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Grenada – struggles of a distant land

The state of Grenada is made up of three small islands, Carriacou, Petit Martinique and the Grenadine island...

The state of Grenada is made up of three small islands, Carriacou, Petit Martinique and the Grenadine island. The land is very green and hot. It rains a lot between June and December. The country grows three main agricultural crops — nutmeg, cocoa and bananas, which it exports. Everything else on the island is imported. Many tourists visit the islands, bringing income.

The whole country is only 130 square miles and the population is 110 000 (although 300 000 Grenadians live outside the country). Most of the people are African or of mixed descent.

English is the official language and the only one in general use, but there are still older people who speak French in some of the villages. The only historical link with France is the Roman Catholic church which has a big following In Grenada.

The most populated area is the town of St. George’s, which is also Grenada’s capital city. St. George’s has only 30 000 people — a tiny fraction of Soweto’s two million people.

Grenada is a *non-aligned country and is a member of the Commonwealth.

In 1979, the people In a tiny country in the Caribbean islands rose against their repressive leader. What followed was an exciting revolution that sadly, only lasted four years.

In the first part of this story, we write about the history of Grenada and the achievements of the revolutionary government The second part of the article talks about the literacy campaign, one of the biggest successes of the revolution.

“GRENADA? What’s that? Sounds like the name of a car to me,” was what many people said when a small country in the Caribbean islands was attacked by the United States (US) troops in the early hours of Sunday 23 October 1983.

We in South Africa may not know much about this tiny country, but its history is big and its struggles have many lessons for us, especially at this time of political change. Although Grenada’s history starts long ago, we’ll start in the year 1752…


In that year, many of the Caribbean islands — such as St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Trinidad, Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, Tobago and Puerto Rico — were *colonies of France and Spain. Grenada was a French colony, but in 1752, after a long war between Britain and France, Grenada was taken over by Britain. Grenada remained a colony until the early 1950s, when the Grenadians decided that enough was enough. The people wanted to be independent and rule their own land.

Between 1951 and 1973, Grenada was gradually given self-rule and a new constitution was drawn up. Finally, on 7 February 1974, Grenada became an independent country, with a man by the name as Eric Gairy as the Prime Minister.

Gairy came to power by promising the people — especially the poor people who worked on plantations (farms) — a better life. When he was elected, the people saw him as a kind of Moses — a man who would lead his people to liberation and democracy. But Gairy’s promises soon turned out to be no more than empty election words.

Dissatisfaction grew among the people. And the angrier the people got with their ruler, the more he turned to the force of the gun. Gairy kept a secret police called the “Mongoose Gang” whose job was to brutally silence any protest.

By the mid-1970s, a broad front of progressive organisations who opposed Gairy was formed. This was called the New Jewel Movement (NJM) and its leader was Maurice Bishop. Like our own United Democratic Front (UDF), the NJM was a powerful force, even though it was not a parliamentary party.


The NJM’s main aim was to fight for a democratic Grenada. The movement was inspired by the kind of democracy they saw in Tanzania and Cuba. It also wanted to reform the economy so that all the people — and not just a few — could benefit. The NJM’s slogan was “all power to the people”.

The movement organised and mobilised. Its mass meetings were attended by thousands of people. Soon, it had many members and it became the leading opposition force. Gairy used his secret police to weaken the NJM, but the movement went from strength to strength.

In 1976, elections were held. Maurice Bishop’s NJM formed an alliance with Herbert Blaize’s political party to try and keep Gairy out of power. Gairy won the elections, even though it was said that the results were *rigged.

On 13 March 1979, The NJM received word that Gairy — who was in New York — had given the Mongoose Gang orders to kill the leaders of the NJM. Instead of waiting “like lambs” for the slaughter, the NJM decided to act…

That night, the NJM attacked the military bases, government houses and the radio and police stations. The NJM militants succeeded in overthrowing the government. The masses were overjoyed… This was the beginning of the Grenada revolution.


