Among the official and state-sponsored ‘popular’ activities, will be a wreath – laying ceremony at the foot of a metal statue featuring a human symbol with upraised arms and a broken chain dangling from each, along a major avenue of the capital, since called the 5th of June Avenue.
The statue is called ‘Zonm Lib’, Creole for Free(d) Man and, to the ruling party and its supporters, it epitomises the freedom of the country from the chains of colonialism and exploitation.
For those who find cause to celebrate, the festivities will be fitting commemoration of what they remain convinced have been achieved for the country through the work of their political party.
The results of the July 2006 presidential and May 2007 legislative elections indicate that they will be at least 53% of the population, to thus dance and sing praise to their liberation.
As they constitute the undisputed democratic majority from multi-party contested adult universal suffrage elections every four years from 1993, they have every right to celebrate.
However, what they will be just as much celebrating but never officially acknowledged, is a coup d’état by the country’s Prime Minister, that history now tells us, ushered in 14 years of One-Party rule and ill-disguised dictatorship of a political party that has been labelled extreme left and which the local political leaders in power called ‘Socialism Seychellois Style’ from that fateful night of 5th of June 1977!
Generations born after 1977 have been spoon-fed a certain aspect of the national story from the ruling party’s propaganda machine and have grown up to recognise and accept the leader of the ruling party as a national saviour and hero in the “struggle that has brought about equal justice, peace, liberty, fraternity ( ...) and to eradicate the conditions of bad welfare in Seychelles.”( 1)
They seem to sincerely believe that the current version of justice, equality and liberty is the only and truest form possible for the nation.
Let us today, not begrudge them their belief. Democracy demands no less. Nevertheless, they must keep in mind that during the 14 years of unchallenged rule of the One-Party dictatorship, they had had the arrogance to redefine Freedom, Liberty and Democracy.
Freedom, the right or the capacity of self-determination as an expression of the individual will was subjugated to the will and ideologies of the Party.
Liberty, the condition in which the individual has the ability to act according to his or her own will was subject to conditions imposed by the Party with dissent systematically gagged!
Democracy, became a parody of "rule by the people” where the people were the partisans of the party and no opposition tolerated! Though elections were regularly held, candidates for the Presidency or for the Legislative (People’s) Assembly were solely from the party ranks and approved by the Party.
Let the 2007 celebrations not cloud our collective memories.
Lest we forget, let us embark on a recall of what truly happened on the night of the 5th June 1977 and bring into perspective both the present 30-year commemorative celebration and the democratic majority enjoyed by the ruling party since restoration of multi-party democracy in 1993.
For the great majority of the Seychelles nation, it was a peaceful night, the one of 4th June 1977.
A night like any other that came and went, since the first days of bi-partisan politics in 1964 which did away with the elitist political group of merchants and landowners of the time.
It ushered in the enduring national split, tentatively patched up with the Coalition Government (of National Unity) borne from political consensus at the 1974 and 1975 Constitutional Conferences in London and effectively pursued upon formal statehood of June 29th 1976.
Most Seychellois went to sleep after ritually following the 8.00pm news of the BBC World Service over the radio.
Their only thoughts must have been more of a peaceful Sunday as they were used to have, with church services in the morning and maybe an afternoon at the beach or any of the many traditional pastimes of a country peacefully basking under its tropical sun, far from the turmoil and conflicts that they so often hear torment other nations of the outside world, somewhere far out there beyond the horizon.
Most had probably no idea that the new President had flown off to London, both as an invitee to Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee celebrations as well as to address the Commonwealth Head of Governments’ Conference.
Certainly most had no way of suspecting that they were to wake up to learn that their country would lose its innocence, its peaceful and friendly haven forever shattered and that we had the dubious priviledge of joining the rest of the world in political strife and turmoil.
For on the night of the 5th of June 1977, there were other Seychellois who had long decided to forsake sleep.
In the darkest hour of that fateful night, they rallied around the leaders of the Seychelles People United Party (SPUP) to execute the mission that had long been in planning with the alleged secret assistance and connivance of the Committee for Liberation, of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and, it is suspected, of the Soviet Union, through the Government of Julius Nyerere, of the Republic of Tanzania.
