When Emancipation Day in 1838 finally arrived, among the freedoms obtained by former slaves was the “freedom” of being homeless. This was in stark contrast to the situation that prevailed for slavers. They were allowed to retain their vast financial and land holdings – and they were compensated, having received reparations from the British government for losses suffered first by the abolition of slavery in 1834 and the sad end of the famous learning period.
Former slaves have taken the hills. The birth of the Jamaican peasantry, as some describe it, saw small communities spring up across the island. Communities like Quick Step, Mill Bank, Dumotto, Troy and Font Hill, for example, began to dot the hilly interior of the island.
There is no record of the British Home Office, or any of the governors who served until 1962, establishing a formalized process that provided titles to struggling Jamaican farmers who emerged from the slavery. There are few Jamaicans who are able to detail their ancestry to this first generation of freed Jamaicans – the former slaves who bore us all. Some families have Bibles in which their lineage is roughly documented. Others have taken the route with the help of the Vital Statistics Department to track their maternal lines by detaching themselves from birth records where they exist. Others relied on the oral account of a series of great and great aunts who guided us through the remains of headstones in family plots or church graveyards and told us who was buried below.
Very few, however, have detailed their ancestry through wills and other official documents that would have confirmed not only who they are, but also their assets – particularly land holdings. This is the reality of the most populous of the two Jamaicas.
HAVING LAND, HAVING VALUE
In a way, this shouldn’t be surprising. The very possession and formal ownership of land for many postcolonial societies was the ultimate decider of who was of value and who was not. Unfortunately, this imbalance has become deeply rooted and even institutionalized in Jamaica. It will take 100 years after emancipation before the National People’s Party is formed. Records of Norman Manley’s early writings and speeches from this period have highlighted land ownership among the black masses as a key principle to be pursued.
This commitment was evident in the drafting of the Universal Adult Suffrage Act of 1944. Records from this time show very clearly that the decision not to use land ownership as a precondition for eligibility was deliberate as it would have disqualified the majority of blacks. Jamaicans polling.
History confirms that the first real attempt to tackle “land apartheid” began with Norman Manley’s premiership in 1955. Since then, successive administrations have approached the issue in different ways. There have been successful ventures and there have been unsuccessful ventures. The net effect, however, is that in 2022 most Jamaicans still cannot show acceptable titles to the land they live on, farm on or under which their loved ones are buried.
The whole affair has again become a matter of the first order. On October 6 – as previously announced to Parliament by the Prime Minister – the state asserted its authority and demolished buildings constructed by Jamaicans who, as reported in the media, believed they had the legal right to build homes and occupy property they had paid for. for. Although the full details are yet to be made public, it now appears that these people are the victims of a land scam. If the government’s position is to be accepted, this action had the dual purpose of stopping illegal gang activity and protecting the rightful owner of the land.
Let’s focus on the latter, because within 48 hours of Clifton’s demolition, eviction notices were received by residents of an idyllic neighborhood in Lluidas Vale. Almost immediately, countless Jamaicans here and in the Diaspora became concerned about whether their community was next or whether their families were next to be called upon to settle and build homes on land that no longer belonged to them. not.
Public outcry and uncertainty were quickly met with a strident response from the head of government. Prime Minister Holness, who issued the ominous threat in the first place, apparently backed down somewhat when he visited the victims the day after the demolition. He again used the parliamentary platform to provide “more clarity” on the situation. The problem is that, aside from the alleged gang involvement, several communities fall under the same profile as the one that was being built in Clifton. Many of these communities are near sugar land – so it’s fair to wonder if the Clifton precedent is in fact the 2022 Sugar Company of Jamaica precedent.
SCJ LAND SALE AND TRANSFER QUESTIONS
Elsewhere on the Plains of St. Catherine, land held by the SCJ is also being divided and sold. Originally zoned for agriculture, most of the plots sold have been rezoned in accordance with the authority given by law under the Housing Act to the Minister for Housing – who is also the Prime Minister at this time. Public documents detailing SCJ’s divestment policy are limited to non-existent. In fact, very few people in the media or elsewhere know with certainty the full inventory of land owned or controlled by the SCJ.
The same goes for the nebulously described “Crown Lands”, which refers to all lands owned by the state. Aside from former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in 2014 publicly declaring that she wanted to be known “as the Prime Minister who has given the most land titles to poor Jamaicans”, land ownership has not figured significantly. in the campaigns and discussions of the last two general elections. electoral cycles. Until the demolition of Clifton, there was no memorable debate on a land policy in Parliament of recent times.
DICHOTOMY OF VIEWS
As with anything that gets national attention in this country, there is a dichotomy of views. The harshest views on either side are usually the first to subside. Some say no house should be demolished, others say once you don’t have a title, demolish and evict. After these have subsided (hopefully soon), there is still a need for an affirmative land policy. This policy must first reflect the need for internal repairs. This policy must reflect the historical context in which decent, law-abiding Jamaican families may occupy homes in which their families have lived for up to six generations, but for which none have ever had title. This policy must recognize that some of the lands already settled are part of Crown property that must now be legally transferred to the people who have lived on these lands for generations.
MODERN LAND POLICY
Such a land policy must be robust and futuristic. It should be designed around available scientific data on environmental issues such as climate change. The policy must centralize our agricultural priorities, if indeed we still consider food security as an important component of the status of a developed country, we aim for Vision 2030. More importantly, this land policy must be scrupulously examined by all national actors. Jamaica has limited land resources. Much of this land is already under threat in our coastal areas.
Parliamentarian Denise Daley reminded us that our people need a place to live “and they cannot live in the sea or in the rivers”. It is in our collective abilities to design a modern and robust land policy that reveals the truth about our history, reflects our current development trajectory and that is successful for future generations. One aspect of this achievement is the preparation of a Board of Inquiry to review the decisions that have been made to date to sell or otherwise dispose of the SCJ Portfolio lands. Plots already sold must be made public. The valuations that preceded the sales and how buyers were sought must also be part of the national learning that this sordid event now provides.
– Raymond Pryce is the Chairman of the People’s National Party for East Central St Catherine. Send your comments to [email protected]