Former TTT News Anchor and 1990 hostage GIDEON HANOOMANSINGH shares his story, remembering the events of July 27, 1990, when he and 26 of his colleagues were held hostage by the Jamaat al-Muslimeen.
The loud explosion brought enormous panic and growing fear for we all thought that the final moment had arrived. If the army raided, we would be killed in the crossfire and so I prayed.
Anticipating the worse, the tears began to flow. I called on my Guardian Angel, “Ma, wherever you are in the heavens, help us, help us all and relieve us of this madness”.
Those were the most terrifying moments of my life. Being held against my will. Guns all around and in the hands of very young people. No food for six days and the sound of gunfire on the outside of Television House, on one occasion for what seemed three to four hours.
One morning a senior Muslimeen operative walked into the main studios where we were initially kept with an assault weapon in his hand. He seemed annoyed for some reason and ripped the telephone cord from its wall plug, saying that the government was not treating the situation seriously and they’d show them that they were serious. He then pointed to a few of us saying, “You, you, you, you and you, come with me. We’ll put you in a room and blow it up.”
They took us to a room upstairs and as I climbed the first flight of stairs, my knees buckled. I held on to the railing and, with tears flowing, I silently said, “God give me the courage to go to my destiny”.
And so we were taken into a room on the first floor that the engineers called STL where I saw a brown cardboard box with a black wire running to the ceiling and I thought, “oh my God, this is it”, but suddenly I saw all the other hostages walk into the room and in the middle of enormous fear I thought it would be stupid for the Muslimeen to blow up the room with all the hostages.
Within minutes I heard sporadic gunfire outside the walls of the TTT building. It was a moment of great panic, not only for us hostages but the insurgents as well. I soon realised that the some of our captors were more scared than us.
I recall the story of my brother Hans, who was also a Panorama newscaster in the early days of TTT.
After our release, Hans told me that one of his neighbours who was a retired lieutenant in the army and who would be among homeowners during nightly vigils, revealed that the army was raiding the TTT building at midnight (Saturday) and I and all the hostages and those inside that building would die. He called my eldest sister Eunice, telling her to open her Bible and keep reading it and at midnight, light a candle in my memory.
Quite naturally, Eunice asked why and Hans’ response was, “don’t ask, just do what I say”. As siblings, we seldom questioned Hans’ instructions.
Thirty years later there is lingering trauma.
Another scary moment came on the night before the end of the uprising when what seemed like a grenade exploded on the front wall of TTT.
I heard Jones Madeira cry out loudly, “oh God, oh God, oh God, we dead, we dead, we dead” and then silence as all hostages lay flat on the floor with the Muslimeen opposite, guns in their hands, ready for any entrance by the army.
At that moment, I offered my closing prayer but I also called on my Guardian Angel (my mother) who had passed two years before, saying, “Ma, wherever you are in the heavens, please help us, help us all”. Shortly after, with continuing dead silence all around, I called out to Jones. “Are you alive?” “No Gideon, ah think ah dead.” Laughter erupted and conversations resumed.
Ironically, at 8 the next morning (August 1) an older cousin, Monica Mahabalsingh, called Eunice to relate a dream she had. In the dream, she was saying that my mother told her, “don’t worry about Gideon, he’ll be released” at one that afternoon.
If I am not mistaken, it was around that time, Verne Burnett walked out a free man from six days of captivity.
The scars have not healed and the anger lives although I was brought up to believe that to forgive is divine.
As hostages, we’ve not had closure. All governments since 1990 have abandoned us.
I am not aware of any invitation to attend sessions with psychologists though I read where Jones Madeira is claiming that all hostages got counselling.
I took strong objection to the very expensive Commission of Enquiry for which lawyers were paid millions of dollars. There were no legal provisions for disciplinary action against those who perpetrated the disrobing of our democracy.
The prime minister who ordered the enquiry is on record as saying that “commissions of enquiry are a waste of time and money”.
I objected to singling out Mr Robinson for honour when we all suffered the same trauma and indignity. Granted, we didn’t have to bear physical injury as Mr Robinson but heck, we did not bring this upon the nation. It was his government, according to a former speaker, that was “persecuting” the Muslimeen. What about the other hostages and their families? It was insensitive to the memory of MP Leo Des Vignes who was killed at the Red House. During an interview three years ago, Lorris Ballack apologised to me and asked pardon for any inconvenience caused to all the hostages.
Recently, Imam Yasin Abu Bakr expressed remorse for those who lost loved ones in the events of 1990 and while I accept his gesture, it is difficult not to forget that, at the time, my 13-year-old son said to his mother, “Mum, let’s buy two tickets and go to Canada because, we will not see Daddy alive again”.