Surviving the Apartheid Nightmare and Overcoming its Legacy
Surviving the Apartheid Nightmare and Overcoming its Legacy is a memoir whose ultimate objective is to trace in forthright terms the trying and painful odyssey of the author before, during and even after Apartheid. It is a uniquely personal story about the long nightmare of the trials and tribulations of white supremacy/Apartheid that marked the life of the writer from infancy through the teenage stage to adulthood.
Ref. No. 130106me
Length 160,500 words
From The Book
SURVIVING THE APARTHEID NIGHTMARE
And OVERCOMING ITS LEGACY!
Dr. Thomas K. Ranuga
Chancellor Professor Emeritus,
I am writing to introduce my manuscript for a book to be entitled “SURVIVING THE APARTHEID NIGHTMARE and OVERCOMING ITS LEGACY a memoir” which I hope you will find interesting, informative and suitable for publication.
I am a retired Chancellor Professor Emeritus – since December 2008, after teaching Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth for twenty six years, specializing in Third World Development and Comparative Ethnic Relations. In the course of my retirement, I turned my full attention to the writing of my memoir, which is now complete and ready for submission.
I was compelled to leave South Africa for England in 1972 as a result of my opposition to Apartheid. At the time, I was pursuing a Pharmacy degree at the segregated University of the North, South Africa. The story of how I was compelled abruptly to abandon my studies, because of my uncompromising stand, and my subsequent dramatic departure from my country of birth, is fully related in my memoir.
My work is a narration of my involvement in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and abroad, and the trajectory taken by my life to overcome personal and institutional racism, within the context of the larger national and international opposition to racial domination. Through a combination of fortuitous circumstances, as well as intended and unintended actions on my part, I was able eventually to rise up from the long nightmare of brutal racial oppression that was called Apartheid.
The whole point about my memoir is that the world needs to be aware of the many untold stories relating to the microscopic trials and tribulations caused by racist oppression/apartheid and the heavy toll it has taken on individuals who were determined to advance the cause of liberation at the macroscopic national level. My odyssey is representative of the many unrecognized, forgotten and challenging life experiences in apartheid South Africa, that are typical of the struggle for equity and justice.
It is my sincere hope that you will express interest in my memoir and ultimately decide favorably for its publication. I would be delighted and greatly honored by your acceptance. Should you find my proposal to be of great interest, please let me know at your earliest convenience when to submit the whole typescript for further examination.
Surviving the Apartheid Nightmare and Overcoming Its Legacy is a memoir whose ultimate objective is to trace in forthright terms the trying and painful odyssey of the author before, during and even after Apartheid. It is a uniquely personal story about the long nightmare of the trials and tribulations of white supremacy/Apartheid that marked the life of the writer from infancy through the teenage stage to adulthood.
The focus of the narration is at the microscopic level in order to delineate and pinpoint the inhumanity of Apartheid at a deeper personal level, without simultaneously losing sight of the important and larger macroscopic dimension within which the unfolding personal drama is contextualized.
It is the ultimate aim of this memoir to highlight the untold destruction the racist system has caused at a personal level and to state categorically that the fight to destroy Apartheid took many forms that must be viewed and appreciated in a way that takes into account, not only collective, but also individual contributions and sacrifices.
The appeal of Surviving the Apartheid Nightmare and Overcoming Its Legacy is ultimately to young people worldwide who seem to be oblivious of the great price paid for their freedom.
The memoir is very timely and highlights pressing matters at the present juncture in the history of the new South Africa. Prominent among a number of crucial issues that are addressed and need urgent attention are:
1. The case for economic justice: The widening gap between the rich and the poor must be openly and urgently addressed. The new ruling class seems to be avoiding confronting persistent problems relating to structural inequality, arguably for reasons of maintaining political correctness.
2. The dire need to educate the young generation: The youth must be informed about the true state of current affairs relating to post-apartheid South Africa and what needs to be done to build a truly democratic society. The future belongs to the young who must be truthfully educated about the legacy of Apartheid, if the country has to avoid the tragic mistakes of the past.
