EDITOR, The Tribune.
Two of the most intriguing personalities to dominate the Bahamian political landscape during the 1950s and 1960s, in my opinion, were Sir Randol F Fawkes and Sir Stafford Sands. The latter was the most polarising politician in Bahamian history. When his image was placed on the $10 banknote by the Free National Movement (FNM) administration of former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham in March 2000, it stirred up a hornets' nest.
Not much is known about Sir Stafford, other than what his opponents want the masses to know. The age old narrative is that Sands was the ruthless boogeyman of the United Bahamian Party (UBP) who contributed very little towards the development of this country. The contrast between Fawkes and Sands is unprecedented. While the former was a paragon of political and religious virtue, the latter was a hard-nosed materialist. In certain respects, the Bay Street Boys, while rabid capitalists, behaved at times like feudalists.
In Sir Randol's memoir The Faith That Moved the Mountain, the life of the enigmatic Sands is touched on.
Sir Randol's decision to join the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) immediately following the general election of January 10, 1967 helped in tipping the scale in favour of the PLP, much to the chagrin of the incumbent UBP administration. According to Sir Randol in his The Faith That Moved the Mountain, a total of 94 candidates contested that historic election for the 38 seats in the House of Assembly: the UBP fielded 36 candidates; the PLP 29; Paul Adderley's National Democratic Party 13 and Sir Randol's Labour Party four. There were a total of 12 independent candidates. The election results produced a stalemate of 18 seats apiece for both the PLP and the UBP.
With the former UBP turned independent Sir Alvin Braynen accepting the House of Assembly speakership from Sir Lynden, and Labour Party Leader Sir Randol forming a short-lived coalition with the PLP, the electoral deadlock was broken. Before the formation of the PLP/Labour Party coalition, the UBP under the leadership of Sir Roland T. Symonette, propositioned Sir Randol in a bid to gain his support for the Bay Street Boys. Bahamian history would've been radically different had the St Barnabas MP taken the lucrative bait dangled before him by the wealthy UBP merchants. In the February 6, 1967 edition of The Miami Herald, an article titled "Bay Street Boys couldn't buy Randol Fawkes" was published. The writer, one Jim Bishop, wrote that Symonette had offered Fawkes a blank cheque. He probably could've pocketed $1 million in addition to receiving a Cabinet post within the UBP government. Had he accepted the largesse of the Bay Street Boys, Sir Randol might have never been reduced to legal wrangling with the FNM administration in the mid 1990s over his government pension. If nothing else, the enactment of the Randol Francis Fawkes Pension Act 1998 was evidence that the father of labour was not a moneyed politician in an age when so many of his black political counterparts were no different than the white oligarchs they replaced in 1967. Fawkes' uncompromising character, I believe, was one of the reasons his relationship with the nascent Pindling government soured in 1968 when he was dumped as minister of labour after the general election that year in which the PLP won 29 of the 38 seats.
The death of the PLP MP for Shirlea, Uriah McPhee at age 42, caused the Pindling government to opt for a general election rather than a by-election. With a razor thin 19 to 18 majority, Pindling dreaded the thought of losing the Shirlea by-election, which would've resulted in a return of minority rule by the UBP, especially given the fact that there were already rumours of discontent within his government. For instance, Fawkes sensing the rift within the PLP, moved a motion of no confidence in Pindling in 1970, which was supported by the Dissident Eight and six UBP MPs. The 1968 general election solidified Pindling's grip on power. In an unrelated note, it is telling that Pindling chose not to second Sir Randol's motion for the appointment of a select committee to examine the issue of The Bahamas obtaining independence in September 1966 - seven years prior to the independence year of 1973 under the PLP and four months prior to Majority Rule. Was it because he feared that Sir Randol would've upstaged him by leading the country towards independence? Had Fawkes led The Bahamas to independence, he would've not only been known as the father of labour due to his herculean efforts as Bahamas Federation of Labour leader, but also the father of the modern Bahamas.
The merger of the two Bahamian statesman created an awkward dynamic within the PLP. Fawkes and Pindling, along with Sir Milo B. Butler, Cyril Stevenson, Clarence Bain and Samuel Isaacs, were the first PLPs elected to the House of Assembly in 1956. They were called the Magnificent Six. Like other outspoken black and white Bahamian activists, Fawkes suffered immensely at the hands of the ruling class. He was suspended two years from the Bahamas Bar Association by Chief Justice Sir Oswald Bancroft in 1953 or thereabouts. During his suspension he went on a self imposed exile to New York, where he took on odd jobs to support his family.
Regarding Sir Randol's initial calls for independence, Pindling could not let that happen. Even Cyril Stevenson rejected Fawkes' independence proposal, accusing the latter of seeking publicity. Stevenson's allegation was probably based on him being jealous of the Labour Party leader. As an accomplished attorney, not only was Sir Randol a member of the Citizens Committee and one of the founders of The People's Penny Savings Bank, he assembled approximately 20,000 Bahamian workers at Windsor Park on June 1, 1956, immediately following the first Labour Day Parade, which was a commemoration of the 1942 Burma Road incident. He also played a prominent rule in the 1958 General Strike. One of the founders of the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations, Fawkes led the charge for the establishment of the court of appeal In The Bahamas.