Their mission was to rape the new republic’s constitution, overthrow the democratically-elected President (by virtue of the April 1974 election and inter-party consensus reached at the 1974 and 1975 London Constitutional Conferences ) and institute an era of what was then rampant in Marxist-dominated countries: popular democracy! The politically correct appellation of the time for what was no more nor less than One Party State Dictatorship!
History tells us that the SPUP was part of the Coalition Government (of National Unity) brought about by inter-party consensus at the London 1974 and 1975 Constitutional Conferences, to work for the peaceful development of the nation.
The national Flag from 1970 -1976
The Leader of the SPUP and some other prominent SPUP personalities were members of the cabinet and in 1976, after Independence, the party’s leader became the Prime Minister of the new republic.
In the words of the then (1976-1977) President, Mr James Mancham, ‘’the SPUP played as good as gold and collaborated fully in the day to day running of the country, (…..) The Coalition Government had fostered and image of a stable paradise. ( …) the airport was becoming busier (….) hotel beds were at a premium, (….) a fantastic investment climate prevailed; there was no unemployment, standards of living (had) shot up, new houses sprouted out of the ground, (……) more cars appeared on the roads, and most of all the, Seychellois were becoming proud..’’(2).
The situation portrayed is a fairly accurate one for the first year of nationhood and had the same indicators for national progress that will be used by the new President, James Michel in his 2007 State of the Nation Address, ‘ (….) witness to our increasing prosperity – the construction of new houses, the emergence of new businesses, the latest models of vehicles on our roads…... A drive around Mahé on a Sunday will show you a number of Seychellois families enjoying the fruits of their work ‘ (3)
The new international Airport at Pointe Larue, officially inaugurated by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II in March 1972, had effectively broken the islands’ isolation and placed the country within the sphere of the new lucrative world tourism industry.
Tourism accommodation establishments had sprouted since then to include by 1976, the Reef Hotel at Anse Aux Pins, the Mahe Beach Hotel at Port Glaud, The Coral Strand and Beau Vallon Bay Hotel at Beau Vallon, the Fisherman’s Cove Hotel at Belombre, the Northolme Hotel at Glacis, and a myriad of lesser hotels and guest houses to cash in on the new industry and cater for the influx of visitors!
The national housing development policy had started to see a brand of new house-type for future housing estates. Two such model houses were built west of the Pointe Larue main road to show-case what was to become the future Nageon Housing Estate.
The ground-breaking work for the construction of the new La Gogue Dam to complement the Rochon Dam had gotten underway. Electricity supply was reaching out to families into the remote hills.
The Independence-‘A-Level’-generation of the Seychelles College had reached a record number of intakes.
Development and Progress were there indeed on the wings of peace and stability! There was indeed, cause to be proud!
Unknown to most of the nation however, our Prime Minister was nurturing secret ambitions for the Presidential seat that two past consecutive elections had indicated he had little hope of winning through the ballot box and the democratic process.
While, as Prime Minister, he was sitting at the same table as the President, discussing and deciding on matters of state, it is reasonable to assume that he must have had half his attention drawn to other dire deeds he was secretly planning.
The guns that he had agreed to receive. Which suggests that there were forces, both in and outside the national boundaries, who were willing and ready to supply the financing and the material, see to the transportation as well as to coordinate the delivery, reception and stashing away of the illicit goods, all in flagrant disregard to the laws of the new republic and most definitely, unbecoming conduct and knowledge of a Prime Minister, in a Government of “National Unity’.
There were trusted minions who would need to be selected to be part of the ultimate mission. Which suggests other meetings within and involving the hierarchy of his political party, perhaps less formal than Cabinet Meetings, but nonetheless, just as important to his eyes.
The choice must be made of the secluded island where training in the handling of the new weapons could be discreetly conducted. Which suggests a certain degree of connivance with selected ‘Gran Blan ‘ families, last vestige of a waning class society, but which still held all of the outlying islands in private ownership and which the former turncoat Prime Minister, now Omnipotent President, will later recurringly denounce.
The logistics and coordination of the final mission had to be seen to.
The lie had to be carefully prepared that he will have to feed the nation with, to cover the most traitorous act. Which suggest the final deliberate awareness of the need, and attempt, to fool the people all the time!