3. The fight for true racial equality: The simmering and potentially explosive racial divide has actually been subjected to a band-aid solution to maintain what amounts to be a semblance of racial harmony. To start the healing process in earnest, the truth about the evil past and lingering vestiges of Apartheid must be categorically reiterated. South Africans must accept the truism that those who are not prepared to learn from the sordid history of racism are in serious danger of repeating it!
The memoir consists of a series of interrelated true-life events that highlight the human drama unfolding in the inferno of the racist apartheid system and is written in a way that should keep the reader’s interest on fire from beginning to end. The narrated events are consistently related to the evil impact of Apartheid and carry a powerful suspense that impels the reader to want to know more.
The areas covered in detail, to highlight the demeaning and dehumanizing impact of the racist political system on the writer, fall under three major parts: (a) the traumatic experiences during early childhood and teens; (b) political activities away from home in the course of pursuing secondary and tertiary education in South Africa and, (c) the challenging life away from South Africa – in England and the United States.
The personal story is not just about the inhumanity of apartheid but how the struggle to overcome racial oppression was ultimately a collective effort that involved many acts of courage on the part of many people ranging from family, friends, activists, members of organizations and institutions, in and outside of South Africa.
Table of Contents
Part I Early Years (1938 -1955)
1. Childhood and Teens:
The first chapter starts with a background description of my childhood and teen years and the important role played by my parents in my upbringing and how they struggled against racial oppression in the process of making a living.
2. Elementary Education
The focus of this chapter is on the segregated elementary schools I attended and how the teachers taught us what was required to pass national exams and, most importantly, what we needed to know to fight and undermine the racist Apartheid system.
3. Life in the Township
This is a narration about the ongoing struggles in the segregated and poor townships and the degrading treatment I received at the hands of whites in the neighbouring white town of Brits. My sudden and dramatic conversion to Catholicism features in this chapter.
Part II Away From Home (1956 – 1972)
4. A Calling to Religious Life
This a description of life at the Minor and Major Seminaries where the missionaries from Canada and England had a major impact on my life in terms of treating me as a human being and inculcating ideas and values that fortified my opposition to Apartheid.
5. Turning to Secular Education
This is a narration of the uphill struggle to start a professional career, after leaving religious life, and experiencing one racial road block after another in my efforts to become a Pharmacist. The pharmacy profession had just been made available to blacks and offered to them in only one segregated institution – the University of the North.
6. Taking a Defiant Stand
This is an account of the ideological and political turning point in my life at the segregated University of the North, where I was strongly influenced by the Black Consciousness Movement and the ideas of Steve Biko. This is where I participated in a major students’ strike that would ultimately lead to my expulsion from the university, thus irrevocably ending my quest for a professional career in South Africa.
7. In Limbo
This chapter deals with my wonderings after my expulsion from the university and efforts to hide from the notorious and ubiquitous South African police called the Special Branch. All those who came to my rescue at this critical juncture and made it possible for me to leave the country for England, where I resumed my studies, are fully covered in this chapter and duly recognized.
Part III The Away From South Africa (1972…)
8. In London:
This is the story of my student life at Corpus Christi College, which was simply used as a necessary cover and legitimate starting point in my successful application for a South African passport. My short stay at the college was soon followed by my admission to the Polytechnic of North London, where I resumed my further education, now in Sociology. It was in London that I met a total stranger, a tourist from Canada, who was moved by my plight and helped me financially to fly back to South Africa for my wedding. My relationship with Drew Mara was one of the most important encounters of my life and features prominently in this chapter.
9. A Risky Trip
This is a description of how flying back to South Africa for the wedding was a very risky undertaking and how I did everything possible to avoid the Special Branch police who might have known about my ant-Apartheid activities in London and would have been more than eager to confiscate my passport and lock me up.
