T&T Opposition Leader accepts offer to attend Mandela funeral with PM

(Trinidad Express) Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday extended an invitation to Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and his wife, Sharon Rowley, to accompany her to the funeral of former South African president, Nelson Mandela.

The invitation has been accepted, Rowley later told the Express.

Persad-Bissessar, to the cheers of the Parliament, also announced that she has agreed to settle on a date early next year that will be declared “Mandela Day” in Trinidad and Tobago.

That will be accompanied by a public symposium on the life and work of Mandela that will be coordinated by local scholars and historians, including Prof Kenneth Ramchand, the PM said.

Persad-Bissessar made the gesture in the Parliament at the Port of Spain Waterfront Complex, just as the House rose to observe a minute of silence for Mandela, who passed away at age 95 on Thursday, and also two local icons who passed away this week—Michael Als and Emmanuel McDonald Bailey.

The PM asked that House Speaker Wade Mark allow her a moment before starting the minute of silence.

She then invited Rowley to Mandela’s funeral, which will be on Sunday December 15.

This preceded a series of tributes paid by members of the House to Mandela and Als, a trade unionist and conservationist, and athlete Bailey, an Olympic medallist.

Als was the founder of the Bankers and Insurance General Workers’ Union (BIGWU) and later a founder of the Toco Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that continues to make strides in the development of that rural part of the country.

Als passed away Thursday after a long ailment.

Bailey, who died on Wednesday, had an illustrious career that peaked when he competed under the flag of the British Empire and won the 100 metre bronze medal at the Helsinki Olympic Games.

Bailey, 92, the holder of a Chaconia Gold medal, had also been ailing for some time.

House Speaker Mark began the tribute period with an official announcement on the passing of Mandela and invited Persad-Bissessar to speak.

The Prime Minister said she was so moved after viewing the movie Invictus (Latin for “undefeated”)—which was based on Mandela’s relationship with the South African rugby team of mostly white players and his role in rallying the entire country around the team which went to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup—that she recommended the film to her Cabinet.

The Cabinet later had a meal and watched the movie together, she said.

“It was so inspiring,” Persad-Bissessar said.

In his tribute, Rowley agreed with the sentiments expressed by Persad-Bissessar on Mandela’s extraordinary work and character and said: “If there is anything that we should take from Mandela’s legacy, it is the appreciation and role of this thing called freedom in our own existence, because without it, we may not recognise ourselves. Thank you, Nelson Mandela.”

Rowley also paid tribute to Als, whom he said he enjoyed a visit with earlier this year at Als’ Toco retreat and whose death came as a “shock” to him.



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