IT was probably inevitable that the announcement of the country’s first National Honours would be met with a divided response.
An outcry, largely led by members of the PLP, about the inclusion of former United Bahamian Party leader Sir Roland Symonette was met with sniping from FNM chairman Carl Culmer about the worthiness of former PLP leader and first prime minister of the independent Bahamas Sir Lynden Pindling.
The PLP cry went up that Symonette had been the leader of a “racist regime”, with Fred Mitchell saying he was not a “fitting, proper person” for the award and Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin going further to say the decision was “perverse and highly offensive”.
Mr Culmer responded by saying that Pindling “did a lot to black folks as well”, such as victimisation, though stopping short of saying Pindling was unworthy of the award his FNM colleagues in government had just bestowed.
Perhaps it is something in the title granted to each of these individuals, each being given the Order of National Hero. A hero is an aspirational title, someone being held up to others as an example to follow. Without doubt, each of these individuals has had a major impact on life in The Bahamas – but while each may be a hero to some, there will be others who see a different side of that person. We have recounted many times in this column the challenges faced by The Tribune in the face of victimisation, even to the extent of denying the immigration permit for the teacher of the journalism school founded to train Bahamians, leaving the school having to close and starving the students of a path into a career in journalism. Much too has been written about the drug years under Sir Lynden, whose consequences resonate through to the crime levels we still face today.
So where does that leave the protests of today at the honours being laid at the feet of those who might be found objectionable? Can someone be lauded as a hero, when to others that person remains a villain? And is some of this outrage part of the PLP playing the race card, as Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis intimated yesterday?
The answer to those questions is not easy – but part of it comes from understanding our history and understanding the effects of that history on us today.
Here is what is encouraging, however – as much as the debate going on over the deservedness of these awards might be partisan, with each side complaining loudest about the figure from the opposing side they object to most, the process itself has delivered honours for people from across the political spectrum.
In years gone by, we might have expected to see a list of honours overly stacked in favour of the governing party’s side of the equation, but these honours – the first of many – cross that divide. Sir Lynden Pindling might be the antithesis of the leadership in the governing party, but there he is, his name recorded among the first to bear the title of National Hero.
It would be most encouraging indeed if that non-partisan approach might be the beginning of a wider approach, that sees matters conducted in both the civil service and the public realm that seeks to resolve matters without the need for choosing political sides, but simply to deliver the best for Bahamians.
Now that, that would indeed be a heroic ideal to which to aspire.