10. A Hard Transition:
This chapter deals with my trials and tribulations in London as I was struggling to get funding for my further education and trying hard to make ends meet, as a married student and anti-apartheid activist.
11. In the United States;
This chapter describes my first impressions of the country and my life at Brandeis University as a graduate student, and my interactions with professors there who imparted radical ideas that reinforced my fight against Apartheid. Steve Biko died just after I had started my studies in the fall and the impact of his death on me is accordingly painfully related.
12. International Campaign against Apartheid
The chapter focuses on my efforts as a Catholic to enlist the support of the Catholic Church in the US to further the cause of disinvestment and how those efforts were fruitless because they were clandestinely undermined by the Catholic hierarchy in South Africa! My role in the Divestment Movement and its impact on raising political awareness in the US against Apartheid is fully covered in this chapter.
13. The Black Consciousness Movement Abroad.
This is a report about the role played by the Black Consciousness Movement in educating the American public about Apartheid and the outcome of its conference in London, which I attended as a delegate from the US, and where I coined the new name “Black Consciousness Movement of Azania.”
14. Mandela’s Release and Reaction
The chapter focuses on the historic day when Mandela walked out of jail and the global reaction to his release. His speech is being analyzed and subjected to an in-depth critique, particularly for its ideological proclivity and bias. It was primarily what was left out in the speech that caught my attention and compelled me to mount a radical critique of that discrepancy. That undertaking was extremely challenging, given the fact that I was actually exposing a serious ideological weakness of the national symbol of resistance and an international icon!
15. Change and Challenges
My sabbatical leave at the University of the North in 1995, to conduct research on the current views of university students relating to post-apartheid South Africa, enabled me to discover potential problems relating particularly to the new amalgamated national anthem and the elevation of the indigenous African languages to the status of official languages. The compromise of the black leaders is subjected to a rigorous analysis and critique. At this time, in the early part of my sabbatical visit, students also posed a challenge to the University leadership and it had to take the personal intervention of Mr. Mandela to stabilize the situation. In the course of that visit, it was interesting to observe how Mandela’s body guards were exclusively members of the former ruling class! This chapter points at future challenges generated by the drastic changes in the new South Africa, where the gap between the rich and poor is as wide as ever, and even getting worse!
16. The Struggle Continues
This is an account of the corresponding struggle by black students in the US for inclusion in academia, and the role I played in that ongoing fight. Once again, I was involved in a familiar struggle against racial exclusion! It also describes a landmark visit I had made to South Africa and my final comments and observations on the new South Africa in the course of my short stay there. The chapter ends with a farewell narration on the death of a revolutionary South African friend in the US who was a fellow comrade of mine in the struggle against Apartheid from abroad.
The length of the manuscript, including pictures, a bibliography and appendices, is 370 pages.
Readers and Marketing:
This manuscript deals with the nightmare of apartheid, a subject matter which should be of universal interest to a wide range of readers, particularly in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, and Anglophone Africa, especially South Africa. These are English-speaking countries that have diverse populations and must therefore be constantly sensitized to inherent problems arising from the juxtaposition of different multiracial and multiethnic groups.
Academics, especially students of race and ethnic relations at both undergraduate and graduate levels, can use the memoir as an enlightening and resourceful reading focusing on race relations.
General readers in Africa, particularly South Africans where story-telling is so deeply ingrained in the culture, would find the interrelated stories comprising the memoir very interesting and fascinating to read.
To expose the book effectively and make it more marketable I intend to make a number of book promotion presentations at signing-up events, in collaboration with participating bookstores and public libraries.
In South Africa I would organize book-signing events in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town where I was successful in promoting my first book, The New South Africa and the Socialist Vision: Positions and Perspectives toward a Post-Apartheid Society (Humanities Press 1996).
