University of Guyana Library (Photo posted on http://www.koorneef.net)
After the Jonestown Massacre on 18 November 1978, it became increasingly dangerous to criticize or oppose our dictatorship government. A new opposition party emerged under the co-leadership of Dr. Walter Rodney, a distinguished Afro-Guyanese historian, threatening the Afro-Guyanese government – put in power since 1965.
On another front, the Roman Catholic Church, through its weekly newspaper, continued to expose and attack the government’s human rights violations.
On 14 July 1979, during an orderly public demonstration, three thugs in the crowd attacked the Assistant Editor of the Catholic newspaper. A short distance away, Father Bernard Darke – a British Jesuit, teacher, and photographer for the Catholic newspaper – photographed the beating. On seeing Fr. Darke, the three thugs turned on him. After beating him, one of them stabbed him. Later that day, he died in the hospital from ruptured lungs.
The night of 24 October 1979 marked the end for the Minister of Education, Vincent Teekah. His shooting remains a mystery. Then, the following month, on November 18, the police gunned down a prominent member of Dr. Rodney’s party. Three months later, on 18 February 1980, two other members of the party escaped death at the hands of an unknown gunman. Ten days later, another activist was not so lucky.
During this period, I was working as an Assistant Librarian Trainee (1979-1980) at the University of Guyana Library to gain my certification in Library Studies.
As Dr. Rodney enjoyed great support among the academic staff and students, the University of Guyana became a stage for political activism and dissension. As a government-run institution, the university also had a strong government presence. It soon became evident that I could not trust my work colleagues.
For upholding the library regulations, activists of the two major opposition parties labeled me a government supporter. This attitude mystified me. Caught in a photograph (published in a local newspaper) sitting next to a government minister at a cultural event did not help my precarious position. On the other hand, my criticisms of government policies made me an enemy of our Comrade Leader’s supporters in the Circulation Department under my supervision.
My tolerance limit reached its peak after I took a stand for fairness and justice in the workplace. I joined the strike of academic and other staff and students in protesting the contract termination of one of the university’s top lecturers, a vocal activist of Dr. Rodney’s party. As for other colleagues who participated in the strike, our workplace became treacherous – a political cesspool.
On 13 June 1980 came Dr. Walter Rodney’s turn to meet his maker. A remote controlled car bomb took his life. To this day, his assassination remains unresolved. I joined the procession of an estimated 15,000 Guyanese of all races to pay tribute to a man willing to risk his life to free us from tyranny and chart a new course.
My hope for a better Guyana – where individuals of all races could contribute their talents and skills towards building our nation – died with Dr. Walter Rodney. Four months after his assassination, I dropped out of the Library Training Program and returned to working as a secretary in the private sector. I joined the ranks of university graduates marginalized in our native land.
In January 2012, the University of Guyana Council terminated the contract of its most vocal academic critic of the ruling Indo-Guyanese party – in power since 1992. Academic staff, workers, and students are on strike against the victimization of academics for their political stance or opinions and the government’s infringement on the university’s academic and administrative freedom.
We change our shoes but continue to trample the same beaten paths.