We were having our Sunday morning coffee in bed this morning when my husband received the call that confirmed the passing of James Mancham. After informing me of the news, he kept his eyes on me and said, ‘you’re not about to cry are you?’ ‘Of course not!’ I almost shouted as tears filled my eyes. We all know that trying to not cry makes the tears come a hell of a lot faster, which is exactly what happened in this case.
‘I am not crying for him,’ I confessed.
‘I know,’ he told me sympathetically.
By ‘I know’ he meant he knew that the tears were for my father. For the longest time since my father passed away, hearing the name ‘James Mancham’ has been one of the many things which have triggered off memories of him though today was the first time it made me cry.
Shortly after the coup d’etat in 1977 in which the newly elected James Mancham was overthrown as President of the new Republic of Seychelles, his mother, Mrs Evelyne Mancham, went to visit him in the UK. Upon her return back home (to Glacis specifically where he lived then and where he died today), she crossed the fence over to her neighbour’s house to say hello and to inform him of “Jimmy’s” news, as he was affectionately called by those who knew him. In her hand was a bottle of whisky, her neighbour’s favourite drink which was her gift to him, as many of us commonly did and still do after our travels. Later on that day, a police truck rocked up at this neighbour’s house, handcuffed him and took him down to the Victoria Police Station to be interrogated. That neighbour was my father and because he lived next to the Mancham’s residence at Glacis and happened to be a friendly neighbour, he paid dearly.
My analysis of this incident, almost four decades after it happened, confuses me. You see, my father was an uneducated man. He was a Pointe Aux Sels boy, one of seven children born in a dirt poor family in 1916 (yes, officially over 100 years ago today). When, in this day and age we talk about ‘lekol anba pye koko’, for my father that was not a joke. That was where he learned to write his name and read French. I believe the equivalent of primary two was as far as he got in his ‘anba pye koko’ education. He joined the army and served in World War 2 before buying a piece of land at Glacis from the money he had saved up while in service and physically built a few houses and a shop thereafter on his new acquired land. His neighbours were the well-to-do Mancham family and the elders (James Mancham’s parents) took a liking to him. I know this because aside from never failing to speak warmly of them over the years, my first jewellery (a gold necklace with a ‘bell’ pendant along with a bracelet) at the age of two were gifts from Mrs Mancham. I have no recollection of her whatsoever but I am guessing she must have been very fond of him. While running a shop obviously improved my father’s math abilities over the years, I failed to see what kind of threat he could have possibly been to this country that it was deemed necessary to arrest him and beat him. My guess is that no lead could ever be ignored at the time. Still, it left a scar, one that my father carried (sometimes quietly and when a drink or two came into play, a little louder) until the day he died in 2001.
So, in my eyes, James Mancham was more than just the first President of the Republic of Seychelles (fact) and its founding father (debatable). In his name and on his behalf, I know that so many people endured so much. What my father went through for a few hours, I know is nothing compared to so many others. Regardless of what I may feel about how things have transpired over the years, today, he is to me a man who has inspired many and instilled a strong desire for a better Seychelles in so many of us Seychellois.
If heaven exists and reunions amongst lost souls are not a myth, then today my father is no doubt rejoicing in seeing his ‘Jimmy’.
Photo: The only photo I have of my father infront of his shop at Glacis, which was (and still is) next to the Mancham’s property.