In terms of necessary scholarly evaluations and further publicity, I would recommend submission of book reviews to any of the internationally recognized journals, some of which are listed below for special consideration:
American Journal of Sociology; Emerald: International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy; Canadian Journal of Sociology; British Journal of Sociology; Qualitative Sociology; Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies; Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies; Educational Review: a journal of book reviews; Phylon: The Atlanta University review of race and culture; African Studies.
I am very interested in playing an active role in the promotion of my memoir. I think it has an important, universal, and timely message, especially for young people throughout the world, who must be constantly reminded NEVER to forget the lessons of the past and the price paid by many people for the freedom they enjoy today!
Chapter 6 (Excerpt)
Taking a Defiant Stand
University of the North (1970-1972)
The degree in Pharmacy was offered for blacks only at the all-black University of the North, at Turfloop, in the Northern Transvaal. Before it was introduced for blacks, the Pharmacy degree was open only to whites. When I enrolled as a Pharmacy student in 1970, there was only one black that had already qualified as a Pharmacist. He was employed as a lecturer in the Pharmacy Department. The rest of the lecturers were white.
Black lecturers or professors were a rarity throughout the university. Even though the University of the North was supposed to be an all-black segregated institution, the overwhelming majority of faculty members were white. As whites, they received very good salaries. The irony is that they made a good living by teaching in an all-black university! The general belief among blacks was that they also had the extra agenda of maintaining the status quo of white dominance. My experience as a student in the Department of Pharmacy confirmed that general belief:
The relationship between students and teachers was business-like, if not somewhat distant and cold. We were in the classroom or laboratory to learn and they were there to impart their professional knowledge. They also reflected very superior and condescending attitudes!
The white faculty members were the lords of all they surveyed! They were the protectors of the realm, and could not care less what students thought about them. If anything, they had the power to make students dance to their music:
At the commencement of April 29, 1972, a graduating student of the senior class, A.O.R Tiro, delivered a scathing graduation address on behalf of his fellow graduates. He used the opportunity to castigate apartheid in general and the educational system in particular and stated his vision for the liberation of black people. He particularly took issue with the fact that education in South Africa, as compared to the United States, was stratified along racial lines. He attacked the whole concept of white supremacy, the ideological bedrock of the apartheid system!
The sitting arrangements in the hall also came under attack by A.O.R Tiro. He pointed out that graduation was a special day for the graduating students, and yet many parents of those students, who had come a long way to watch their children receive their diplomas, were actually locked outside and could not even get into the hall! Instead, the hall was packed with the white professors’ relatives and other white visitors, and front seats given to white people who could not be bothered to cheer the graduating black students. The black parents were standing outside the hall, peeping in to get a glimpse of the ceremony!
The valedictorian in essence exposed the glaring irony of the whole setup: black students were still denied the joy of being with their parents, even on their special day, in what was supposed to be their own segregated place!
The white faculty members were stung by the unflattering and blistering speech delivered in the presence of their families and invited guests! Some of them could simply not withstand the criticism and stormed out of the hall, in a fit of rage! One of the fulminating individuals was the professor of chemistry who had once ordered me, when I had accidentally spilled an experimental material on the floor, to use my lab coat to clean up the mess. He strutted out of the building, like an ostrich! He appeared to be decidedly on the warpath!
A.O.R. Tiro had undoubtedly stirred up a hornets’ nest, and it was anybody’s guess how the authorities were going to react!
Pharmacy students did not have to wait long for that reaction! The head of the Pharmacy Department was the first to take punitive measures against students, with a vengeance! Although he had no way of making the general student body pay the price for the unsparing attack by A.O.R. Tiro, he was in control of the Pharmacy Department. He wasted no time in using his power to the fullest extent possible:
The week following commencement, the vindictive departmental head used the first class he had with us solely for the purpose of browbeating us and spelling out, in blatantly authoritarian terms, what we needed to do to redeem ourselves! He was dressed like he was going to play a tennis match, in tight shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. He appeared very agitated and moved back and forth, from one side of the classroom to the other. We quickly surmised that we were actually going to be the human tennis balls!
