Tue | Sep 27, 2022

MANDELA SHAME

Cramped Half-Way Tree park not worthy of freedom fighter’s legacy – PM

Published:Tuesday | May 24, 2022 | 12:09 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
A crowd gathers while entertainers perform at a Digicel Christmas campaign launch at Nelson Mandela Park in 2013.
A crowd gathers while entertainers perform at a Digicel Christmas campaign launch at Nelson Mandela Park in 2013.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (left) watches as Opposition Leader Mark Golding plants a tree at Nelson Mandela Park in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, on Monday. The beautification was part of the national Labour Day project.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (left) watches as Opposition Leader Mark Golding plants a tree at Nelson Mandela Park in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, on Monday. The beautification was part of the national Labour Day project.
Nelson Mandela is flanked by his wife Winnie and then Prime Minister Michael Manley during a visit to Jamaica in 1991.
Nelson Mandela is flanked by his wife Winnie and then Prime Minister Michael Manley during a visit to Jamaica in 1991.
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Citing its small footprint and underwhelming state, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has announced that Nelson Mandela Park may be relocated to a more spacious venue befitting the honour of the late South African anti-apartheid agitator.

The park, which was given a facelift as the designated Labour Day project on Monday, is located in the busy hub of Half-Way Tree with bustling bus and taxi bays at its eastern and western wings.

Calling Mandela his own personal hero, Holness used the platform of a civic ceremony to highlight the need for major improvements.

His observation also drew scrutiny to administrations’ failure to maintain sites that bear the names of noted personalities.

“It is not enough to just put whatever structure and just say it’s a park. This wouldn’t qualify as a park. This is little median basically,” the prime minister said.

He credited former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson for establishing the seven-acre Emancipation Park in New Kingston and his own project, the $1.3-billion Harmony Park in Montego Bay that spans 16 acres.

Both venues are well maintained – a stark contrast to Mandela Park and downtown Kingston’s St William Grant Park, named after a 1930s Jamaican labour activist. The Kingston parks are notorious for disrepair and unsanitary conditions, with the premises stained with urine.

Holness was clear, however, that the former South African president’s name would live on.

“It may be that the park may not be here. We have to do some reconfiguration, but there will be a Nelson Mandela Park,” he said. “We have to find a good location in Kingston where we can truly put a Nelson Mandela Park.”

There has been significant concern about the paucity of green space in the Corporate Area, including vigorous debate over the decision to site a new Parliament building at National Heroes Park, a sprawling 52-acre setting, much of which is a dust bowl.

Environmental and green advocates argue that the new Parliament should be constructed elsewhere, but government officials say that the 300,000-square-foot building will utilise 11.2 acres, or 22 per cent of the park’s footprint.

The prime minister reiterated on Monday that a Climate Change Park showcasing environmental best practices was slated for 20 acres of land in Portmore, St Catherine. He also lamented the poor state of the Royal Hope Botanic Gardens.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Mark Golding, who spoke before Holness, said that it was fitting that Mandela Park was being given a facelift as Jamaica prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary of political independence.

“When you name a national park or space like this after an icon of the 20th century, you have to keep it in a state which is fitting in the memory of that individual. So we owe an international duty to make sure that this park is kept at a standard befitting an icon as Nelson Mandela,” Golding said.

The opposition leader commended the Government’s efforts to renovate the park, which has an amphitheatre, and suggested that it be promoted as an entertainment venue. He also praised the Mek Jamaica Cris and Clean Campaign and recommended that the organisers extend the momentum well beyond Labour Day.

Five trees were planted in the park – a Blue Mahoe by Holness; a mahogany by Golding; cassia by St Andrew North Eastern Member of Parliament Delroy Chuck; as well as yellow and pink pouis.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com