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thabo mbeki – errol miller

President Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, Mayor Marie Atkins, Mayor-Elect Senator Desmond, McKenzie Ladies, Mrs. Portia Simpson-Miller Minister of Local Government, special guests, ladies, and gentlemen, I am more than conscious of the signal honor that has been bestowed on me to give the main address at this Ceremony this afternoon. At the same time, this great privilege has left me in a deep quandary. What can I say to a man who has succeeded the giant Nelson Mandela, and is not considered a midget even by his most ardent detractors? What can I say to the Leader of the African National Congress, which fought and triumphed over one of the most oppressive and heinous systems of oppression, Apartheid, the world has seen and, in its victory, has not embarked upon revenge and retribution, but rather has started the journey down the road of reconciliation? What can I say to the Leader of a nation that has had the moral courage to seek reconciliation through truth, truth not only from the oppressors with respect to what they did but also from the oppressed in terms of what they did to resist the oppression?

For you, Mr President, in continuing to lead your country down the road of reconciliation through Truth, has not only given the world an example of African civilisation at its best, but has demonstrated by deeds the Biblical injunction, YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE. Thus, the way is opened to build South Africa on a moral and social foundation different from its Apartheid past. Jamaica, the first country to impose sanctions on the Apartheid government of South Africa salutes you and your people for choosing a different path from the vengeance and recrimination that is so rampant in our world.

Mr President, your Worship the Mayor, Madam Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen, fortunately my search has revealed one small subject on which I can address our illustrious and esteemed visitor. Indeed, it is the focus of this ceremony. It is Kingston. I am a Kingstonian. So are my parents and three of my four grandparents. I can trace Kingstonian ancestry going back five generations. Sir, most of the residents of this great city are people whose roots are elsewhere, hence their love and loyalty belong to some other place. In these circumstances I feel obliged to share with you my love for my city called Kingston.

As you can see Kingston exists in continuous embrace of a semi-circle of hills and mountains. You cannot see it from here, but I can assure you that Kingston is kissed daily by the Caribbean Sea. Indeed, this City boasts one of the best natural deep-water harbours in the world.

I doubt if you will be here long enough to see the full Moon as its rises over the hills on the Eastern Side of the City, but I can tell you that the Mona Moon, as it is called, is as enchanting as it is beguiling. Couples, young and old, have exchanged endearments in the serene brightness of its night light.

I hope that you will be here long enough to look, from the shoreline, at clouds flirting with the majestic peaks of yonder Blue Mountain. Also, that you will be taken up any of the surrounding hills to see some of the breathtaking views of the Liguanea plains as it slopes gently down to the sea.

I am sure that you have been briefed on the violence that sometimes erupts on the streets of Kingston and sometimes in its homes. I must agree that the beauty of Kingston’s physical appointment is sometimes defaced by brutality of the violence that far too often occurs. We Kingstonians are pained by this defacement and take no comfort from the fact that such defacement is common in many other cities around the world, whose physical appointment is no match to that of Kingston. Like these other cities, we in Kingston search to find the source of the alienation, especially of our young men, and by so doing bring them into harmony with their society and surroundings.

While violence in Kingston is highly publicised, one of its best kept secrets is the range and diversity of the creative expressions of its citizens. You need to go to cities three or four times the size of Kingston to find plays, concerts, exhibitions, festivals, dancehall sessions and shows that cater to such widely divergent tastes and styles. The point is that violence does not define the character of Kingston. The character of Kingston resides in its vibrancy and vitality. Life not death is the hallmark of this City. It is its vigour and vim that captures and captivates those of us who live in and love this City.

Mr President, Kingston comes with all the contradictions and paradoxes of human existence. Kingston comes with beauty and brutality, magnificence and misery, violence and vitality, triumph and tragedy all accruing at the same time. It is this dynamic nature that allows Kingston to successfully host:

  • The World Junior Games, last year June.
  • The World Netball Tournament in a few weeks time.
  • Commonwealth Ministers meetings,
  • World title fights in boxing.
  • Conferences and conventions, too numerous to count or mention.

To accommodate:

  • The Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies,
  • The University of Technology
  • The Office of the renowned Reggae Boys.
  • Sabina Part of one the celebrated venues of Test Cricket.
  • The Headquarters of the Seabed Authority
  • One of the largest trans-shipment ports to the Eastern seaboard of the United States.

Kingston is not configured or packaged for the outsider. While it is a very friendly city and welcomes visitors, Kingston expects visitors to become part of the inside experience. Accordingly, Kingston practices authentic Jamaica culture and does not water it down for the sake of convenience. The conversations in its plays, its comedies, its exhibitions, its festivals, its music, and its forums are about its challenges and contradictions. And yet, we have found that these conversations have attracted international audiences and had global appeal as Kingston’s off springs, for example, the likes of Bob Marley and Shaggy traverse the global stage.

Allow me to point out a unique feature of Kingston and Jamaica, by making one small comparison with your great country. It was my privilege to visit South Africa on one occasion. After just a few days I became very conscious that I was coloured and was reminded daily of that by various non-verbal acknowledgements. The only comparable experience I have had was when I studied in the United States, where, on that overwhelming white campus, all black persons acknowledged each other every time their paths crossed, whether they knew them or not. In those circumstances I understood myself to be black.

Becoming curious, I checked the population statistics and found that of the various groups in South Africa categorised as coloured, whites and blacks were each both much larger than coloureds. This contrasts sharply with Jamaican history, in that Blacks were always the vast majority followed by coloureds, with whites being the smallest group. I draw this contrast to make this observation. Historically in Jamaica, and more so in Kingston, white and black were not immutable categories. It was possible to become white or black, through what the geneticists call, backcrosses, and we can label interracial mating.

The historical outcome of this ethos is that no matter how society in Kingston is divided by day, it is integrated in bed at night. In this city there are marriages and liaisons between Arabs and Jews, Chinese and Indians, Black and White, and Browns with everybody. The result is the kind of milieu that will drive any strict adherents of eugenics into permanent confusion.

Mr President, welcome to the city of Kingston. With key or no key, we invite you to be one of us, for we have always felt one with you and your people.

Errol Miller

June 30, 2003

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