After venting his anger on us about the speech delivered at commencement by A.O.R. Tiro, he stated that, as head of the department, he held the keys to our future, as pharmacists! He bellowed that, as far as he was concerned, we could jump sky high, hit the ground in pain, and roll over in dust or ashes, begging for mercy! But, if he was not willing to confer the degree, we would not get it and the case would be closed! He made it crystal clear that he was the implacable gatekeeper and, therefore, the successful outcome of our studies as Pharmacy students depended solely on his goodwill and final approval!
We watched the dramatic flaunting of authority in utter disbelief! We listened to the unnerving threats in stony silence! Whatever he made out of our frosty attitude, he did not seem to like it at all!
He escalated the showdown:
“Don’t look at me like that! Are you not going to say anything at all?”
The truth of the matter was that there was nothing we could have said or done to exonerate ourselves. He knew that we had not delivered the speech, even though he must have suspected, and rightly so, that we were proud and probably jubilant about it all! He had obviously made up his mind that he was going to use us as sacrificial lambs or guinea pigs! Of course he would have been very delighted and vindicated, if we had fallen on our knees and begged for clemency. But nobody made a move! And when he wanted to know why we were not talking, as if we were mortally afraid of him or petrified to a point of immobility, I decided I had had enough of his bombast and spoke out:
“But, Sir, with all due respect, what do you expect us to say. You made it clear that you are the ultimate authority in this department and we are just students.”
It seemed my response took him by surprise. He simmered down a little, and then proceeded to spell out what he expected from us, by way of reparations! Apparently, we had to show him that we were docile and repentant students, who would do practically anything he ordered, if we really wanted to be Pharmacists.
He had a solid plan, which was clearly intended to make us willing and submissive servants of the apartheid system:
The 31st of May was a public holiday in South Africa, called Republic Day. On that national holiday, the Afrikaners celebrated the official establishment of the Dutch-dominated Republic of South Africa, when they finally severed their relations with the British, by breaking away from the British Commonwealth in 1961. Naturally, blacks were not in the least interested in celebrating what was symbolic of the triumph of Afrikanerdom. But that was exactly what the head of the Pharmacy Department wanted his black students to do:
He stated his desire in uncompromising terms! His plan was to get us into a bus, which would transport us to the all-white University of Potchefstroom, in the Western Transvaal, where he wanted us to join the parade of white students, in their celebration of Republic Day! He made it abundantly clear that we had no choice but to comply with his injunction. He left no doubt that he expected us to be ready for the trip on the 31st of May.
The departmental head clearly wanted to teach us a lesson about the reality of power relations in South Africa! If we were serious about being Pharmacists, then we had better know how to demonstrate our submission to Afrikaner dominance, by celebrating Republic Day! We, who so much detested the apartheid system and all it stood for, were expected to tuck in our tails, and march in celebration of white political power!
I thought to myself, in that case to hell with the Pharmacy degree! And, as far as going to Potchefstroom to march: Over my dead body!
At lab time, that same day, we held an impromptu meeting to discuss the ultimatum from the head of the department. To my greatest surprise, there were some students, led by two individuals from the Eastern Cape Province, who wanted to conform and abide by the injunction! They argued that, if we really wanted to get a Pharmacy degree we had no alternative but to comply and go to the University of Potchefstroom for the celebrations. I countered forcefully, along with a young fellow student, called Joe, that if we took that path, we would actually be isolating ourselves from the general student body. We would be viewed by other students as supporters of the status quo and accordingly denounced as collaborationists!
I conferred with my fellow classmate, Joe, about the next move to make, in view of the fact that the majority of the Pharmacy students were prepared to yield, rather sheepishly, to intimidation and blackmail!
We decided to bypass our fellow classmates, and meet directly with the president of the Student Representative Council (SRC), to explore ways of how best to derail the plans of the head of the Pharmacy Department:
We had a very productive meeting with the president of the SRC. He advised us not to engage our fellow classmates in any further discussions about the intended visit to Potchefstroom. If we did, there was a high likelihood that the collaborators would inform the head of the department about our opposition.
