Written by Samuel Caines
Saturday, 27 February, 2016 marked a momentous occasion at the Botanical Gardens in Nevis. It was an occasion characterized by drama, reflection, sumptuous food, socialization and joyous laughter. A great Nevisian icon who impacted on the political stage was honored. And regardless of the political persuasion of Nevisians today, every Nevisian whether you are resident at home or abroad, ought to put aside any disenchantment or negative feelings that they may have developed towards this man for the way he went about his role as a politician in Nevis and pay him the respect he richly deserves for paving the way against prodigious odds for the improvement in the 1980’s of the infrastructural development of Nevis which was very sadly lacking. The Legend, Mr. Uhral Swanston, fought a great fight and did a tremendous good for the people of Nevis. Such was the peoples’ confidence in him and his party that in the general election of February, 1980, the Nevis Reformation Party of which he was a founding member garnered 98% of the votes casted in Nevis. That statistic was clearly indicative of the extent at which the entire island rallied behind the man. He was then akin to a political messiah and was significantly responsible, in part, for the vastly improved standard of living that Nevisians began to enjoy following the 1980 general elections. The outcome of that election resulted in the formation of a new government through the amalgamation of the Nevis Reformation Party and the Peoples Action Movement of St. Kitts, unseating the Old Labour Party – lead at the time by the late Lee Llewellyn Moore – which had the reigns of power for the previous 28 years.
When one reflects on the governmental structure in Nevis prior to the 1980 election, it evokes laughter because the whole island of Nevis then was classified as one Ministry in the Government of Old Labour. The late Charles E. Mills was the Minister of Nevis Affairs, A Mr. Sydney Guishard from Anguilla was the lone permanent Secretary for all of Nevis and the late Edread Walwayn was the lone Department Head. Nevis was clearly going nowhere. The late Dr. Simeon Daniel, the Late Ivor Stevens and the indomitable Uhral Swanston quickly converted their opportunity in government to rapid infrastructural development for Nevis and the establishment of a proper Civil Service creating five separate ministries, each with a Permanent Secretary.
In the coalition government with the Peoples Action Movement, Dr. Daniel held the Finance portfolio and Ivor Stevens was the Minister of Communication. Mr. Swanston held a Junior ministerial position in Public works. Those three men went about their work with a desire for quick and substantial achievements for Nevis. Mr. Swanton’s initial focus was water development. Prior to 1980, walking two miles for a bucket of water was a common practice in Nevis, such was the poor state of water development in Nevis then. The younger generation of today, born with running water in their homes probably showed astonishment and even horror on learning of that fact from their parents and older relatives. Mr. Swanston was insistent that Nevisians should never have to walk two miles again for a bucket of water. He relentlessly pursued a water development project for Nevis which resulted in many people getting running water in their homes during the 1980’s. Nevis progressed from zero backhoes in 1980 to 13 backhoes by 1990; such was the extent of the infrastructural development lead by the progressive Uhral Swanton and the need for heavy equipment to facilitate the work. In just a matter of a few years in the early 1980’s, Uhral Swanston effected a huge transformation in water distribution in Nevis and it was a glorious moment for many persons who no longer had to walk two miles for a bucket of water as Mr. Swanston brought it directly to their homes. The younger generation of Nevis today who may not be aware, must be told that that man Uhral Swanston who they see occasionally walking slowly through Charlestown, a little bent with age now, deserves the praise as he paved the way for the improved living conditions that they currently enjoy. If they are not told, they would perhaps be incline to give the credit to Vance Amory and Joseph Parry who in my view are beneficiaries of Mr. Swanston’s hard work. Amory and Parry were high school teachers in Nevis in the 70’s when Mr. Swanston was jumping on to sailing boats to take the cause of the Nevisian people to parliament in St. Kitts. If I may use culinary terminology for ease of comprehension, I would say that Mr. Swanston found the ingredients, baked the cake and our more recent political leaders came along to put the icing on the cake and start eating. In short, their work was comparatively easy. Uhral Swanston did the toil.
Whereas the 1980’s was one of achievement for Mr. Swanston in the realm of infrastructural development for Nevis, many persons will have more vivid memories of him for the very dramatic way in which he delivered his many messages in the house of Parliament in the 1970’s. His presentations were forceful, and sometimes when his emotions got engaged, they were rasping. He left no stones unturned in his quest to highlight the plight of the Nevisian people back then. Although he spoke for hours in parliament about the unpaved roads, inadequate electricity supply, malfunctioning agricultural equipment and other deficiencies that existed at the time, it was the deplorable water situation that bore his emphasis. In one sitting of Parliament in 1975, Mr. Swanston got emotional and was almost in tears while talking about the water hardship in Nevis. Many who listened then may still remember his cry, “Lord, Mr. Speaker Lord, it’s not fair to us in Nevis. Tell them to treat us out better than that man, Lord!”
Many who observed and listened the cries and the fight of Mr. Swanston in the 70’s would have thought then that he was anti – Labour but when New Labour under Dr. Denzil Douglas reached out to Nevis, proposed joint cabinet meetings and incorporated Patrice Nisbett into his Cabinet after NRP had formed the Government in Nevis in 2006, Mr. Swanston became very pleased and he developed a cordial relationship with Dr. Denzil Douglas. No one in the 1970’s, even in their wildest imaginations would have thought that one day, Mr. Swanston would have donned the red shirt and participate in a Labour march in St. Kitts, but he did. The fierce secessionist gave up the cry for separation and supported the two governments working together. The reality came home that Mr. Swanston was not anti- Labour, he was simply pro – Nevis and as long as he felt that Nevis was deprived, he was prepared to fight and cry for the cause of the Nevisian people. In the words of the late calypsonian, “King of the 29 Fellows” Mr. Swanston was a Hero, he was a Champion and he was a Lion. Take a bow Mr. Swanston, you contributed significantly to the development of Nevis. You will always be remembered as one of Nevis’ great iconic figures and Nevisians are much better off today as a result of your hard work, your fight and your cry in the 1970’s and 80’s. “Lord, Mr. Speaker, Lord!”