Michael Manley, aka Joshua, was an important Jamaican politician who spend two term as Prime Minister, from 1972 to 1980 and from 1989 to 1992. He was a charismatic character who had a noticeable influence in Jamaican history as he managed to get the support of most of the Jamaicans with a leftist approach to politics called Democratic Socialism. Here follows an interview of Esther Anderson who was in Jamaica at that time and closely involved in the campaign that got him elected first.
What was the Jamaican and International context when Joshua came up?
First of all, Joshua was the nickname given by the Jamaicans to Michael Manley. By the time that we got involved with all of this campaign and Michael Manley was going to be elected as prime minister, Jamaica was already independent for 10 years or so. His father Norman Manley, had been the head of the People’s National Party, which was the opposition party, and Michael was then a young man who was going to take the head of his father. We all believed in him, his theme was democratic socialism. In 1970 Perry Henzell [i.e. who directed/produced The Harder They Come along with Trevor Rhone] asked me to join them to shoot a propaganda film in the countryside to promote Michael in the city. In order to get the people of the city trust him, they wanted to convince the people from the countryside. Because of the Repatriation Movement to Shashamane, there were people going back to Ethiopia. Michael and several people from the government and administration also went there. He came back with this stick, this rod, and he said Haile Selassie I had given him this rod. From there on, he called it the rod of correction and that he was going to change Jamaica.
Was this true? Was he really given the stick?
It was a publicity tool but all the Rastas believed in it. “You got it from Selassie”. So he went around leading the people out to the promised land, like in the Bible. He knew very much how the Jamaican people were taken by the Bible, he took that role and the people followed him. There was a bandwagon going around with him, Bob Marley & the Wailers was on one of them along with Dennis Brown, Inner Circle and others. Bob told me years later that they had made this bandwagon where the musicians all went around claiming for Michael Manley and the PNP to get into power. So, when he was saying he wasn’t political… he was involved in politic from long time ago, we were all political. On that project I was photographing Michael and doing the sound from Perry Henzell’s documentary with my sound recorder. It was all “Joshua with the rod of correction, here to help the sufferers, we came here to correct all the bad things”.
How did he get such knowledge about the Black struggle?
He was Jamaican and the son of the prime minister ruling in Jamaica. You had two parties in Jamaica, the PNP ran by his father, and the Labour party started by Bustamante. The later was a sort of Gandhi character, arrested by the british, put into prison, fighting for self-rule…. and they got it, but without the independence that was obtained in 62’. By then, Michael’s father was leaving while the young Michael was getting into politics as the head of the unions and all that. He was very involved in politics since a very young age. He just did the transition from head of the union to the head of the party.
What was the result of the campaign?
Well, he had the mass of the Jamaican people plus the middle classes in Kingston which was the hardest vote to get because they usually turned towards labour. In Jamaica, labour is like the Tories and the PNP is like the socialists. He got the votes at the end of 71 and by 72 he was prime minister of Jamaica.
What impact did he have on the situation in Jamaica?
It was a very exciting time because he’d just got there. We gave him the power, all his friends were surrounding him in Kings House. His wife Beverly as well, a friend of mine and the first black journalist in Jamaica, she was in The Harder They Come. It was the first time there was a black women in King’s House. Lots of things were first time so it was like a revolution was happening on the island. We thought Michael was really for the people, all the Rastas believed in him. He won big majority and stayed for two terms. But unfortunately, his strong friendship with Cuba and Fidel Castro led him into hot water. The IMF (i.e. International Monetary Fund), the American government and the CIA were involved in that… lots of shit hit the fan. He was, I think, creating a lot of problems to the american government. He was blackboard and that finally brought lots of problems to the island. The gun court was built, some opposition people were put into the gun court to ruin the reputation, the gang culture started becoming big, many dodgy political moves happened. The american government put Edward Seaga in, an american-born from Syrian descent, they backed him and got Michael out of power.
But during the time Michael was in power, he was bringing hope. He was courageous. Him and Beverly would listen to Reggae and come to rehearsals, things like that. He never separated himself from us. However, you know, power corrupts absolutely everything.
But how much did he make things move on?
He definitely had a positive input. For example the Max Romeo song about Joshua: we believed in you, but the Rastas are looking and blaming you, so we are saying to you turn around and start again, ‘Foward and start a new.’ And so they were still trying to encourage him, but by then it was too late because he refused to stand down. And he was very close to Castro, his children went to school over there. It blocked him. There was a stand-off between him and the american government and the IMF people.
Could you talk about how reggae music was involved in his campaign? So many songs about him remain.
Of course it was involved. Reggae was the sound of the people. It is because he used the rod of correction to the Rastafarians that he won the vote. Once he defended the underdog, the most oppressed in the island, of course he will get all the vote. Everybody gets some feelings about that, especially the musicians who were singing on behalf of him, most of them being in that situation. He couldn’t lose, that was very great marketing. Also, Perry Henzell made The Harder They Come which opened up to the whole world the culture in Jamaica, the music, ganja trade and everything else. At the same time, the soundtrack of the campaign was opening the doors for the music to come to the main land. So, Perry Henzell knew also what he was doing.
Was this method genuine? Or only means to get the votes?
Politicians are very cynical. How can you know? I don’t know. I did like that time when I went up to have lunch in their house in the mountains. It was a small cottage kind of retreat. It was their favorite place which was made of cane trash. The trash from the cane compressed and made into boards, the house was made from that, a natural house in the mountains. I am sure I was having a puff or whatever. I thought, amazing! Even if you had security guard all around watching you that I didn’t know about. (Laughs) He was cool like that, but as I say, this power thing corrupt people.