The president also stated that he would not take up the matter with the head of the department, because that would alert him to the fact that his students had reported him to the SRC. For our part, all we had to do was simply to wait until the intended day of departure for the University of Potchefstroom.
At that point the SRC would step in and stop the students from boarding the bus, on the grounds that the segregated university of the North has no relationship with the University of Potchefstroom! The Student Representative Council of that university had in fact never been in contact with its counterpart at the University of the North, in accordance with apartheid laws! The presence of blacks from a segregated university would be a mockery and could only serve the purpose of reinforcing white supremacy!
Joe and I left the secret meeting with the president of the SRC, satisfied that our preemptive action would prove to be productive and successful. We were certain that the envisaged degrading trip to Potchefstroom was doomed to fail, and that the vengeful head of the department and ardent supporter of apartheid would be denied a symbolic victory!
The Students’ Strike (1972)
My fellow classmate, Joe, and I were never privileged to witness the inevitable confrontation between the leaders of the student body and head of the department of Pharmacy, because the carefully worked-out strategy with the president of the SRC never came to fruition!
The plan to torpedo the forced visit to Potchefstroom was overtaken by the brazen and provocative measure taken by the university authorities against A.O.R. Tiro! He had delivered his blistering graduation speech April 29, 1972. May 3rd the university authorities took drastic action by expelling him! That expulsion touched off an angry reaction from the students, who immediately went on strike, by boycotting lectures. They were solidly behind Tiro, who also occupied a special place as their distinguished leader:
The information circulating around campus was that Tiro had been whisked away by the Special Branch, the notorious law enforcement agents! The head of the university, the vice chancellor, had ordered his expulsion, in retaliation for the outspoken speech he had delivered at the commencement ceremony.
The reaction of students to the expulsion was swift, militant and systematic! Mass meetings were organized and speeches given by student leaders, instead of attending classes. The students were in full support of Tiro’s graduation speech, and accordingly resolved to fight for his reinstatement. They made it clear to the authorities that the termination of the boycott of classes was predicated on the immediate and unconditional return of A.O.R. Tiro!
The university authorities responded in a typical ruthless way, by closing the dining hall! They probably thought that starving students to submission would be an invincible strategy: The university was located in a rural and isolated area, about twenty miles from the nearest town of Pietersburg. Getting food from that distance to feed the whole student population was not going to be an easy undertaking for the students. The unavailability of food, therefore, became a major problem for the striking students!
The students had to be creative in dealing with the scarcity of food:
A general appeal was, therefore, made to all the students who had any money, to make generous contributions to a common fund to buy food. Only basic food would be ordered: Just bread and soda to keep body and soul together!
As militant students, who were involved in a bitter struggle with the Administration to reinstate Tiro, we would not let lack of food be our Achilles’ heel! We were determined to stay the course, and not succumb to administrative pressure!
We held a rally and marched to the vice chancellor’s office, to present our petition for the reinstatement of A.O.R. Tiro. The march was orderly and dignified. We stood at the office entrance and solemnly sang “Our Father Who Art in Heaven”, after submitting the protest note. As we ended our prayerful hymn with “Amen”, the vice chancellor menacingly burst out of his office and responded with a resounding “No!”
The contrast between the prayerful, sacred “Amen” and the booming, bellicose “No!” was jarring, and profoundly irreverent in its impact! Having delivered his cold and pompous response to our petition, he turned back to his office. The lines of further confrontation were therefore dramatically and firmly drawn!
The authorities mobilized visible superior power! We were informed that a temporary camp was set up for soldiers about three miles away. Nobody knew what their orders were. There was no communication between the Administration and the student body. Just increasing pressure to break our collective will.
