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'The case for reparations is one we cannot abandon'

IN DISCUSSION: Former Jamaican prime minister PJ Patterson with The Voice’s Dotun Adebayo

HE ROSE from humble beginnings to become one of Jamaica’s and the Caribbean’s most respected statesmen.

Now the journey and achievements of the country’s former prime minister PJ Patterson have been captured in a new book, My Political Journey.

It’s a measure of the esteem in which Patterson is held that at a recent launch of the book in Jamaica tributes were delivered by former members of his Cabinet such as Burchell Whiteman and Maxine Henry-Wilson, vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies Hilary Beckles, and Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley.

POLITICAL JOURNEY: Patterson during his years as Jamaican prime minister

During a visit to London last week Patterson sat down with Voice columnist Dotun Adebayo for an exclusive interview.

The veteran politician, who celebrated his 84th birthday earlier this week, touched on a range of important issues during the interview.

These included how to develop Jamaica’s potential as well as Britain’s debt to Caribbean countries as a result of its role in the Transatlantic slave trade.

He said: “The case for reparations is one that we in the Caribbean simply cannot abandon. Some people may not want to hear it, but we need justice.”

Compensation for the days of slavery, he said, is something that the Caribbean should never stop demanding.

Patterson’s comments came as Theresa May turns to the UK’s former colonies in the Caribbean and Africa in the post-Brexit era.

In a turbulent week for the Prime Minister in which she fought to save her deal to exit the European Union, it is probably the last thing she will have wanted to hear.

But Jamaica’s revered politician is unapologetic about calling for justice and calling for it now.

“The fight for social justice has been the motivation for my long political journey from my childhood in the parish of Hanover, adjacent to Frome, in Westmoreland, where the first sparks of protest against enslavement in Jamaica were ignited.

“I was aware of this as a child and it still informs my politics. Whether that be sitting down to talk to Fidel Castro in Cuba about social justice or calling for reparations. It is about justice.”

Patterson insisted that he is not talking about “justice” as an ideal but as a very real concept to tackle what he believes to be the continuing impact of enslavement in the Caribbean.

“It cannot be denied that the majority of Jamaicans owe their ancestry to Africa and are black in colour,” he told The Voice, “and didn’t arrive in Jamaica voluntarily. This still has lasting effects on our society today.”

The 84-year-old added that he was only too aware of the continuing legacy of enslavement in his country.

NEW RELEASE: Patterson has just released a book about his political career

He is Jamaica’s sixth prime minister, but the first black Jamaican to have been elected by the popular vote.

Before that he said he had suffered racism on the island. Even as tourism minister he was turned away from a hotel in Montego Bay which operated a colour bar against black people.

And during our interview Patterson, revealed he also faced racism when he came to Britain to study law at the London School of Economics in the early sixties.

He said: “The first time I was exposed to racial discrimination in Jamaica, it took me a little while before I realised what was happening. But I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me when I came to Britain to UK to study for may law degree.

“You would see a flat advertised and go for the flat and the landlord took one look at you and told you that the flat was no longer available. Some landlords would have the effrontery to say blacks weren’t welcome here.”

Patterson eventually returned to Jamaica after his studies to pursue his career as a barrister and to get involved in politics.

Along the way he got involved with the local music scene, as did another previous Jamaican prime minister, Edward Seaga. While Seaga produced records, Patterson managed what he describes as Jamaica’s best ever band, in the ska era. The band was led by, arguably, one of the country’s greatest ever musicians, the enigmatic and ultimately tragic Don Drummond.

SKA: Don Drummond of the Skatalites – few people know that Patterson was the band’s manager in the 1960s

Patterson would later represent him in court when Drummond was charged and found guilty on the grounds of insanity for the killing of his partner.

“I served as the manager of The Skatalites – the greatest musical aggregation that Jamaica has ever seen and will ever see,” he reminisced. “It was a band of stars. And I came into that position largely because of Drummond.

“Time and time again at the end of the week, the proceeds from their performances would be distributed among them.

“Don never expressed any interest in taking anything. He only came, played his music and left. He was a loner, a mystic person, he lived only for his music. There was a melancholia about him.

“I can’t remember ever seeing him smile or laugh, but when he was excited he would express it through his trombone. Very often when the band was finishing on a night he would pick out the individual members and say to them, ‘We’re going to record a tune tomorrow’, and when they asked him if he had written the music he would say, ‘No, just bring your instrument’. That’s how most of his great innovations were done.”

The music of Jamaica played a huge part in Patterson’s political journey.

Patterson recalls the Delroy Wilson tune Better Must Come which some observers of the period say was the soundtrack of the 1972 election campaign, one in which he was Michael Manley’s right-hand man.

He would later follow Bob Marley and The Wailers to Zimbabwe for their Independence Day celebrations.

And during his own prime ministerial inauguration in 1992, he quoted the Ernie Smith tune Duppy or a gunman to highlight the violent crime epidemic that was destroying the island.

That expression still follows him about, even though the burden, as he describes it of running the country is now off his shoulders. But he still wants to make a contribution.

When The Voice asked him what his greatest achievement as prime minister was, he was philosophical.

“I would say [my greatest achievement as prime minister] was managing to help in the release of our creative potential as a people. “Getting people in Jamaica to understand and accept that knowledge, education and opportunities constitute the way forward.

“Not only for ourselves as a nation, but for us all as individuals. There’s nothing Jamaica can’t achieve if we keep on trying.

“Let’s be ourselves and make the best of what we are and what we can achieve together.”

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