Gairy was never allowed back to Grenada and Maurice Bishop became the new Prime Minister. He started by replacing all the repressive laws with good ones and putting into practice the slogan “all power to the people”.

The revolutionary government also introduced popular measures such as women’s rights; maternity pay; equal pay for equal work and the right to belong to a trade union. Preventative health care schemes were introduced. The government set the *empowerment of the masses through education as its goal and started a national literacy campaign.

In world affairs, Grenada took a strong stand against racism, colonialism and Imperialism. The new government also established links with Cuba and supported the call for sanctions against South Africa. It also supported the revolution of the people in Nicaragua.

The United States government, under Ronald Reagan, was not happy with what was happening in Grenada. The US was especially angry because Grenada supported Cuba and Nicaragua, two countries that the US loved to hate.


Things went well for Grenada for four years and the people were overjoyed that their revolution was a success. But in 1983, a division arose in the NJM, partly because of individual struggles for power within the party.

In October 1983, a faction within the NJM led by the army’s General Hudson Austin, put Maurice Bishop under house arrest. The people protested at the treatment of their leader and called for his release. When their call was ignored, they set about freeing him — successfully.

Once free, Bishop and his followers went to the main military building and occupied it. The army tried to take control of the building but failed. Suddenly, they opened fire without warning, killing several people.

A bloody battle between the army and the people followed and the army finally managed to take control. On Wednesday, 19 October 1983, the army executed Maurice Bishop, three cabinet ministers and two trade union leaders before a firing squad.

The Grenadians were shocked. They could not believe that their own “people’s army” could turn on them with guns and bullets. What had happened to their wonderful peaceful revolution, they asked themselves. Is this the end?


Immediately after the murder of Maurice Bishop, a Revolutionary Military Council took over control and announced a 72-hour “shoot to kill” curfew. The Military Council’s “iron fist” rule lasted only four days, but for the Grenadians, they were days of hell.

Then, in the early hours of Sunday, 23 October 1983, Grenadians were woken up by US fighter planes arriving at St. George’s. The troops forcefully took control of the country and expelled all the people who were not Grenada citizens. Herbert Blaize, who was supported by the US, came into power.

Internationally, the invasion of Grenada by the US was condemned as illegal. Countries argued that the US had no right to get involved in another country’s affairs. Even so, the Americans were welcomed by the local population, who thought that anything was better than a government with a “shoot to kill” policy.

But the welcome did not last long. The new government changed many of the policies of the NJM government. It got rid of many of the popular programmes that the revolution introduced. Only those it could not destroy — because of heavy resistance from the masses — were allowed to continue. The Grenadians soon realised that the Americans had invaded because they did not like the revolutionary government’s friendship with socialist countries like Cuba and Nicaragua.

Today, Grenada remains politically divided and there is a lot of suspicion and mistrust. The NJM has disbanded and those who continued to believe in the ideals of Maurice Bishop formed a new organisation called the Maurice Bishop Patriotic Movement. It will surely take a long time for another NJM to rise from the ashes of the victorious 1979 revolution.


It is said that as many as nine million South Africans cannot read and write. The blame for this terrible situation must be placed fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the white governments, who believed that black people did not deserve a decent education. As a result of the governments’ policy towards black education, many people have been deprived of the right to learn.

South Africa in the 1990s needs a new education system now! We need schools, teachers and books for those who are still too young to go to school, for those who are at school right now — and for those who never had the chance to go to school. Hopefully, education will be near the top of the list for a new democratic South African government.

In Grenada, like in South Africa, education was also mainly for the privileged. It was the poor who never learnt to read and write. But when the new NJM government took over in Grenada, one of the first things they did was to start a national literacy campaign.

Recently, Didacus Jules, a Grenadian who was a supporter of the NJM, visited South Africa as a guest of the ANC. Didacus told us how he became involved in the literacy campaign and about the campaign itself…


“I was born in the Caribbean island of St. Lucia in 1956 and was raised as a Catholic. As a young man, I was a Didacus Jules, one of the people involved in the Grenadian Literacy Campaign member of the Christian Youth group. In the early 1970s, our group decided to begin literacy classes to teach the poor and uneducated how to read and write.