In my estimation, Fawkes was the most influential black politician in that era. It seems as if certain PLP parliamentarians, who were harbouring ulterior motives, felt threatened by the ambitious MP for St Barnabas.
No one can deny with a straight face that Sir Randol had made seminal contributions to this country, and is rightly regarded as a true national hero, despite the shoddy treatment he received from this country at the tail end of his life. However, despite the way he was treated by the PLP, Fawkes was somewhat moderate in his appraisal of Pindling on page 82 of the memorial edition of The Faith That Moved the Mountain, which was first published in 1977 -- nine years after he was unceremoniously booted from the Cabinet. Fawkes could've easily used his memoir to vilify the then sitting PLP government. He chose instead to remain above the fray, at least with respect to the Pindling government. With the UBP and Sir Stafford, however, Fawkes minced no words in his memoir. He repeatedly referred to the UBP establishment as the "white minority Mountain of Power. "
The situation in The Bahamas post January 10, 1967 presented a culture shock to members of the UBP, especially the former UBP Tourism and Finance Minister Sir Stafford, who abandoned the country for Spain in 1967. The PLP has never forgiven him for abandoning The Bahamas. Interestingly, he preferred Spain over Britain. The latter had colonial ties to the country at the time of his self imposed exile. Was his departure due to the 1967 Royal Commission of Inquiry into casino gambling in The Bahamas? Was he afraid of getting into legal issues with the British for assisting gambling barons in the Colony? Sir Stafford represented quite a few foreign investors who had direct ties to casino gambling. Another possible reason for his departure may have been that he feared reprisals from the incoming PLP administration. In addition to Sands' permanent relocation from The Bahamas, Donald E d’Albenas, another former UBP Cabinet minister, left the country for Canada, according to Fawkes. Certain elements within the PLP utilised the racist rhetoric of the Black Panthers on the campaign trail. While Sands and D’Albenas chose to leave, the remaining UBP elements chose instead to remain and face the music.
Sands represented Nassau City. He was first elected to Parliament in January 1937 at the tender age of 24. In 1939, he became legal advisor to Parliament. He became leader of government business in Parliament; and a member of the governor's executive council in November 1945. With the Colony achieving self-government status in 1964 from Britain, Sir Roland became The Bahamas' first premier and Sir Stafford was appointed to the Cabinet, which was composed of 14 UBP ministers. Conversely, there were only 11 ministers in the first ever PLP Cabinet: Sir Randol (Labour); Sir Lynden (Tourism); Sir Milo (Health and Welfare); Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield (Works); Clarence Bain (no portfolio); Sir Clement T Maynard (no portfolio); A.D. Hanna (Education); Jeffrey M Thompson (Internal Affairs); Warren J Levarity (Out Island Affairs); Dr Curtis McMillan (Communications) and Carlton Francis (Finance).
Fawkes, in The Faith That Moved the Mountain, noted that Sands had done much in developing The Bahamas as a tourist Mecca and a financial centre of the western world. It was Sir Stafford who directed the conversion of the Bahamian currency from the English pounds, shillings and pence in May 1966. According to Sir Randol, Sands wined and dined black Bahamians in his palatial East Bay Street mansion and on his yacht named Enchantress during each election cycle. Sands also collaborated with many wealthy foreign investors in developing Nassau and Freeport. One of those investors was one Wallace Groves, the founder of Freeport. In fact, Groves was a client of Stafford, who, by the way, was also an attorney. Sands had no qualms engaging in conflicts of interest as a member of the UBP executive council and as an attorney for investors dealing with the government. Fawkes alleged that Sands received more than $500,000 from an entity owned by Groves in 1963. Five-hundred thousand dollars had the purchasing power of a little over $4 million. This gives us an idea of how rich Sir Stafford was. According to the former PLP MP for Coconut Grove Edwin Moxey, Sands was the de facto leader of the UBP government, not Sir Roland. This viewpoint was also shared by Fawkes in The Faith That Moved the Mountain. Moxey, however, in a 2014 interview with The Nassau Tribune, mentioned several initiatives started by Sands which would've revitalised the Over-the-Hill communities, but were promptly scrapped by the Pindling government. Had Pindling followed through with the UBP plans, those over the hill communities might've been economic hubs today.
Moxey further stated that it was Sands who opened up economic opportunities for black Bahamians in the 1940s and 1950s in the black belt communities, at a time when the Bay Street Boys had a stranglehold on Nassau. Sands, according to the former Coconut Grove MP, also used to hang out at a nightclub called the Conch Shell on Blue Hill Road, which suggests that the UBP iron man was not as racist as Fawkes and the PLP have made him out to be. To Moxey, Sands was a typical Conchy Joe who was adept at making money. Fifty-one years after Sands' demise in Europe, tourism remains the country's top sector for generating employment. Indeed, no other politician can boast of such an achievement. No other politician has created an industry that has come close to rivaling tourism.
I encourage the readership of this daily to read The Faith That Moved the Mountain, in order to learn more about Fawkes and Sir Stafford -- two intriguing politicians who dominated Bahamian politics 15 years leading up to Majority Rule.
January 7, 2019.