By: Justice Piitso
In his seminal work, The Reflections of a Young Man, published in 1835, Cde Karl Marx wrote the following:
“History calls those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good; experience acclaims as happiest the man who has made the greatest number of people happy”.
This is the pedestal we acclaim to Toussaint Louverture, the father of the independent slave republic of Haiti, and the architect of the present phase of the struggle of our people against imperialism and neo colonialism, when today we celebrate the 277th anniversary of his birth.
On the occasion of this beautiful day, we reckon that Toussaint Louverture belongs to the pantheons of those titanic men and women who left an indelible mark on the history of our struggle for the emancipation of humanity. His epitome is a fulfilling immortal torch, which will forever illuminate the freedom of all generations of humankind.
He was indeed not just a hero of his modern times, but a heroic leader of the entire epoch of our struggle for freedom and dignity of all humanity. He was a great servant of humankind who belong to the ages to come.
Remembering the revolutionary life of this legendary figure, is a testament that our struggle is part of the complex character of nature, and indeed part of the manifestations of its wonders, origins and future. It is a testament that our struggle for radical socio-economic transformation is part of the beautiful contours of our mother earth that we want to change for the better.
The Haitian revolution was without doubt an epochal event, and the foundation of the entire struggle of humanity against the system of imperialism, and all forms of colonial domination. It is the pilgrimage where all began.
Toussaint Louverture was a self educated slave, whose his father was a Prince from the royal family of one of the tribes from the African country of the Republic of Benin. His father was captured and forcefully taken as a slave by French merchants to the Americas, accross the Atlantic Ocean.
As a son of a Prince, he was accorded the status by his master to read and write. He was as a result influenced by the writings of the renowned author Abbe Raynal in his book “The Philosophical and Political History of the Establishment and Commerce of the Europeans in the Two Indias”, published in the year 1780.
The following qoute from that seminal book had a big impact on him:
“The two colonies of black fugitives exist already. Their flashes announce the thunder. Only a courageous leader is missing. Where is he? He will appear suddenly, of that we have no doubt. He will come brandishing the sacred flag of liberty”.
The demeaning conditions under which the slaves found themselves, propelled him and his other Comrades to form an underground resistance movement to overthrow the slave masters, and the system of French colonial oppression in Haiti. This was the movement of the heroic slave people which led to the triumph of the first Independent Slave Republic in the history of the world.
Toussaint Louverture was captured by Napoléon Bonaparte who took him to France, where he was condemned to death in the dungeon prison of Fort de Joux, situated in the deep forest mountain of Jura. The following were his words to his captors before he was deported:
“In overthrowing me, you have cut down in Santo Domingo only the trunk of the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots, for their are numerous and deep”.
After his fateful death, one of his army Generals, Jean Jacques Dessalines drove the French colonial troops from Santo Domingo, leading to his historic declaration of the First Slave Republic, which he called the modern day Haiti. Here is an extract of the historic Declaration, which the imperialists powers tried in vain to conceal in order the suppress the popular uprisings of the slave people against oppression and exploitation across the world.
The Haitian Declaration of Independence
The Commander in Chief to the People of Haiti
It is not enough to have expelled the barbarians who have bloodied our land for two centuries; it is not enough to have restrained those ever-evolving factions that one after another mocked the specter of liberty that France dangled before you. We must, with one last act of national authority, forever assure the empire of liberty in the country of our birth; we must take any hope of re-enslaving us away from the inhuman government that for so long kept us in the most humiliating torpor. In the end we must live independent or die.
Independence or death… let these sacred words unite us and be the signal of battle and of our reunion.
Citizens, my countrymen, on this solemn day I have brought together those courageous soldiers who, as liberty lay dying, spilled their blood to save it; these generals who have guided your efforts against tyranny have not yet done enough for your happiness; the French name still haunts our land.
Everything revives the memories of the cruelties of this barbarous people: our laws, our habits, our towns, everything still carries the stamp of the French. Indeed! There are still French in our island, and you believe yourself free and independent of that Republic which, it is true, has fought all the nations, but which has never defeated those who wanted to be free.
What! Victims of our [own] credulity and indulgence for 14 years; defeated not by French armies, but by the pathetic eloquence of their agents’ proclamations; when will we tire of breathing the air that they breathe? What do we have in common with this nation of executioners? The difference between its cruelty and our patient moderation, its color and ours the great seas that separate us, our avenging climate, all tell us plainly that they are not our brothers, that they never will be, and that if they find refuge among us, they will plot again to trouble and divide us.
Native citizens, men, women, girls, and children, let your gaze extend on all parts of this island: look there for your spouses, your husbands, your brothers, your sisters. Indeed! Look there for your children, your suckling infants, what have they become?… I shudder to say it … the prey of these vultures.
Instead of these dear victims, your alarmed gaze will see only their assassins, these tigers still dripping with their blood, whose terrible presence indicts your lack of feeling and your guilty slowness in avenging them. What are you waiting for before appeasing their spirits? Remember that you had wanted your remains to rest next to those of your fathers, after you defeated tyranny; will you descend into their tombs without having avenged them? No! Their bones would reject yours.
