Thelma Pinder Doobay passed away on September 9, 2019, at her home in Bent Street, Wortmanville, Georgetown. She was surrounded by her loving children and grandchildren when she took her last breath.
Thelma was ailing for some time now and was hospitalised a few months ago. I am aware that some will ask who was Thelma Pinder?
She was an ordinary working woman. However, she had deep political convictions, a passion for justice and was a bold fighter for freedom and peace. She had liberated herself of racial prejudice. She saw things in terms of class interest and in her way was a champion of the working people.
Thelma developed her political awareness at a very young age. At that time, Guyana was a colony ruled by the British. Her political awareness came from her mother, Ruth Pinder, who was also an ordinary working-class woman. She was one of the thousands who was made aware of her own oppression by the Political Affairs Committee, which was founded by Cheddi and Janet Jagan, Joslyn Hubbard and Ashton Chase in 1946. Ruth Pinder understood that to obtain a better life she had to be part of the struggle for widespread progress. She encouraged her daughter, Thelma, to be involved in the fight for freedom. Thelma, with her mother Ruth, was part of many epic demonstrations for independence and for improving the conditions of workers, particularly women workers. At that time the PPP was focusing on the cruel exploitation of domestic servants. Ruth Pinder was in the movement at the time when the PPP split in 1955. This is where she and many others distinguished themselves as patriots and who did not allow themselves to fight against the interests of Guyana and working people during the struggles of the late 1950s and 1960s. She stood with the PPP and refused to allow herself to be misled by racial propaganda of what later became the PNC. After the split of the PPP, which was engineered by the British, the PNC was formed. Race became its main instrument for mobilising and organising that party. That was the main tool to prevent independence from coming to Guyana much earlier. Moreover, since race was identified by the colonial power as the main weapon to crush the PPP they had to purge the PPP of their African support. After all, they knew that their propaganda would not have the desired effect while the PPP had a substantial amount of African Guyanese in the party. While a massive attack was unleashed on the PPP as a whole, the Black PPP members were targets to get them to leave the PPP. The method used by the colonial power and the PNC was the carrot and the stick. The comrades who refused to break with cajoling, pushing the racial line and outright bribery, were viciously attacked by the PNC and suffered physical attacks on their persons, property and family. If you look at those comrades in detention in 1964 you would see that a third were African Guyanese PPP leaders and members. Many of them were attacked in the areas where they lived. Comrade Felix Baptiste of Plantation Washington, West Coast Berbice, was one such victim. Having failed to get him to leave the PPP, they applied open terror. During 1964 while he and his family were asleep, sticks of dynamite were hurled through his window. His home was badly damaged and he suffered serious injuries, causing him to be hospitalised in Georgetown.
On the day he was discharged he dropped in at Freedom House at Robb Street to see how things were going. While at Freedom House, a powerful bomb that was planted by the PNC terrorist, Batson, exploded. It killed Michael Forde and injured others, including Comrade Baptiste who had to be hospitalised once again. The PNC x 13 Plan was in full cry.
Those were the kinds of insults and attacks that Ruth and Thelma Pinder had to endure because of their strong convictions and their support for the PPP. Thelma worked with the PPP for many years. She was a staff of the New Guyana Company, the printers of Mirror, and worked dedicatedly for Freedom and after independence for democracy.
Thelma, while having her strong working-class convictions, was also deeply interested in the conditions of working women. She served in the Women’s Progressive Organisation (WPO) and passionately advocated for the equality of women and men.
Thelma Pinder has participated in many demonstrations for independence. She and her mother were in the Freedom March in 1963 and in many protests to free the detainees during 1964.
She was also an active participant in the PPP’s solidarity activities with South Africa, Vietnam and for the Freedom of Angela Davis. Thelma served on the Central Committee of the Women’s Progressive Organisation (WPO). She represented the WPO at conferences in Europe.
This for me, a youngster in the party in those times, caused me to be inspired by Thelma and many other of our African Guyanese comrades such as Ashton Chase, George Robertson, EMF Wilson, Cyril Belgrave, Shirley Edwards and others who made many personal sacrifices in the fight for Guyana’s freedom.
Today. We face the same dangers in a different period. The PNC-led APNU regime is once more demonstrating their disregard for our Constitution and the rule of law. They are ready to sacrifice the interests of Guyana for their personal power and ill-gotten wealth. Even though they shout the loudest of love for country, in practice they are proving to be the worst anti-nationals.
Thelma’s story must be a lesson to us and also must serve to inspire us to continue to fight against oppression. And injustices from whatever form they come in. Thelma’s story must not be lost to our African Guyanese compatriots. Far too many of whom are still trapped in the racial prejudice that the PNC has been spreading throughout its existence since 1957.
It is time for them to look at Guyana’s interest and their own well-being.
To Thelma’s children and grandchildren, to her husband Harold Snagg (Doobay), I extend my deepest sympathy. To my PPP comrades, I urge you to always remember our heroes, some who achieved prominence and many others who were silent heroes but whose contribution was very important to the country and the PPP. Their contributions must never be lost and forgotten.
Thank you, Thelma, for a job well done, I salute you.