The ‘coup d’état’, that mode of bringing about political change in a country, mostly adopted by those who opt to scorn the democratic process and believe in assuaging their political ambition by force of arms, brought in the new powers in the land, to rule for 14 years undisputed.
Little is known however about how it really transpired. Much of this part of our national history remains clouded in mystery to this day. Almost as if there is shame for those who trod the path of treason and therefore a deliberate decision to deprive the nation of detailed, verifiable and documented accounts of what really happened, how and why!
Since the first day of the coup d’état, the new regime wrapped itself in the declaration of half-truths that would be its hallmark and with which it would reinforce its hold and power over the nation in a systematic national brainwashing.
The new President’s first lie broadcast over the radio to the nation, was that ‘a group of persons had carried out an operation to overthrow the government of Mr Mancham and had asked him to form a new government’!
This was followed by the first half-truths of ‘Mr Mancham being a playboy president, spending more of his time travelling and overseas than working for the interest of the country and the people’
The flag of the One -Party rule 1977-1996
Let the history of our nation be corrected.
There was indeed a group of persons who had overthrown the Government.
The leader of the group was the Prime Minister of the Government that had been overthrown.
The same Prime Minister who had secretly conspired, while sitting at the cabinet table, with the President and other Ministers. The very same who, in a photograph of the time, can be seen holding a firearm in the presence of other persons, just before the group set about their deed.
Mr Mancham did indeed travel a lot and was therefore overseas for quite some time during his tenure of office. The nation would later learn the merits of international ‘public relations’. There are those who hold the view that if Mancham did indeed travel and lot, living life flamboyantly, his travels also promoted foreign investment, bolstered the national climate of peace and stability where his Prime Minister, also his political rival, managed the business of Government. He ‘worked tirelessly on behalf of his country. He was a one-man public relations agency, travelling the world and telling everyone and anyone who would listen’ about Seychelles.(4)
The final disinformation was a masterstroke. It defies reason that the Prime Minister did not see fit to go to the nation with this president-for-life scoop! That was political capital that surely would have worked in his favour at the ballot boxes!
As it is, nobody had ever had the chance to consult any documents, or otherwise verify the veracity of that declaration. There was no need or means, in the face of the full control exerted by the new powers in the land, over establishing the historical records of the nation.
And if the scoop were a fabricated lie, it would not stand the test of political campaigning!
For the partisans of the SPUP ideology, the moment of the Coup d'état was an ecstatic one and will, to a large extent, remain thus, to the present day. The declarations from the party leaders about the affairs of state would be accepted as unquestionable and absolute truths.
The social policy statements and development action plans for free schooling, free access to medical services, adequate housing for all, were duly acclaimed as proof positive that there indeed, was a government of the people, for the people and by the people.
The recurring and often fiery denunciations by the party leaders of those who did not adhere to the spewing of the party’s propaganda as ‘counter-revolutionaries’ or ‘economic saboteurs’ were applauded and no one deemed fit to question, in the land of newly re-discovered liberty and equality, the fits of summary arrests, illegal detention without trial, silencing and harassment of domestic critics of the government, forced exiles and sometimes, unexplained deaths of those dubbed ‘the small group’, including the assassination of Gérard Hoareau in London 1985, as well as the death of Simon Denousse at Anse Forbans, in the mid 1980s!
It is true that some, from that ‘small clique of counter revolutionaries ,‘ did plot to overthrow the one party state dictatorship.
Much of the 25th November 1981 is now a well documented part of our history. At least the part about the mercenary attack itself and its failure, the capture, judgement and sentencing of some mercenaries , including its leader, Mike Hoare.
Little is known about the ensuing inter-state negotiation and settlement, for the release of the mercenary leader, Mike Hoare, after he was judged, sentenced for life, imprisoned on the island of Ile Platte for some years, to the Republic of South Africa.
However morally wrong we may find the mercenary attack to have been, and without in any way seeking to excuse or find justification for it, we must place it in its true context of violent conflict resorted to during that time period, in order to resolve political issues through the force of arms. The coup d’état of 5th June 1977, is itself, nothing more than an example of such violent conflicts. The only difference is that it succeeded where other conflicts failed.
