Sir Shridath Ramphal is known internationally as a key actor in the ending of apartheid in South Africa and for an active role in other Caribbean, hemispheric and global events and developments. He was Secretary General of the Commonwealth during its most active period of existence. At the University of the West Indies (UWI), he has still another significance – he is Chancellor Emeritus, having been the university’s fourth chancellor from 1989 to 2003.
His life and work is the subject of a cameo exhibition at the museum, which draws on his newly launched book, Glimpses of a Global Life, and Sir Shridath called UWI “this special regional space” when he launched the book at the UWI Regional Headquarters this week. The connection goes beyond the UWI as an institution to the Chancellor Emeritus’ avowed Caribbean sensibility, recalled by UWI Vice Chancellor Nigel Harris in a quote from the book: “In that sense of being that derives from within and is assured and unchanging, I have been a West Indian from the first moments of my rational awakening.” (For those from outside the region, West Indies/Indian and Caribbean are often used interchangeably).
The UWI was established in the late 1940s to serve the region, and this was the point to which Jamaica’s former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, a Ramphal comrade-in-arms for many global struggles and a graduate of the early university, returned after relishing the memories. He launched the book with a summons to all to remember why the UWI was created.
In a context of deep concern for the current faltering state of regional integration expressed through the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Mr Patterson invoked the motto of the university: Oriens ex occidente lux, A light rising from the west.
“I think this university has to rise to the rescue and ultimate salvation of CARICOM”, he charged. “How? ….” He recalled his own early student years, under the tutelage of veteran lecturers: “We came in here belonging to individual countries. We left here as committed regionalists, and we can do it if we return to the passion of earlier times!”