And you, precious men, intrepid generals, who, without concern for your own pain, have revived liberty by shedding all your blood, know that you have done nothing if you do not give the nations a terrible, but just example of the vengeance that must be wrought by a people proud to have recovered its liberty and jealous to maintain it let us frighten all those who would dare try to take it from us again; let us begin with the French. Let them tremble when they approach our coast, if not from the memory of those cruelties they perpetrated here, then from the terrible resolution that we will have made to put to death anyone born French whose profane foot soils the land of liberty.
We have dared to be free, let us be thus by ourselves and for ourselves. Let us imitate the grown child: his own weight breaks the boundary that has become an obstacle to him. What people fought for us? What people wanted to gather the fruits of our labor? And what dishonorable absurdity to conquer in order to be enslaved. Enslaved?… Let us leave this description for the French; they have conquered but are no longer free.
Let us walk down another path; let us imitate those people who, extending their concern into the future, and dreading to leave an example of cowardice for posterity, preferred to be exterminated rather than lose their place as one of the world’s free peoples.
Let us ensure, however, that a missionary spirit does not destroy our work; let us allow our neighbors to breathe in peace; may they live quietly under the laws that they have made for themselves, and let us not, as revolutionary firebrands, declare ourselves the lawgivers of the Caribbean, nor let our glory consist in troubling the peace of the neighboring islands. Unlike that which we inhabit, theirs has not been drenched in the innocent blood of its inhabitants; they have no vengeance to claim from the authority that protects them.
Fortunate to have never known the ideals that have destroyed us, they can only have good wishes for our prosperity.
Peace to our neighbors; but let this be our cry: “Anathama to the French name! Eternal hatred of France!”
Natives of Haiti! My happy fate was to be one day the sentinel who would watch over the idol to which you sacrifice; I have watched, sometimes fighting alone, and if I have been so fortunate as to return to your hands the sacred trust you confided to me, know that it is now your task to preserve it. In fighting for your liberty, I was working for my own happiness. Before consolidating it with laws that will guarantee your free individuality, your leaders, who I have assembled here, and I, owe you the final proof of our devotion.
Generals and you, leaders, collected here close to me for the good of our land, the day has come, the day which must make our glory, our independence, eternal.
If there could exist among us a lukewarm heart, let him distance himself and tremble to take the oath which must unite us. Let us vow to ourselves, to posterity, to the entire universe, to forever renounce France, and to die rather than live under its domination; to fight until our last breath for the independence of our country.
And you, a people so long without good fortune, witness to the oath we take, remember that I counted on your constancy and courage when I threw myself into the career of liberty to fight the despotism and tyranny you had struggled against for 14 years. Remember that I sacrificed everything to rally to your defense; family, children, fortune, and now I am rich only with your liberty; my name has become a horror to all those who want slavery. Despots and tyrants curse the day that I was born. If ever you refused or grumbled while receiving those laws that the spirit guarding your fate dictates to me for your own good, you would deserve the fate of an ungrateful people. But I reject that awful idea; you will sustain the liberty that you cherish and support the leader who commands you. Therefore vow before me to live free and independent, and to prefer death to anything that will try to place you back in chains. Swear, finally, to pursue forever the traitors and enemies of your independence.
Done at the headquarters of Gonaives, the first day of January 1804, the first year of independence.
The Deed of independence
Today, January 1st 1804, the general in chief of the native army, accompanied by the generals of the army, assembled in order to take measures that will insure the good of the country;
After having told the assembled generals his true intentions, to assure forever a stable government for the natives of Haiti, the object of his greatest concern, which he has accomplished in a speech which declares to foreign powers the decision to make the country independent, and to enjoy a liberty consecrated by the blood of the people of this island; and after having gathered their responses has asked that each of the assembled generals take a vow to forever renounce France, to die rather than live under its domination, and to fight for independence until their last breath.
The generals, deeply moved by these sacred principles, after voting their unanimous attachment to the declared project of independence, have all sworn to posterity, to the universe, to forever renounce France, and to die rather than to live under its domination.
On the occasion of the birthday celebration of this revolutionary and heroic son from the African continent, we shall forever cherish his indomitable contribution to the coarse of the struggle for the liberation of mankind. The treasure he has bestowed in our hands are his profound words I was born a slave but nature gave me the soul of a free man.
Long live the struggle of our heroic slave people
Long live the struggle of our people against imperialism and neo colonialism
Long live the victories of the struggle of the first slave republic in the history of the world
Long live the father of the Haitian revolution Toussaint Louverture
Long live the heroic people of Haiti
Long live our struggle for human solidarity and internationalism
We shall achieve the supreme ideals of our struggle for radical economic transformation in our lifetime
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Ambassador Phatse Justice Piitso is now the Chief of staff in the office of the Secretary General of the African National Congress. He wrote this article in his own personal capacity.