Chairman of the Management Committee of the National Farmers Organisation Hafeez Rahman on Tuesday pledged the organisation’s support for the descendants of enslaved Africans to be compensated.
Rahman made the pledge while appearing on the stand before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into land issues.
The Chairman started off by making reference to facts mentioned during prior testimonies before the commission, such as enslaved Africans clearing millions of acres of land, installing in excess of 2 million miles of drainage canals, trenches and inter-bed drains (among other statistics), as grounds for the descendants to be compensated.
“Our sympathies lay with our African brothers and sisters who have not had the efforts made in this society over all these years to come to grips with this central issue of land ownership,” Rahman said.
Calling the situation a “tragedy of insufferable proportions” which appears to be “unfolding” within our society, he expressed the belief that the commission has an important role to play in providing the necessary closure.
“I think you have a historical task here, one that can remedy our situation. I have a feeling we all have this expectation that unless we resolve the African land issue in this country and ownership, we’re not going to go anywhere. And the fact that we were all brought here and we came for land you know—unfortunately the African people didn’t come for land, they were brutalized and brought here…” he said. The witness became visibly emotional on the stand.
Rahman related that it is the organisation’s belief that there should be a special investigative body to “inquire into every charge and aspect where Afro Guyanese were disenfranchised from Ancestral lands through court action and illegal action where they were evicted.”
“We have historical evidence where African rice farmers were evicted because they could not present papers to the court to show ownership…The fact that African rice farmers developed land for crops such as rice then lose the land, displays the heartlessness of the land purchasers, the court system, colonial administration, not to leave out political forces…” he stated, calling for the establishment of a permanent lands commission.
“We may be able at a later date…to present in proper form. You see, these discussions here are not going to allow us to speak for lengthy periods. But the commission can hold in-camera sessions or further sessions with particular presenters like ourselves, where we can look into issues that affect this country and the African people in particular,” he noted.
“In the United States, when enslavement was abolished, the African person was offered 40 acres of land and a mule. In this country, when slavery was abolished, the slave owners had 5 guineas for every head of African person who was manumissioned and this matter has not been resolved over the years and it is eating away at this society, one way or another,” he added.
Rahman stated that the will to ensure the matter is put to rest must be demonstrated and offered to prepare a document presenting the pertinent issues related to African ancestral lands, as seen by the organisation.
He was told by CoI Chairman George Chuck-A-Sang to have it available before the inquiry concludes on November 1.