Mixed Bajan history on Mandela

Barbados’ CARICOM Ambassador David Comissiong .
Photo by George Alleyne

Barbados’ CARICOM Ambassador David Comissiong chose the 100th birth anniversary of freedom fighter Nelson Mandela to recall that many on the island had rejected and condemned this man who became a symbol of racial harmony and forgiveness.

Speaking at a University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, celebration of the United Nations designated Nelson Mandela International Day, to commemorate what would have been the freedom fighter’s birthday, Wednesday, Commisiong said that during the time of the struggle of Mandela and others against the racially segregationist system of Apartheid, a minority of influential Bajans branded him a ‘terrorist.’

Comissiong, who is also a well-known social activist and Pan-Africanist, told the UWI ceremony, which featured tributes in poetry and song and dance, that an example of local rejection of Mandela was an occasion in the 1980’s “when we had Barbadians, a prominent clergyman and a prominent journalist, breaking the boycott against South Africa and going to South Africa and coming back to Barbados and daring to tell us that Mandela was a terrorist and should be hanged.”

He went on to recall a February 1990 rally in celebration of Mandela’s release from prison when a minority of powerful business persons resisted the will of the people on the island to have a popular concert venue — where the pro-Mandela meeting was held — renamed after the South African icon.

That venue is Farley Hill, which was officially opened as a national park by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1966, the same year Barbados gained independence.

It was once the site of a mansion built for the entertainment of royalty.

Information on this site for visitors to the island states: “several times a year Farley Hill is transformed into a stage for musical and theatrical events. Events such as Gospel Fest, Soca on the Hill and Reggae on the Hill are held with the magnificent ruins of Farley Hill House becoming the background for the event’s stage. Picnic baskets are opened under the tall mahoganies and all ages and all nations dance, listen and enjoy superb music in an unforgettable atmosphere of joy, friendship and togetherness”.

Commisiong recalled that it was a “tremendous rally. Thousands and thousands of Barbadians celebrating the freedom of Nelson Mandela.”

Included in the thousands were then Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford and a leading minister in his cabinet, Don Blackman.

The activist said, “we put it to the masses of Barbadians gathered there, do we have agreement that Farley Hill should be renamed Mandela Freedom Park,” and added, “by unanimous acclamation thousands of Barbadians said ‘yes’.”

He said that then PM Sandiford and minister Blackman were among those shouting ‘yes’.

“Then the white business establishment of Barbados said, ‘no’,” Commisiong added as he recollected how the rulers of Barbados’ commercial community turned down this wish of the majority to honour Mandela.

“And some of us were called black misfits and Mandela was again denounced as a terrorist.”

The activist pointed out how those attitudes have changed with the passage of time.

“Now we have lived to see all of these people who were incapable of recognising Mandela as a hero back then, in later years came to idolise him as ‘Saint Mandela’.”

To this day Farley Hill retains its original name.

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