Today, August 13, 2019, marks the 50th year since the Amandala newspaper came into existence, on Wednesday, August 13, 1969, and we pause to celebrate, and to reflect on the journey of this remarkable newspaper and its iconic leader, its publisher — Evan X Hyde.
For fifty years, since it first appeared as an information sheet about the activities and objectives of UBAD (United Black Association for Development), the weekly (presently bi-weekly) Amandala has been the most exciting Belizean production. For a short period it was only exciting, and then it became the most important too.
There is excellence and there is longevity, and when they meet we have greatness. It is not possible to separate Amandala from its publisher because he is the reason that the newspaper is what it is. X Hyde, a trained writer, has explained that his dream was to become a novelist and playwright, but in little Belize he got caught up in politics because of his passion for his people, and his art and his cause merged and found expression in these pages.
One of the Amandala publisher’s many important contributions to Belize is his capacity to recognize talent and his zeal to give it every opportunity to flourish. There have been many contributors to the Amandala story, and on this important occasion we mention two of the most storied — Glenn Tillett and Adele Ramos.
Glenn was a young, aspiring writer when he came to the Amandala, and his shared passion with the publisher must have struck a chord, for he soon had full reign over the paper’s weekly news features, and every opportunity to hone his craft.
When Adele returned to Belize from studies abroad, and offered her services to the Amandala, the publisher remarked that his organization didn’t have the finances to pay a talent of her caliber, but his organization also couldn’t afford to not hire her. It did, and the news stories she researched and wrote for the newspaper set the bar in Belize at its highest standard. They are considered some of the finest, in quality and accuracy, ever produced in the country, anywhere.
Amandala’s columnists always have wide latitude to express their opinions, unfettered, as long as they are honest. Amandala’s readers never have to worry about hidden agendas. The publisher of the Amandala, who maintains a “From the Publisher” column, and had written almost all the editorials in the newspaper over the years, never throws stones and hides his hands. His insistence on intellectual integrity might be as great a contribution to Belize as his writing excellence and his passion for the things he believes in.
Those who pick up the torch when the Amandala publisher passes it on, as he must one day, must not only be true to the cause, they must also revere intellectual integrity.
Originally, the Amandala was a stenciled newsletter whose primary purpose was to report on the objectives and activities of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD), which had been formed just a few months prior. Ismael Shabazz, the secretary/treasurer of UBAD (which became a political party in August of 1970), was listed as its publisher, and the organization’s president, Evan X Hyde, did most of the writing.
Shabazz and X Hyde were brought before the Belize Supreme Court in July of 1970, for seditious conspiracy, after the latter’s creative flair got them into trouble with the establishment. The court found the pair “not guilty”, and sometime during, or shortly after the trial, Shabazz, a spiritual leader, and mechanic, handed over the reins of the paper to X Hyde, the trained writer.
UBAD’s purpose was to uplift the masses in Belize, especially the most downtrodden, the darker-skinned children of the slaves, and among its core missions were voting rights for 18-year-olds, freedom of the air waves, and the teaching of African and Indian (Mayan) history in Belize’s schools. It started out as a cultural organization, morphed into a political party, and dissolved in November of 1974 when its sole candidate in the general election that year, was defeated at the polls.
No longer the organ of UBAD, but still firmly grounded in the mission of lifting up the masses, the Amandala embraced the new path of a national newspaper.
Amandala attained national status, becoming and maintaining the position as the most widely read newspaper in the country, but there are members of some demographics that regard the Amandala with a certain amount of suspicion. This is fueled to an extent by confusion about the name of the organization that gave birth to the Amandala. This confusion is encouraged by rivals, for their purposes.
In the world of the British, who controlled Belize up until 1981, one’s cultural status and one’s economic chances improved the closer in appearance one was to the colonial master. Some members of the light-skinned tribes, including the lighter-skinned Creoles, did not readily accept UBAD’s message that black was beautiful, and they didn’t grasp that their lighter color, which gave them advantages here, did not count for anything in the larger world.
The publisher of the Amandala had been exposed to the system in the USA, a country where all non-white people — black, brown, red, and yellow — were classified as black, and it was his view, and that of many leaders of UBAD, that Belizeans should accept that we were not white, and that we should unite, so we could better face the world that was now under the domination of the Americans.
The perception, encouraged by some, that the Amandala’s concern was only for a certain segment of the population, and the newspaper’s readiness to challenge the status quo, have dogged it over the years, with many businesses and institutions never, or rarely ever, doing business with the organization.
Some purists believe that challenging the status quo is not enough, that the newspaper could do more investigative journalism, dig deeper behind the issues. In the early 1980s the newspaper published an article from a Mexican newspaper that suggested that in some way then Prime Minister, Hon. George Price, and a member of his government, were not blind to the drug trade that was beginning to increase in our country.
The immediate response of the government was to declare that the Prime Minister was a sacred cow, and the accused member of his government too. The men could have depended on their declaration of innocence, and asked the Mexican newspaper to provide evidence to support its insinuations, but they chose to slap the Amandala (and other media that had published the same article), with a lawsuit.
The judge in the case might have penalized the media minimally, considering that no independent media in Belize had the finances to carry out an investigation to prove a charge made against our leaders in a foreign newspaper. The judge, however, dropped the full weight of the gavel.
Fast forward to the Sanctuary Bay scandal and we see the present Prime Minister declaring himself a sacred cow. The laws which allowed drug dealers to hide behind Prime Minister Price’s coattails are the same laws PM Barrow just dusted off for his purpose. The two major political parties are both armed with a battery of lawyers who work to insulate them from scrutiny.
We live in precarious times. A few years ago a promising, impressive young journalist for this newspaper was murdered, and the law authorities can’t explain why he was killed and can’t find out who killed him. A senior journalist from one of the newspaper’s close affiliates (KREM TV) was physically, publicly roughed up by the police in the service of the government.
Some businesses do not support the Amandala, and governments have turned their wrath on the newspaper, but in this adverse environment the organization perseveres in providing information with integrity, in creating jobs in the media and also in sports and entertainment, and also in continuing the legacy of UBAD through the UEF (UBAD Educational Foundation).
In the most difficult times the newspaper has survived through the Grace of God, and the support of the people, who respect the organization for its hard work, and its dedication in providing the unspun truth. Through 50 years the support of the people has never wavered, and the Amandala has never wavered in its commitment to them.
Amandala means Power to the People.