There was an official Govt-sponsored event in Linden, addressed by AG Basil Williams, commemorating the Son Chapman tragedy of July 6, 1964, when a passenger boat of that name was blown up on its way back to the mining town, and 43 persons were killed. Lest he be accused of bias, your Eyewitness will today simply reprint a column by Rickey Singh, the veteran journalist, on the 2013 commemoration, captioned “APNU Granger’s political amnesia–‘Son Chapman’ and ‘Wismar’ tragedies”. The narrative hasn’t changed today.
“As if committed to sustaining old political hostilities and fuel the racial divide that makes national unity in Guyana such a mountainous challenge, the 68-year-old leader of APNU, David Granger, has expediently opted to overlook a most outrageous dimension of this nation’s painful fratricidal warfare during the 1960s.
It is all the more troubling, if not shocking, that ex-GDF Brigadier Granger should have so arrogantly chosen to ignore referencing the single most despicable ethnic-cleansing political development of Guyana’s 1964 race-driven conflicts when addressing a memorial event marking the 49th anniversary of the horrendous bombing tragedy of the transport vessel “Son Chapman” on July 6, 1964.
“Speaking at a memorial service last weekend at “Burnham Drive” (and against the backdrop of an imposing monument bearing the names of the 43 victims who perished on board the privately-owned “Son Chapman” in the Demerara River, APNU’s Granger claimed: “…The communities of Mackenzie (renamed Linden, after the PNC’s leader), Wismar, and Christianburg had been targeted for terrorism by the masterminds of terrorism…They succeeded…” Over 176 persons were killed “during that dark period, and thousands of buildings were burnt…” he added.
“As Chief Reporter of the then British-owned “Guiana Graphic” newspaper, I was among media colleagues, providing first-hand accounts of tragedies like that of the “Son Chapman”, as well (as) what directly followed, but, astonishingly, APNU’s Granger conveniently failed to mention that it was the infamous political reprisal that was to ferociously dislocate once harmonious multi-racial communities in the Upper Demerara River region.
“It came to be more popularly described as “the Mackenzie/Wismar riots” when hundreds of Guyanese of Indian descent (actually 2399) were specifically targeted as victims for “ethnic cleansing” and forced to flee. The crimes of murder, rape, arson, robbery and other degrading acts of reprisal that had swiftly erupted in that politically-inspired “ethnic cleansing” process in the wake of the “Son Chapman” tragedy are chronicled in the official report from an independent Commission of Inquiry.
Those now piously talking — like APNU’s Granger — about a “dark period” of Guyana’s pre-independence history, and glibly refer to “the masterminds of terrorism”, should also acquaint themselves with relevant available documents, such as the infamous “X-13 plan” uncovered by the police at the headquarters of the People’s National Congress (now absorbed by the Granger-led APNU). It may be fun politics for some to fake amnesia of convenience when talking about the “masterminds of terrorism” while being aware of the dread involvement by both PPP and PNC in the internecine warfare of the 1960s.
“Linking two tragedies
“It is perhaps commendable that there is now a monument located at ‘Burnham Drive’ to remind all and sundry of the 43 innocent victims who perished in the ‘Son Chapman disaster’.
“Nevertheless, from my own perspective, justice and sheer human decency should have made it compelling to consider broadening the “memorial” gesture, however appropriately determined, to also recognise the directly related ‘ethnic cleansing’ Wismar/Mackenize/Christianburg tragedy that APNU’s Granger, for all his “knowledge”, has failed to mention.
“The harsh reality, never mind the APNU leader’s sophistry about letting “the pain of the past be used to propel us to peace and prosperity”, is that the shocking “Son Chapman” disaster is integrally linked to the unprecedented ethnic-cleansing tragedy that preceded it.
“If, as the political reasoning goes, the PPP strategists were involved in the “Son Chapman” disaster as an extension of widening opposition to the government it led in Georgetown, then it would be simply puerile to disassociate PNC’s involvement in the execution of what some prefer to reference as the “Wismar/Mackenzie massacre”.
…memorial for all ’60s tragedies
“Finally”, Singh concluded, “there ought to be the creation also of an appropriate memorial in honour of the 176-odd Guyanese killed during our dreadful political/racial conflicts”