The CARICOM-Africa Summit: What about the INDIAN DIASPORA IN THE CARIBBEAN?
CARICOM proudly trumpeted a virtual conference entitled ‘Unity Across Continents and Oceans: Opportunities for Deepening Integration’ held on September 07, 2021. The sheer euphoria by CARICOM at this historic Summit was unfortunately not matched by social media interest; now the barometer for assessing the importance of an event to the national and regional public psyche. Our region must certainly welcome any alignment between Africa and the Caribbean, as slavery has created inseverable bonds. Yet, a few observations must be made of this meeting. …
…. Then there was the presence of no lesser person than the President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa. In July 2021, South Africa was plunged into its most vicious cycle of burning and looting in modern history. Members of the Indian Diaspora felt the brunt of the pain. Indians first arrived in South Africa in the late 1800s as indentured labourers and make up 2.6% of South Africa’s population. Most of them live in KwaZulu-Natal, and Phoenix is home to about 85% of the Indian people.
The economic cost of the looting was put at an estimated USD 1.37 billion in KwaZulu-Natal, with 161 shopping malls, 11 warehouses and eight factories being extensively damaged. The Indian-dominated neighbourhood of Phoenix was the worst hit. The government of Ramaphosa has faced searing criticism for its incompetence in dealing with the crisis, as manifested by his government’s slow response to the rioting, which allowed the looting to spread over several days.
A belated Cabinet reshuffle was his response to state apathy in the face of the targeting of a specific ethnic group in South Africa. According to Ramaphosa, “Our security services were found wanting in several respects,” A reported statement from Ramaphosa expressed a view that the CARICOM-African partnership should work together to transform the fortunes of all the people of Africa and those of African descent in the Caribbean.
I trust that he is aware that the Caribbean does not solely comprise persons of African descent. Therefore, the partnership between Africa and the Caribbean cannot only seek to transform the lives of persons of African descent in the Caribbean. This statement of Ramaphosa is of much concern having regard to events in Phoenix.
Finally, our own Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley, must be congratulated for celebrating his African heritage. It was reported that Dr Rowley closed by quoting late Ghana president Kwame Nkrumah, “I am not African because I was born in Africa, but because Africa was born in me.”
The pride expressed by Dr Rowley is commendable, and other ethnic groups that form part of the tapestry of Caribbean society should take heart and celebrate their own culture. The Indian diaspora must not be deterred by being identified with a ship from Calcutta. The Chinese and Syrian/Lebanese community must proudly display their heritage. Our First People must continue to struggle for recognition of their place in the Caribbean sun.
By the proud pronouncement of his African heritage, Dr Rowley is sending a salutary message to all others to embrace their heritage and never renounce it. Be proud to be who you are. It is the least you can do for your ancestors. One can now expect those entrusted with leading our multi-ethnic societies will never again ridicule any ethnic group based on their ancestry, culture, or traditions.
Full article first published in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian on 27/9/21
Professor Rajendra Ramlogan, Commercial and Environment Law, The University of the West Indies. The views expressed are entirely his own.
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