“We began by teaching prisoners in St. Lucia’s jails. We taught them the ABC and so on. But little by little, we realised that our lessons were all wrong. These were men with long experiences of life and we were ignoring that in our lessons.

“So one day, we decided to hold a discussion. Our topic was: “A day in prison”. The prisoners started talking. I remember that one of them said: “For me, prison is heaven.” We were shocked by this answer. How can a prison be heaven? we asked.

“The man told us his background. He came from a poor family which struggled to make ends meet. One day he was hungry and there was no food at home. He decided to go to a nearby supermarket and steal some food. He was arrested and charged with theft.

“In court, the man explained to the judge why he stole. After listening carefully, the judge said to him: “I sympathise with you but the law says: Thou shall not steal’. The judge sentenced him to jail. The man said that in prison, he found happiness because he was sure of his plate of food every day and he did not have to steal.

“This answer forced us to question everything we thought. Prison meant one thing in the dictionary and a different thing to people who experience this sort of life.

“We thought about the way we taught. We agreed that our method was not helping people to become critical. So we decided to take a different approach and we discovered Paulo Freire’s writings on literacy. One of things we learnt from Freire was that literacy is not merely teaching people to read and write. It is also a way of making people politically aware,” says Didacus.


Didacus went on to university where he did a Master’s degree in English. While he was at university in 1979, the NJM took power. The new government asked Didacus to come to Grenada and help to organise a national literacy campaign. Didacus was also given a job in the new government’s Ministry of Education.

Before the revolution, there was no compulsory education in Grenada. During harvest time, schooling was interrupted as the children worked on the farms. In 1979, the year that the NJM took power, only 30% of the population could read and write a little bit (functionally literate people) and 6% of all people who lived in Grenada were illiterate — they could not read and write at all.

“One of the aims of the revolution was to have education as a right for all. We wanted to get rid of the system that encouraged education for the rich and the privileged only,” says Didacus.

“We set up a literacy centre called the Centre for Popular Education. Its role was to develop reading and teaching material and to co-ordinate the campaign. Then we called for volunteer teachers — 4000 people came forward of which 2500 were teachers.”


The Centre for Popular Education worked closely with a publishing house called Fedan, so named after a famous African slave leader. Fedan’s aim was to develop reading materials written by the local people. “Our books had stories with political messages. They also encouraged people to use education as a way of looking at their lives and acting on them.

“The stories spoke about the aims of the revolution and promoted a new Caribbean identity and a spirit of solidarity with other oppressed people. Some of the stories and poems we used were written by people who were learners. In fact, Fedan published three books of poems written by learners during that time,” says Didacus.

The Grenada literacy campaign was a great success. It caught the imagination of people from different backgrounds and united them to work for the same goal. People who had never read a newspaper before could now read about what was happening in their country. Ordinary people became confident and were no longer afrai

d to speak out in public. By 1983 total illiteracy had been reduced to 3% and functional literacy to 10%.

CHECK THE MEANING non-aligned — a country that is non- aligned chooses not to side with either of the two big powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. the Commonwealth — countries that were ruled by Britain before they became independent can choose to be a member of the Commonwealth. Zimbabwe, Canada, India and many other countries are members. South Africa left the Commonwealth in 1961. Every year, all the Commonwealth countries hold a big conference to discuss things that they are all interested in. colonies — countries that were directly ruled by foreign powers were called colonies. For example, Mozambique and Angola were colonies of Portugal, Ethiopia was a colony of Italy and India was a colony of Britain. Today, all the colonies are independent and have their own governments. But many countries continue to be heavily influenced by more powerful countries. This is called imperialism. rigged — we say that election results are rigged if someone changes the results unlawfully empowerment — empowerment means “to give power to someone”. In education, we often say that “knowledge is power”.


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