The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) said it will be writing to the South African Government to voice its support for the conferment of the Oliver Tambo Award to former executive president of Guyana Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham and expressing the concern that the issue of national character had been hijacked by “red herrings and egos”.
The South African Government had announced that it would have been conferring the Oliver Tambo Award on Burnham for his contribution to the struggle in South Africa against Apartheid. However, some days after the announcement a number of persons and organisations began lobbying to have the decision to confer the award reversed and online media organisations reported that the South African Government was doing an about face on its decision, yielding to pressure. The basis for the protest against the award being given posthumously to Burnham had to do with the death of political activist Walter Rodney, a member of the WPA at the time, in 1981.
“As a people, we have a choice to make. And to this end the GTUC will be dispatching messages to the South African Government and the trade union community, reminding them of the workers’ commitment and contributions to the apartheid struggle, making known our support for the OR Tambo award to Forbes Burnham, and expressing our concern… We are going to be making it known that those against the award are not speaking for us,” a statement issued by the GTUC said.
“It is known that Guyana’s support for the struggle against apartheid and injustices in South Africa was one of national character, led and articulated by Forbes Burnham and the government of the People’s National Congress. Regardless of one’s political persuasion and differences on issues and positions taken by Burnham, the position taken by him to bring about justice and fair play in South Africa was correct and we all must acknowledge that his leadership on this issue, on behalf of the people, must be correctly written and acknowledged in the annals of history,” said the statement.
The statement said it was justly deserving that the South African Government was seeking to recognise the leadership of Burnham in fighting apartheid.
“For the vision and dexterity he had shown, in whipping up support at home and taking Guyana’s voice to the international platform, even at the time when he invoked the wrath of the developed countries who were lukewarm on the issue, since they placed their economic benefits ahead of rights, justice and fair play which are tenets in the construction of every civilised society, cannot be denied,” said the statement.
The statement said the reasons proffered for the objection of the award to Burnham have nothing to do with the conditions under which the award is granted.
“The denial of society-present and future-of a clear understanding of the role this country played in the removal of the yoke of oppression against the people of Southern African by seeking to rewrite history and unnecessarily demonising the man who was the architect of that struggle does not say much of those engaged in this behaviour,” said the statement.
The GTUC said it “solidly supported in words and deeds” and “collaborated with the Guyana Government” in pursuit of freedom for South Africans. It said that while it is understandable that one may have differences with Burnham, “it would be a demonstration of weak character to deny one what is justly theirs, even if that person is considered an enemy, or persona non grata.
“It is instructive to note that Cheddi Jagan, opposition leader during the struggle; and Shridath Ramphal, who served as minister of Foreign Affairs under the Burnham government, were recipients of the award, and those now attacking Burnham remained silent, fully conscious that the decision to support the fight against apartheid was formulated, articulated and executed under Burnham’s leadership,” the statement said.