Co-founder of Red Thread Guyana and former executive member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) Andaiye, AA, lost her battle with cancer on Friday and was yesterday remembered as a revolutionary, who fought hard to protect the rights of citizens and particularly women and children.
She was 77.
Andaiye wore many hats during her lifetime, including that of a writer, educator, activist and politician.
Three of her closest friends, Jocelyn Dow, Bonita Harris and Vanda Radzik, told Sunday Stabroek of the numerous contributions she had made over the years, which was an indication of the impact she had made.
Dow said she had always been a great admirer of Andaiye’s intellect and how she had used it to the benefit of poor people, particularly women and children.
“She cared deeply about education, she cared deeply about equality, she cared deeply about issues that arose from class and race,” Dow said, while adding that Andaiye negotiated them all at personal, national and international levels to ensure policies that would benefit people in Guyana and the Caribbean in particular.
Harris, a feminist advocate and educator, said Andaiye devoted almost her entire life to bringing about change in Guyana at various levels. She said some of her research focussed on the low wages women are paid. The two began their friendship during secondary school.
Andaiye, Radzik said, played a huge role in the formulation of rights-based and gender-based policies and laws for several decades. She said she was also a champion of child rights and a strong advocate for the abolition of corporal punishment in schools. The two began working together in the 70s and this intensified in the 80s, when they co-founded the Red Thread rights advocacy organisation. They had also worked together in the WPA.
Radzik described her as “a monumental force and inspiration; cancer survivor twice over; thinker, writer and activist of the Caribbean women’s movement and Caribbean grassroots women, with her sharp intellect and sharper wit.”
She said Andaiye’s life’s work, her many kindnesses, mentoring of young women and men and her fiercely uncompromising integrity will forever weave together an example of strength and conviction.
Just before her death, she had finalised a book, with the assistance of Alissa Trotz, “guaranteeing us her lasting legacy within the Caribbean and the wider world,” she added.
President David Granger, earlier in the day, expressed sympathy to her relatives and friends. A press release from the Ministry of the Presidency noted that Andaiye was an executive member of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) and a founder of the Guyana Cancer Society and the Cancer Survivors Action Group.
Additionally, she worked with the Women and Development Unit of the University of the West Indies (WAND) from 1987 to 1992, and from 1987 to 1996 with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
In 1997, she was awarded the Golden Arrow of Achievement, the release said.
Meanwhile, WPA executive member David Hinds, remembered Andaiye as one of the most approachable WPA leaders when he first joined the party as a teenager.
Sharing fond memories of their encounters over the years, he said she immediately struck him as a deep thinker and throughout the 42 years that he had known her, “I would always turn to her to help me think through challenging and complex phenomena.”
“I rate her as a first class intellectual who could seamlessly bring history, thought and lived realities together. She would always write her thoughts down and as you read her writings you could actually feel her mind working. I remember her as the party leader who along with Bro Eusi and Sis Bonita Harris doing the writing for the party’s publications and press releases. Her skill in this regard was first class…,” he added. He described her as a mentor to both men and women.
Andaiye, he added, always worried about Guyana. “To the very end she agonised over the seeming drift of our society, particularly among the youth,” he said.
“In the end she was one of the finest radical revolutionaries to have arisen from our country and region. I learned a lot from her example and I mourn her loss knowing that she was a gem of a human being,” Hinds told Sunday Stabroek.
‘Of the highest order’
The WPA, in a statement yesterday, said it joined the rest of Guyana and the Caribbean in mourning the passing of Andaiye, who at the time of her death was not active in the party but remained an important source of wisdom and advice to the leadership.
According to the statement, Andaiye started her public life as a schoolteacher and Foreign Service worker. “She is remembered as part of a group of young radical educators who attempted [to] infuse a new national and revolutionary praxis into the then education system. Although she left the profession, she never stopped being a teacher. Her contributions to public education during her years as a WPA activist-leader and later on in Red Thread are testimony to the role of education in Andaiye’s political praxis,” it noted.
It also said Andaiye will be remembered as a Black Power activist, who saw the movement towards Black pride and dignity as a necessary step in the country’s independence journey. She changed her name from Sandra Williams to Andaiye and wore her hair in the Afro-style of the day—two symbols which remained part of her identity until she died.
The statement said she returned to Guyana in 1977 at the urging of her school friends, including Dr. Walter Rodney and Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine of the WPA and she joined and played pivotal roles in its development “as one of the most formidable radical parties in the Caribbean.” The statement added that she was a leader, thinker and worker of the highest order and helped to make the WPA and Guyana “an oasis of radical and revolutionary thought and action.”
She served the party in various capacities but it was as a writer and editor of the party’s publications and as its International Secretary that she made her most definitive contributions, the statement noted.
It added that her penchant for detail, her sense of history and her analytical mind made her an intellectual giant in a party and movement blessed with rare leadership talent. The party described her as a “foot soldier” who walked the streets, roads and alleys across Guyana to spread the politics of change and transformation.
In the wake of the demise of the Grenadian revolution, to which she contributed immensely during its short life, and the retreat of the Caribbean Left, the statement said Andaiye joined the women of the WPA’s leadership in focusing on a neglected area of the movement—women’s and children’s rights.
Following the formation of Red Thread, it said, she spent the rest of her life working within and in alliance with that enduring source of relief for women and leadership of their causes. In this regard, it noted that she was also a leader, thinker and activist in the wider Caribbean and global feminist movements. “Given her political upbringing, her feminism was one that privileged the intersection of gender, race and class which sometimes placed her at variance with the region’s feminist movement,” the statement said before adding that nevertheless she remained an icon in the movement and an inspiration to younger feminist scholars and activists, even if she did not refer to herself as a feminist.
Although born into Guyana’s fledgling middle class, Andaiye was sensitive to the feelings and the needs of the lower classes, it said. “She was a genuine advocate, in thought, word and deed, for the uplifting of the working poor. Towards this end, she remained a creative and independent Marxist without the trappings and rhetoric. She was to the end a firm believer that our country cannot advance without a genuine multi-ethnic thrust. She was uncompromising regarding this central tenet of the WPA’s praxis,” the statement further said.
It was also noted that in her later years she became disenchanted with political parties and thought that enough energy was not being put into building non-party movements. “As WPA mourns her passing, we call on Guyana and the Caribbean to emulate the example of Andaiyes of our Caribbean. She died like most revolutionaries in our country and region—forgotten and marginalised by the political elites whose power came from the struggles and sacrifices of these very forgotten souls,” the party added.
Andaiye was the only child of Dr Frank and Hazel Williams.
Her funeral is being planned for later this week.