The country endured 14 years of party-engineered political harassment and gagging up any home-based political opposition. There was quasi-state monopoly on re-writing of our national history and forcing an estimated 25% of the national population into exile.
Only the two main Churches in the land were allowed a certain degree of freedom to express themselves either via the ‘l’écho des iles’ monthly newspaper, of the Roman Catholic Church, or via radio broadcast mass services on alternate Sundays by both Churches.
And it was through one such Sunday Mass Service broadcast over the radio that in 1990 a local Anglican priest, Wavel Ramkalawan, in his radio broadcast sermon, denounced rampant violations of human rights in the land.
This was a clear demonstration that some in the country, continued to nurture the flames of freedom and liberty deep within themselves, and managed to look beyond the daily churnings of the propaganda machines. What they saw were the unavowed injustices, the tramplings over the rights and freedoms of the people, the harassment and persecution of political dissent, the despotism and rampant cronyism of unchallenged rule.
State propaganda had not clouded their reason, nor had the partisan largesse of the Government’s socio-economic and welfare policies, which like in any other country, democratic or fascist, seeks the primary goal of popular acceptance and self-preservation.
Some will state categorically that the end of the SPUP (turned SPPF since 1978) dictatorial rule started with the heroic stance taken by that lonely priest in 1990 and the encouragements it stirred in others to also stand up for their rights and dignity as free men!
Others will acknowledge that the end of SPUP / SPPF’s undisputed rule had also much to do with the demise of Soviet – inspired communism and the end of the Cold War. Russians and Germans had peacefully done away with both state dictatorship and the divisive wall that had so separated East and West Germany for so many painful years!
The one party regime in our land had no way to turn to find justification for its continued undisputed rule. Two small years after Ramkalawan’s sermon and incessant clamour from within and outside the national boundaries demanding restoration of democracy, the regime surrendered.
However, in surrendering, it also instituted a plethora of measures that would safeguard its control over, and ensure its direct contact with, local communities.
When the 1993 elections showed that there was to be an effective political opposition, the District Council which was to reflect the political groups in each district and allowed to manage local affairs, was quickly abandoned in favour of a District Administration appointed by Government. This District Administration continues to this day, to manage unchallenged, local affairs and remains a mandatory stop in some matters such as social assistance, housing, employment, etc. The Person in Charge of the office is always a card-carrying member of the SPUP / SPPF.
All national non-governmental movements purporting to provide a forum for reflection, discussions and actions in all fields of culture, sports, social, health, leisure, etc, were systematically infiltrated in order to safeguard the propagation of the benign benevolence of the former One-Party State!
A Ministry of Local Government was created with nothing more than the obvious purpose of seeing to the mobilisation and channelling of national resources to secure the party’s popularity. The whole of its average annual SCR65M will be utilised towards this specific end. During periods of election campaigning, other Government agencies will be discreetly co-opted to complement the largesse in order to secure popular support and votes.
Thus not surprisingly, the SPUP / SPPF secured itself the democratic majority in all the national elections since restoration of multi-party democracy in 1992.
This was 58.8% in 1993, 65.3% in 1998, 54.2% in 2002, 53.04% in 2004 and 56.2% in 2007.
Throughout, an average 43% of the population have recurringly shown that there is no price high enough for their freedom and liberty, for their belief and trust in democracy. They refused to be bought, and continue to show the partisan split of the country which is deep and long-during!
Over and above partisan politics however, is the need for the nation to know its history, particularly the dark period from 1977.
The new national flag, since 18.6.1996
He is custodian to our most valuable heritage and this risks being irretrievably lost, if nothing is done to persuade the man to commit his memories, state and other documents, so that future generations can correctly and without malice or ill will, chart the historical course of the nation from 1977.
(1) http://www.thepeople.sc/museumtest/his.html, official site of the ruling party
(2) O Mighty America , James R. Mancham, Printec Press Holdings, December 1998 Ch11, page 58,
(3) State-of-the-Nation Address by President James A. Michel, President of the Republic of Seychelles ( Seychelles Nation, 21.03.07)
(4) The Africans, David Lamb, Ramdom House 1982. quoted in O Mighty America , James R.
Mancham, Printec Press Holdings, December 1998