The African Cultural & Development Association (ACDA) yesterday reissued its call for an ancestral lands commission to address concerns surrounding the allocation of African Guyanese lands, as the third day of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into land ownership convened yesterday.
Executive Member of the organisation Violet Jean-Baptiste told the commission that in 2007 the organisation would have penned letters to then President Bharrat Jagdeo requesting that the Government set up a commission to address the issue of African ancestral lands.
According to Jean-Baptiste, while there would have also been paid advertisements in 2007 “making our case for an ancestral lands commission. Our pleadings fell on deaf ears,”
Citing the recognition of and subsequent compensation to East Indians for their labour during the indentureship period by the British Government, she said that this was not the same for Africans who had been enslaved.
“There is no legislation granting land to freed Africans in Guyana. However, there is recognition that land compensation, as an issue for Africans is outstanding,” she said.
Towards this end, the geologist said that the organisation “expects that this land CoI will make every effort to correct this historical injustice and recommend land justice to the people of African descent in Guyana.”
Among some of the expectations the organisation has for the inquiry is the complete audit of land ownership and acquisition of land that was historically owned by formerly enslaved Africans.
Additionally, Jean-Baptiste told the commission that the primary issue surrounds the locations and extent of land purchased.
In this regard, she stated that a record must be established of all land purchases and the extent of the area purchased.
A detailed review of what constitutes “state land” is also one of the expectations the group expects will come out of the land inquiry. “…with special emphasis on lands lost to the descendants of freed enslaved Africans without proper exercising by the state of eminent domain.”
In her testimony, Jean-Baptiste also stated that places such as Parade Ground and Promenade Gardens, “lands on which enslaved African blood was shed in revolts…” should be identified and earmarked as sacred African ancestral land.
She said that ensuring the descendants of formerly enslaved Africans have full access to ancestral lands is not only a matter of equity, but also socio-economic necessity. In this regard, she stated that in its submissions, the organisation expects the Government to “recognise that it has a moral/legal obligation to ensure the descendants of freed Africans be given full titles to appropriate lands.”
She also expressed the organisation’s gratitude to the late Member of Parliament Debra Backer who in 2007 had moved a motion where she had presented ACDA’s case for a commission on ancestral lands.
Asked by Counsel for the Commission Attorney Darren Wade why the group sees the need for ancestral lands to be addressed. Baptiste said that it has to do with land justice. “…our ancestors have worked this land free. We dug the canals, we civilized the coast. The enslavers who brought us here were paid even though they worked us mercilessly for over 200 years.”
“Other groups were paid. Africans were never given lands free as other groups. So ACDA believes that is a question of land justice. It is a question of human rights. It is a question of righting a serious wrong,” she asserted.
She added that a lot of the lands that would have been bought years ago had no titles, hence the group is now issuing the call for full and complete titling of lands, “similar to the call by the Amerindian groups. We want titles for our lands that is what we are asking for in this commission of inquiry.”
The commission’s mandate is to examine and make recommendations to resolve all the issues and uncertainties surrouding the individual joint or communal ownership of land acquired by freed African; claims of Amerindian land titling and other matters relative to land titling.
The Commission is being chaired by Reverend George Chuck-a-Sang, with David James, Professor Rudolph James, Lennox Caleb, Berlinda Persaud, Carol Khan-James and Paulette Henry.