Ulele Burnham, daughter of the late president Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham (LFSB), has said that objections to her father’s receipt of the O R Tambo Award (OTA) based on his “assumed role in the death of Walter Rodney” are moot unless and until a frank, full and formal public inquiry by an international tribunal is convened into the matter.
The OTA is conferred on foreign nationals (heads of state and government) and other foreign dignitaries who promoted South Africa’s interests and aspirations through co-operation, solidarity and support. The South African government had chosen LFSB for the prestigious award “….for his integral part in the sport boycott against South Africa during the apartheid regime and support for the liberation movement and freedom fighters in South Africa.” However, its conferral was later postponed indefinitely following objections by various parties.
A dialogue has since ensued in which various personalities have been seeking to either justify or disprove Burnham’s eligibility for the award.
In a letter in yesterday’s Stabroek News Ulele, Burnham’s youngest daughter, who is currently a barrister in London, said: “I have learnt that the principal objection of those who have petitioned against the posthumous award being conferred on my father relates to his assumed role in the death of the acclaimed historian and activist, Walter Rodney.”
Arguments were first raised by Professor Horace Campbell of Syracuse University, New York. In a Carib Voices newsletter dated April 24, Campbell argued that to award LFSB with the OTA would “discredit the ideas and the life of Walter Rodney.”
Meanwhile, Ulele Burnham’s letter pointed out that “the body politic has been riven, for decades, by unresolved imputations that the government led by my father was responsible for Rodney’s death.”
In the light of the absence of an impartial final position on the matter Ulele Burnham contended that “the conversation about Rodney’s death requires an arbiter to halt the cleavage; it requires a full, frank and formal public inquiry by as independent an international tribunal as can be convened. Then those dead, and alive, can properly be made to bear the true burden of responsibility they have been adjudged to owe.”
This opinion was shared by Rishi Thakur, who in a letter he penned to the Stabroek News said, “Without a common frame of reference – the result of an independent commission (a truth commission ‒ maybe) we continue to live the history of fragments.”
Ulele Burnham also took the opportunity to address additional arguments that LFSB should not receive the award on account of assertions that his contributions to the abolishment of the apartheid rule in South Africa were insignificant.
Ulele Burnham said, “those who were alive, and alert, during the years of my father’s tenure as leader of Guyana are entitled to judge his impact on the body politic and the extent of his contribution to international struggles against structurally racist regimes.”
She urged however that such dialogue be “informed” and lamented the way in which many critics had approached the issue.
“Now, I might think, as I do, that some of those opposed to the award squandered the opportunity to add to the sum of informed historical record when they claim that he did nothing for African Liberation Movements. Their objections are cheapened I fear, by an implacable and wholesale contempt for him; the mainly unmediated rage steadfastly refusing to entertain the possibility that character is not indivisible, that context is everything.”