There is also the example of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, whose narrative is globally known. The white, apartheid, South African government in 1964 sentenced Mandela to life imprisonment and hard labour for sabotage, treason and violent conspiracy. Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in incarceration on Robben Island, South Africa’s most brutal prison. A lawyer by profession, as well as a prominent political activist, Mandela as a prisoner worked in a stone quarry, digging and crushing slate for the construction of more prison cells. He was allowed to receive one visitor only once a year, for 30 minutes, and just two letters in the year. His tiny cell on Robben Island had no bed or plumbing. And, like Goldson, Mandela spent his time in prison educating his fellow prisoners and adding value to their lives.
It should be understood, in reviewing the 11th Amendment, that freedom fighters like Goldson and Mandela were essentially vastly different prisoners from individuals jailed for opportunistic crimes or crude, unthinking ones. The argument that one should never punish someone for his or her entire life for their mistakes, by preventing them from later serving their country, is valid, humane and fair. But there are many ways of mitigating one’s past mistakes through service that need not be solely political.
John Profumo was Britain’s Secretary of War, a powerful ministerial post in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Party government. He was also regarded as a leading candidate for the post of Foreign Secretary and possibly Prime Minister. This was in the heady 1960s. Profumo, unfortunately, had an extramarital affair with a 19-year-old call girl and model, who was simultaneously having an affair with a Soviet spy, acting as a naval officer in the Soviet Embassy. This was regarded at the time as a possible and dangerous security risk. A police investigation, thereafter, uncovered the fact that Profumo had lied to the House of Commons about the affair. Not only was the credibility of the government in which Profumo served damaged, but it ultimately led to the resignations of both Profumo and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, with the latter citing ill health as his reason for resigning. Subsequently, in 1964, the Labour Party narrowly defeated the former Conservative Party government and ended its 13-year stay in power.
But this inevitably also marked the definitive end of John Profumo’s career in British politics. This was a man who in 1940, at the age of 25, was the youngest member of Britain’s Parliament. Yet, John Profumo continued to admirably serve Britain, by working for the rest of his life in a charitable organisation which supported the poor and homeless in London. The once powerful minister, a baron descended from an Italian aristocrat who had settled in England in 1880, began working as a dishwasher in this organisation. He subsequently became Toynbee Hall’s administrator, fundraiser, council member, chairman and finally its president.
Profumo’s contributions to charity (not politics) were rewarded by the British monarch in 1975, when she awarded him one of the highest national honours, the CBE (Companion of the Order of the British Empire). He was also described by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as a “national hero”. When John Profumo died at age 91 in 2006, he had more than redeemed himself, and honourably served his country and people in full.
The ideal measure Belize ought to adopt in implementing any constitutional reform, since there are various aspects of its Constitution that do need re-viewing, such as the vexatious 7th Amendment, is to convene a Constitutional Reform Commission. This body should be independent and would advise the government on the changes it sees as necessary after receiving a wide range of inputs from diverse sources. Ideally, the Constitutional Reform Commission should be headed by a retired judge. It ought to consist of bi-partisan individuals, representatives of professional bodies, pressure groups, research organisations, NGOs, the Belizean Diaspora and the Fourth Estate of the Realm. It would by no means be a large body, with no more than 13 members. Anything short of this independent body will set a dangerous precedent for subsequent governments with a large majority in the House in the arbitrary use of legislation to ride over everyone, in order to achieve what may be regarded as certain preconceived objectives.
While it is right and fair that people who have made serious mistakes in life, particularly in their youth, must be given a second chance; to facilitate this does not necessarily require their having a seat in Belize’s House of Representatives, or the position of Prime Minister, or even that of Governor General.
It is also a hysterical exaggeration and grossly misleading to describe the current proposal concerning the 11th Amendment as “an act of war against the marginalised citizens” of Belize. An “act of war” has long since been declared against the nation’s most marginalised citizens by a series of piratical governments, which have incompetently and recklessly governed Belize for decades. Their members, without compunction, along with their families, as well as foreign and local cronies, led gilded and privileged lives. These governments, without exception, are today directly responsible for creating and aggravating the condition of the large criminal class of youths and swaths of the truly marginalised and helpless residing in Belize’s urban centres, as well as pockets of the nation’s rural areas.
In fact, the words now making the rounds “in the hood” on Belize City streets like George, Plues and Dean, are that if any of “dem” had gone to jail just “fi lee weeed”, they would not even get to “smell City Council yard as councillor”, much less go to Belmopan and even head a party in just under a year. Indeed, the fellas in the hood know only too well, that if “you do the crime, you do the time” and “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”!
But lest we forget, when the Prime Minister of Belize addresses the UN’s General Assembly, or a special conference of CARICOM’s Heads of Government, or if by chance he gets to meet the US President, or the Chancellor of Germany, or the Prime Minister of India, or the President of the People’s Republic of China, he and the Government of Belize, must be capable of inspiring respect, confidence and trust. For those incapable of understanding this, there is nothing elitist about it! This is the world of the 21st century, where appearance, at the end of the day, cannot trounce reality.
Thérèse Belisle-Nweke writes from Lagos, Nigeria.