Africa We Want


The first Black leader of a European nation has made history more than once during a rocky political career to date. Vaughan Gething describes himself as “a Welshman born in Zambia” , with his father, a vet from the Vale of Glamorgan in south Wales, having met his mother, a Zambian chicken farmer, while he was working in southern Africa.

Gething to become Welsh first minister

His parents experienced racism when the family moved to Britain and Gething joined the Labour party at the age of 17 after being inspired by articles about Nelson Mandela he read in on his newspaper round.

He studied at Aberystwyth and Cardiff universities, became the first Black president of the National Union of Students Wales and went on to work as a trade union lawyer.

Gething, who turned 50 on Friday, made history in 2013 when he became the first Black minister in any of the devolved nations. He then rose up the ministerial ladder and has worked as the health and, most recently, the economy minister.

The path has been rocky at times. He was the health minister during the Covid crisis and was criticised when he was pictured eating chips in a park with his family during lockdown. He insisted he had not broken the rules, but “chipgate” was damaging.

This week he had a difficult time at the UK Covid inquiry when he admitted all his WhatsApp messages from during the pandemic had vanished when his Senedd phone underwent a “security rebuild”.

In an interview with the Guardian, Gething said he wanted to be judged not on his skin colour but on his ability.

But, he said: “You can’t deny the historic nature of it. I think I should win because I’m the best candidate. I’ve got loads of experience. I’ve got values rooted in our movement. I was a trade union shop steward, Wales TUC [Trades Union Congress] president, had 10 years as an employment lawyer and I have a vision for the future. But if I win, the fact that I’ll be the first Black leader of any European nation is a matter of historic significance.”

His importance as a role model was highlighted last September when he made an emotional visit to Birmingham, Alabama, to represent Wales at the 60th anniversary of the racist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church in which four Black girls were killed. The people of Wales raised money for a stained glass window depicting a Black Christ to be installed as part of the church’s restoration.

Gething said when he got up to speak (having rehearsed for the daunting moment in a Greek Orthodox church in Cardiff), there was an audible gasp. “Even in Birmingham, Alabama, a very Black city, they didn’t expect someone who looked like me to stand up from Wales,” he said.

As part of his leadership campaign, Gething pledged to set up the Mari Rees fund, named in honour of a Black Welsh Labour candidate for the Senedd elections in 2011.

“She died a month before the election. She would have been fantastic. The fund will pay for training and development for Black, Asian and minority ethnic members to help them progress within Labour and stand in elections,” he said. “I think our Senedd needs to do more to look like our country.”

Gething is not a Welsh speaker but he is learning. “I think it would be great to have a learner in the first minister’s office,” he said. “We have this target of reaching a million Welsh speakers. To get to a million we need more people like me, people who are learning, showing the language is really there for all of us, it’s not there to exclude people. It’s something for all of us to be proud of.”

General election

One of Gething’s key jobs this year will be to lead Welsh Labour into the general election. Wales is a Labour stronghold but a key Welsh Labour message for years has been that it will protect the country from the Conservatives. This tactic doesn’t work when Keir Starmer is expected to become prime minister so a new strategy will be needed.

Major challenges

The Welsh population is older, poorer and sicker than that of England. The cost of living crisis is biting deeply and Gething will need to work hard on boosting the economy and protecting the most vulnerable people. Health and education are devolved issues. The Tories will increase their attacks on Labour’s management of these areas in Wales in the run-up to the election. Waiting lists are long, school results have been disappointing. There is much to do.

Sensitive issues

Two of the former leader Mark Drakeford’s most controversial policies will continue to trouble the new first minister. A record number of people have signed a petition against the 20mph speed limit policy. And farmers will continue to challenge the Welsh government’s environmental policies, which they see as an assault on their way of life and the countryside.

Author: MANZI


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