By Themba Mkhize
At this time last year, I remember working on articles about some of the more persistent issues affecting the international domain. These issues, including climate change, energy transition, geopolitical instability and economic inequality have been known issues for some time now. Despite that, they have continued to deteriorate because of inaction, delayed action and political divergence.
This year, I again find myself thinking on a similar crop of issues, but in the national context of Jamaica.
Even in this unprecedented year, dominated by the COVID-19 virus, the core issues affecting Jamaicans remained largely the same. These issues have been around for decades now, old enough to have seen dozens of new years come and go.
For example, despite many national successes, Jamaica still has not settled into its national identity. Classism and colourism are very much alive. We are still at conflict with some elements of our culture, including Rastafari and our natural black bodies. Our education system awaits reform. The relationship between Jamaicans and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has remained warped since its formation to suppress Jamaica’s black population in 1867. Our national institutions do not yet produce a high quality of life for the majority of Jamaicans. Many people are living hand to mouth; pay check to pay check. Our diets are unhealthy, and our health and wellness needs improvement.
The challenges have always been many, and have been compounded over the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the longstanding issues we have been contending with. The toned-down celebrations ringing in the New Year have done little to out-do the volume of our collective heartbeat echoing over bated breaths, as we hope for a more enjoyable 2021.
The fatigue is evident. But we can’t only go back to things as they were. Even when the pandemic is under control and we can begin meeting, drinking and partying our nights away again, our days will have to be spent navigating towards a more responsive system which better supports the needs and desires of Jamaican people.
To somewhat repurpose and channel the energy of John Lewis, I quote “To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we have long said that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now! We are tired.”
A new year is being viewed as a new slate, a psychological reset which allows for a deep breath and a level of hopefulness for lasting reprieve. But with longstanding problems squaring up to continue the fight, the questions begging to be answered very early this year include whether and how:
- the agility and responsiveness shown by the Government of Jamaica and local organizations in response to the pandemic can be directed at some of our chronic issues over the next decade.
- citizens will, at the individual and community levels, come up with innovative solutions and do what is necessary to make meaningful progress in tackling national issues.
So 2021 cannot be treated as a year of refuge, after the escape from 2020. We still have to be as vigilant as ever and work as hard as ever to realize the changes we want to see in this our Jamaica.
On some mornings, I listen to my favourite song from the Tuff Gong (Bob Marley) – “Natural Mystic”. I feel deeply moved by the prophecy that there is more (unnecessary) suffering and dying left ahead.
But soon enough, “The Struggle Discontinued” by the Junior Gong (Damian Marley) comes on, and I am reminded that I don’t have to sing sad songs every day. The promise here is that there is a brighter future, so long as we decide on it, connect with a greater vision and do what is necessary to bring it about. There are greater possibilities for our lives and the future of Jamaica.
So while we have not yet woken up and escaped the struggle en masse, I wonder when we will. I wonder when we will share the vision of what it takes to do so. And in this New Year, I wonder if the lessons, approaches, flexibility and resilience which we found individually and together last year will not become a boot in the neck of the struggles we are in the process of discontinuing.
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