Thursday 9 April, 2020

Edward Seaga’s final journey

The late former Prime Minister, Edward Seaga.

The late former Prime Minister, Edward Seaga.

Thousands of mourners, including foreign dignitaries, are expected to descend on Kingston on Sunday for the state funeral of Jamaica’s fifth Prime Minister, Edward Seaga, who passed away in a Florida hospital on May 28 on his 89th birthday.

The funeral service which is scheduled to get underway at noon, will take place at the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, 1 George Headley Drive in downtown Kingston.

Following the service, Seaga will take his final journey to the nearby National Heroes Park, where he will be interred in the same place where the country’s national heroes and former heads of state and government are buried, or have monuments erected in their honour.

Among the countries that will have a representative or delegation at the funeral are: Belize, The Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Since his death, Seaga, who was prime minister from 1980 until 1989, has been lauded as a nation builder, elder statesman, cultural icon and legislative genius.

There have been several events/functions held in his honour since his death. These included varying ceremonies in several parishes and in his beloved Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town in his former West Kingston constituency, to allow Jamaicans to pay their last respects.

Traditional wakes and revival services were also held in his honour in various locations, so too a special joint sitting of both houses of the legislature, where he served for over 40 years. There, both serving and retired politicians paid tribute to the man they described as a master legislature. Four days of official mourning, which ended on Saturday, were also observed as a mark of national respect.

Seaga has been credited with doing more for post-independence Jamaica than any other Jamaican politician. His credits are many and include the establishment of the Jamaica Stock Exchange, the Students’ Loan Bureau, JAMPRO, the Ex-Im Bank and the National Development Bank.

Seaga is also credited with the creation of the Urban Development Corporation, the Seabed Authority, the building of the National Arena, and the creation of the HEART-Trust/NTA.

Additionally, the former JLP leader created Jamaica Festival, launched National Heritage Week, and was responsible for the repatriation of the body of Marcus Garvey, who was later named the country’s first National Hero.

Before he was a politician, Seaga was a music producer, and he has been credited with putting Jamaica’s music, starting with the popular ska genre, on the world stage. He was also a researcher at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

Late former Prime Minister, Edward Seaga, opens the 1983 Budget Debate in the House of Representatives. To his right is the late former Prime Minister, Hugh Shearer, and the late Agriculture Minister, Percival Broderick. (PHOTO: JIS)

Seaga’s passing marks the end of an era, as he was the last of Jamaica’s pre-independence politicians, having been appointed to the then Legislative Council (now the Senate) in 1959 by Sir Alexander Bustamante. Seaga was also the last surviving member of the framers of Jamaica’s independence constitution.

He was born on May 28, 1930 in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States of America, to Jamaican parents. He was named after his father, Phillip George Seaga. His mother was Erna (nee Maxwell).

His parents took him to Jamaica when he was just three months’ old, and he was baptised in Kingston’s Anglican Church.

The young Seaga attended Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Kingston, where he excelled both academically and in about half-a-dozen sporting disciplines.

He later attended Harvard University in the United States, graduating in 1952 with a degree in sociology. It was his work as a sociologist that brought him into contact with the people of West Kingston, an area he would transform into a political fortress.

Edward Seaga on the political trail.

Seaga re-wrote history as, after winning the West Kingston seat that had been a political graveyard for even senior Labourites, with none managing to hold the seat for more than one term, in 1962, he held the seat for 43 unbroken years until his retirement from politics in 2005. That is a record for both Jamaica and the wider Caribbean region.

He was appointed Minister of Development and Welfare in 1962, and that marked the beginning of a leadership career that would lead to him being regarded as the politician who has done the most for nation building in terms of institutions with far-reaching and long-term impact. It was during that time that he started the transformation of ‘Back-o-Wall’ or ‘Dungle’ into Tivoli Gardens, complete with blocks of high-rise buildings, a maternity clinic, community centre and all the trappings of a modern community.

Various sporting organisations were also developed in the area, as well as a marching band.

After the JLP won the 1967 General Elections, Seaga was named the Minister of Finance and Planning.

The JLP lost the 1972 General Elections to Michael Manley’s People’s National Party (PNP), and in 1974, Seaga became JLP Leader, a position he held for nearly 31 years.

His biggest political achievement came in October 1980, when he famously won a landslide victory over Manley and the PNP, securing the largest mandate ever by a political party in Jamaica. Seaga won 51 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives as Jamaicans bought into his ‘Deliverance’ message.

In 1983, Seaga won a largely uncontested snap election, as the PNP boycotted the polls. He appointed independents to serve in the Senate during that period when his party controlled all 60 seats in the House of Representatives.

Seaga was defeated in the 1989 General Elections by Manley, and he would go on to serve as Opposition Leader until 2005. He lost several general elections in between to PJ Patterson who succeeded Manley at the helm of the PNP.

The arrival of Seaga's body in Jamaica earlier this month. 

Often seen as one of the most polarising political figures in Jamaican politics, Seaga’s last 16 years in active politics were often tumultuous. During that time, he sometimes sparred publicly with members of his own party. He beat back the challenge of the so called ‘Gang of Five’, which included JLP stalwarts such as Pearnel Charles, Edmund Bartlett, Karl Samuda, Douglas Vaz and the late Errol Anderson.

Seaga also thwarted the challenge of the much larger ‘Western Gang’ of eleven, which was similarly made up of JLP stalwarts.

On every occasion he fended off the challenges to his leadership and, although he did not win another national election after 1989, he remained JLP leader until his retirement.

After his retirement from politics, Seaga served in academia and, being an avid sportsman, was actively involved in that arena, in particular with football. He was Chairman of the Premier League Clubs’ Association and President of the Tivoli Gardens Football Club.

He was appointed honorary distinguished fellow at the professorial level at the UWI in 2005.

At the time of his death, he was Chancellor of the University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica, where he was half-way through a three-year term.

Seaga is survived by wife, Karla, and children, Gabrielle, Andrew, Christopher and Anabella.

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