to misplaced egos and hate. No political party, government, or individual, under any guise, must be allowed to use their poisoned pens to deny not only Forbes Burnham, but the people of this country, their rightful place in South Africa’s struggles.

This issue speaks to character- who we are as a people and nation and our maturity in reacting to a proposed recognition for Forbes Burnham’s Government contribution to South Africa’s struggle. It is not Forbes Burnham whose character is under test here or on trial, because given what he has done for the Southern African struggle no one can honestly refute. The character on test or trial here today is us, who are alive.  For this is a matter that speaks to our identity, pride, commitment, integrity and sovereignty- did we, or did we not, support the apartheid struggle and the people of South Africa?