Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Editorial | The relevance of Peter Abrahams

Published:Monday | January 23, 2017 | 1:00 AM

Peter Abrahams, the South Africa-born journalist and writer who lived in Jamaica for over six decades, died on Tuesday, three days before Donald Trump's inauguration as America's 45h president. He was 97.

There is uncertainty about the circumstances of Mr Abrahams' death at his home, Coyaba, in rural St Andrew. We hope, as some fear, that he wasn't murdered. It is not because that would be unusual in Jamaica. Over 1,300 were killed last year. The murder rate was nearly 60 per 100,000. There have been nearly 100 homicides for the first 22 days of 2017. The victims are of all ages.

Even at that, there would certainly be vulgarity and vileness if Peter Abrahams' life was brought to an end by the hand of murderers. It would be, as will all homicides, another statement about the coarsening of Jamaican life, and in this case, an example of how neither status, talent nor intellect immunes you from the vulgarians.

 

Sharp and incisive

 

At 97, just before his death, Peter Abrahams' intellect was sharp and incisive.

This brings us to our other regret: that Mr Abrahams was not alive for the transfer of power from Barack Obama, America's first black president, to Mr Trump, an anti-intellectual, xenophobic nativist who pledged to turn his country inwards. We would love to have had the benefit of his interpretation/expectation of the Trump presidency against the backdrop of Mr Obama's and of his own life, from South Africa to Jamaica.

We have a sense, however, of what Peter Abrahams might have made of Donald Trump and his patently ahistorical approach to politics and policy.

On the day of his death, a letter by Peter Abrahams was published in this newspaper. He used the People National Party President Portia Simpson Miller's out-of-hand dismissal of the possibility of her party's loss of last February's general election to illustrate the proclivity of leaders not to admit defeat or to the possibility of being wrong. Mr Abrahams also highlighted what, during the campaign, was a snide, ruthless effort by Mrs Simpson Miller's much younger rival, Andrew Holness, of associating her with a past of little worth.

"We do not learn from the past," Mr Abrahams wrote. "We wipe it out. So we are forever beginning anew. What a self-made handicap!"

 

Worthy endowment

 

It is a lesson that Mr Trump might not learn, but is a worthy endowment to Jamaican leaders, in all spheres, from a man who made an outstanding contribution to the Caribbean and Africa.

Black Mr Abrahams grew up poor in racist, white-minority South Africa. He worked in mines and on ships before moving to France and England, where he was part of the post-war anti-colonial ferment with the first generation of African and Caribbean leaders. They, at the time, were students in London. He was a writer and organiser.

Mr Abrahams moved to Jamaica in the 1950s. For a while, he edited the left-wing paper, Public Opinion, helped to launch the magazine, the West Indian Economist, and did incisive radio commentaries. When the Michael Manley administration brought Radio Jamaica into local ownership in the 1970s, Mr Abrahams was its first chairman.

His politics was of the left and his views clear and clearly stated. His novels told the large truths of his experiences. But Mr Abrahams never allowed his personal views to impair fact-based journalism.