Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jamaica: Michael Manley, Garveyism and Matalon

Manley, Garveyism and Matalon


Forty-three years ago today Michael Manley was elected president of the People's National Party. Twenty-three years ago today, the PNP returned to power and Michael Manley once again got a chance to be prime minister. In this 50th anniversary jubilee of our political Independence, perhaps the man with the greatest impact over the last 50 years was Michael Manley. Whether he was the most effective prime minister or he did the most for Jamaica, was the greatest negotiator or was the worst thing to ever happen to Jamaica are all debatable topics. But not even Michael Manley's detractors can successfully challenge the impact that he had.

I call myself a Norman Manleyist, in that I recognise Norman Manley (Michael Manley's father) as the person as "the man with the plan". Indeed, Michael Manley, for the most part implemented his father's ideas. While I am not in favour of Michael Manley being made a national hero unless another 50 years have passed when there can be a proper evaluation of both the way he lived his life and contributed to the growth of Jamaica, it has nothing to do with the massive impact that he had on Jamaica, the Caribbean and the World.

In 1969 when he was Opposition leader, Michael Manley visited Ethiopia and returned to Jamaica with a rod purportedly from Emperor Haile Selassie. That fact alone inspired Rastafarians to participate in the Jamaican democratic process from which they had hitherto stayed aloof as they awaited a return passage to our African motherland.

From the 1960s there were Rastafarians and Pan Africanists campaigning for Garveyism to be taught in schools. During the Social Services debate in 1992, then education Minister Burchell Whiteman announced that as of September that year, Garveyism would be taught in schools. I had advocated the teaching of Garveyism in my columns in the now defunct Jamaica Record, so I celebrated. But it was not to be.

The teachers said that they were not trained to teach Garveyism and that there was no Marcus Garvey textbook. To my mind, their stance was nothing but delaying tactics and I wrote as much. Now we hear that as of September Garveyism is to be taught in schools and a textbook has been provided. Is this another announcement which will be followed by delaying tactics for another 20 years? If it is not, then it will be ironic that it took a white man (education minister, Deacon Ronnie Thwaites) to implement the teaching of Garveyism in schools.

Children who were born out of wedlock could not inherit property until Michael Manley piloted the act to abolish the illegitimacy law in 1975, so that "no bastard no deh again". There was no minimum wage in Jamaica before 1975, some 84 years after Pope Leo XIII encouraged it in his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891. There was the adjustment of the land tax law in such a way that the rich paid more land tax. The establishment of the National Housing Trust so that ordinary people could access housing has done a lot to empower the poor. This was done under Michael Manley's watch in the 1970s.

And this brings me to the subject of the late Mayer Matalon, former chairman of West Indies Home Contractors who recently passed away. By the way, Mayer Matalon was chairman of the Jamaica College board of directors (1967-71) while at the same time his brother, Eli Matalon, was chairman of the Kingston College board of directors. Had it not been for the Matalons, who invested heavily in housing, we would have serious housing problems today.

As an aside, no one might know that housing in Jamaica also contributed to the ecumenical movement, where churches of different denominations come together for prayer and action. The Church of Reconciliation in Bridgeport, Portmore, St Catherine, was opened in September 1977. It is a church that is jointly used by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.

For its 20th anniversary in 1997, I was asked to prepare a history of the Church of Reconciliation. I approached the late Archbishop Samuel Carter (already retired from 1995), and asked him whose idea it was to have the joint church: was it his, or was it Bishop Herbert Edmondson's, then the Anglican Lord Bishop of Jamaica. "Neither," Archbishop Carter answered. "So whose idea was it then?" I asked. After a pause, the archbishop said "Matalon". However, he did not say which of the Matalon brothers.

Yes, it took a Matalon (who is of Jewish religion) who evidently wanted more space to build more houses to earn more money, when the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches applied for land within the Bridgeport Housing Scheme to build churches, to say, "Why don't you two bishops just build one church?" The truth is stranger than fiction.

I am not aware of any move by the powers that be to include in our celebrations a way of teaching our young people about the achievements of the last 50 years so that they understand that we truly have something to celebrate this year.

February 09, 2012