Unlearning Slavery: Rejecting poverty of the soul

The views expressed herein are solely those of the writer.

A photo of Bedford Street, Kingstown populated with vendors in April 2022. Photo: Demion McTair

By Professor Richard A. Byron-Cox (PhD)

During the seven-year period 1346 to 1353, an estimated 200 million people died not as victims of war, famine or some other massive natural disaster, or a meteorite hitting the earth, but from The Black Death. This plague, spread by flees which transmitted it from rats, exploded in North Africa and Eurasia. Various factors gave birth to this deadly pandemic to which, the atrocious state of public hygiene was an immense multiplier. Mountains of garbage, -common sights across Europe-, were the breeding grounds and habitats for carriers of this disease that literally turned parts of that continent into morgues. This tragedy should be instructive to Vincentians, strengthening our resolve to clean up Kingstown, for as Churchill reasoned, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The efforts to eliminate the horrendous nastiness and chaos caused by squatter-vending in the heart of our capital are met with lambast, vitriol, and encouragement by some politicians and political rejects that vendors continue this foul disorder. Theirs is a most retrograde stance, once again demonstrating the insidious politics being preached and practised. But even if unpatriotic, -caring nothing about neighbour or nation-, one ought to care about themselves and their loved ones, and therefore realize that we must be ridded of this potentially dangerous morass!

In the absence of hygiene, illnesses result. One does not need a microscope to see the disease-breeding potential of the area between the central market and Bonadie’s and Viera’s supermarkets. It’s overcrowded and dirty; rickety tables sometimes stand over open trenches; there is no place to walk; and in the evenings, it sometimes reminds of an uncovered solid waste site, serving as playground for overgrown rats. It is a miracle that there has not been an outbreak of disease! The Black Death didn’t happen until it happened! Probably, it is the better collection of garbage since 2001 that has slowed this time bomb. And it’s baffling that we hope for significant increase in tourist arrivals on St. Vincent with the heart of the city a replica of a garbage dump! Since when is grime a tourist attraction? Is it that we assume tourists to be pigs?

A safe, healthy and orderly society is impossible where lawlessness prevails! In many parts of Kingstown pedestrians are often forced onto the streets, braving vehicular traffic as the sidewalks are now vendors-squatter premises. Walking under the galleries of some business houses is at best taxing. Oh, and we are building a port worth a hundred million neighbouring all this ugliness. How odd to have splendour mixed with squalor as reception for visiting ships!

Some claim that halting and reversing this disorder denies the vendors a living. This too is political mischief-making. The simple question is whether crowding the city centre with nastiness is their only means of livelihood? The truth is, those proffering this argument are seeking political milage, telling vendors, they must continue embracing nastiness. Slice it as you wish, this is an insult to the vendors, reducing them to pigs. PRIME, support for fishermen and small farmers and more,evidence the government’s attitude to the livelihoods of the Poor. Indeed, by any objective measure, this administration has provided for the Poor more than any other in our history. What these snake oil salesmen refuse to say is: (1) If disease breaks out due to this nastiness, the vendors will suffer first and most. (2) Better can be done and this is the time. (3) Rejecting order and decency is not in the vendors’ nor the country’s interest. (4)These agitators have neither the Poor nor the country at heart. Just look at their stance against the education revolution and low-incoming housing, both designed to help the less fortunate.

And we the shoppers MUST REFUSE to buy from these squatter-vendors, going into the markets instead. We must commit to being decent, civilized, cultured and patriotic. Nastiness is antithetical to these noble values. Lawlessness and the belief that the ends justify the means are vices that lead to the unmaking of a civilized people and the collapse into social, moral, ethical, and spiritual abyss, where there is not even the pretence of nobility. We must insist on cleanliness and decency for they are expressions of our internal beauty and the spiritual elegance of our souls, hence the wisdom of old, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” We must reject that material poverty justifies degeneration into poverty of soul, uplifting ourselves by turning away from behaviours unbecoming of a proud and dignified people. Our capital ought to be the majestic place its name implies; a city of which we can be justly proud. Remember, there’s nothing royal in nastiness!

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