Guyana’s main opposition party, the People’s National Congress (PNC), is describing South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) as a bunch of ingrates for cancelling plans to honor the late Guyana President Forbes Burnham, the former PNC leader, for his unwavering support for the African liberation movement during the apartheid years including allowing Africa-bound Cuban military planes filled with heavily armed troops to refuel here.
The People’s National Congress (PNC) which ran the country for 28 years until 1992, said this week that the ANC should be ashamed of itself to “indefinitely postpone” the Order of the Companion (of O.R Tambo) to Burnham, being fully aware that Burnham had risked incurring the wrath of America and the West in general, had they known that Cuban planes with anti-apartheid fighters on their way to Southern Africa were allowed to pick up free fuel in Guyana.
Government officials in Pretoria, recently announced plans to scrub the award to Burnham because of lobbying from friends and associates of world-renowned Guyanese academic Walter Rodney whose June 1980 assassination in Guyana has persistently been blamed on Burnham and his close men; charges the PNC have always denied.
“We did not beg for it,” said former Guyana vice-president and retired PNC Leader Robert Corbin, who currently is an executive member of the PNC, speaking of the award. The fact that (Burnham) is only now being recognized for all what he did for the Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa is in itself an insult to now say it is being withdrawn,” Corbin said, adding that Burnham’s Canada-based daughter and son-in-law were preparing to travel to Pretoria later this month to receive the award, having been invited by authorities, when they were abruptly told about the postponement, because of Burnham’s alleged involvement in the death of Guyanese academic Walter Rodney in 1980.
Rodney who had taught in Africa and had authored the respected, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” was killed in a bomb blast in Guyana. Government critics back then had blamed the PNC for his death at the height of his popular campaign to remove the PNC from power.
A clearly angry Corbin, an attorney at law, argued that “no other leader in the Caribbean or hemisphere would have risked allowing Cuban planes with troops fighting apartheid to land and refuel in Guyana during the Cold War era. Such was his commitment to the liberation struggle but he did it, and we can release that fact to the world now.”
He said that Burnham had also given Guyana passports and local addresses to hundreds of liberation fighters to allow them to travel undetected internationally and that the country also donated $50,000 a year to the struggle to liberate then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and South Africa. Still the award has been withdrawn.
“(Burnham’s) contribution was outstanding and beyond match in the region and hemisphere,” said Corbin. “But frankly it is an insult to even offer him the award after all these years. I would not have accepted it personally at this late stage,” he added.
Former University of Guyana professor and PNC Executive Aubrey Norton also called the ANC an ungrateful bunch, saying the Cubans played a key role in driving white South Africans out of Southern Africa.
“I wonder if those who oppose Burnham obtaining the Tambo Award remember that he made a crucial decision that tilted the balance in favor of the liberation.
It must be recalled that the UNITA and FNLA South — African backed forces, were on the verge of inflicting a significant defeat on Agostino Neto’s MPLA and the entire liberation movement in Southern Africa in the now famous Battle at Cuito Cunavale in Namiba, at the border with Angola. The liberation fighters requested Cuban military assistance. The Cuban planes had to refuel somewhere in the Caribbean on their way to Africa. No Caribbean country wanted to incur the wrath of the U.S. government and therefore they refused to allow the Cuban planes to refuel in their territory.
Burnham made the critical decision to allow the Cuban planes to refuel in Guyana. As a consequence, the Cuban military help arrived in time and the liberation forces and the Cubans defeated the South African forces and changed the balance in Southern Africa in favor of the African liberation movement. Recall as well that Namibia got its independence in exchange for the withdrawal of Cuban forces.