At one time, as we were gathered in the hall, armored vehicles surrounded the building. Tanks came perilously close to the building. We were afraid they were going to open fire and blow us to pieces! We huddled up in the hall and listened to the movement of the tanks. The exhortations of student leaders, not to panic, competed with the noise of clanking military gear outside! It was a very tense and nerve-wrecking standoff!
When the Administration realized that our morale was not in the least affected by the lack of food and show of military force, more drastic measures were then employed. The water supply system was completely shut off! There was no water for drinking and no water for washing! And, when nature made its inevitable call, people continued to use the bathrooms anyway. The whole place started smelling to high heavens, and the breakup of diseases became an imminent reality! We were, however, determined to continue with the strike, despite the relentless pressures!
The exhortative appeals by student leaders, the SRC, became more militant and uncompromising! We were called upon to die together, if it came to that point! In the hall where we had gathered, somebody stood up and led us in fervent prayer!
The vice chancellor took further drastic measures! He closed down the university! All students were ordered to leave the university premises forthwith! It was announced that the reopening would take place a month later, and that all students would be required to reapply for readmission. The process of weeding out undesirable elements had begun in earnest!
Chapter 14 (Excerpt)
Mandela’s Release and Reaction
The Historic Day!
The international campaign against the apartheid system escalated in many countries! In the case of the Divestment Movement in the US the major focus was on economic sanctions. Therefore, the highly publicized action of the state of Massachusetts to divest was a major advance in that direction and highlighted the fact that ultimate victory was around the corner and just a matter of time!
It never occurred to me, as I continued in my teaching as a professor of Sociology in a public institution of the state that had made me so proud of its stand, that our hopes for a free South Africa were soon to be realized, when the internationally acclaimed leader of the South African liberation struggle, Nelson Mandela, at long last walked out of prison – a free man!
The historic release of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela February 11, 1990, from Victor Verster Prison, after serving 27 years behind bars, was received throughout the world with great excitement and genuine celebrations! It was a momentous event that the oppressed black people of South Africa had been awaiting for a long time:
South Africans from all walks of life and social backgrounds came out in their thousands to extend their jubilant welcome to a colossus of a man who had become their national icon, and symbol of resistance against white domination and racial oppression!
Mandela’s final walk to freedom was televised internationally, and watched by millions of viewers in many countries, including Australia, England, Japan and the United States:
The climactic march of the international icon was truly an historic moment like none other in the long struggle for freedom and justice in white-dominated South Africa!
The introductory evocation, intoned by Mandela in his first public address from Cape Town’s City Hall, was in Xhosa, his African language! It was the well-known battle cry of the struggling black people of South Africa for freedom: Amandla! (Power!).
As the free man exclaimed: Amandla!, the masses thunderously responded: Ngawethu! (It is ours!). Mandela again called out: Amandla! And the throng enthusiastically answered: Ngawethu!
He continued: i-Afrika! (Africa!). The crowd responded in unison: Mayibuye! (Let it come back!). The hero reiterated the Mayibuye! The crowd punctuated the enthusiastic exchange with a powerful chant of i-Afrika!
The stage was thus set for the delivery of Mandela’s speech to a very ecstatic and receptive audience! The historic address was watched by millions of people around the globe. And what the viewers were actually watching and listening to, was a man who was not only a national hero in South Africa, but also a freedom fighter and an international symbol of freedom and justice for oppressed people throughout the world!
As a South African living in the Diaspora, in the US, and one of the victims of the apartheid regime, I was intently glued to my TV set, albeit being thousands of miles away from the theatre of action in my country of birth. I might have been physically isolated, but I was actually emotionally and spiritually connected! I tried as best I could to be part of the welcoming crowd and savor the historic moment! The whole occasion was a deeply moving experience for me!
There was no question that the long incarceration had taken its physical toll on the most famous political prisoner in the world, but he still stood tall, dignified and resolute in his attitude and mien! Prison life may have been physically damaging, but it had obviously not succeeded to break his fighting spirit! That was a source of tremendous pride for me!
The speech Mandela delivered was hard-hitting and powerful! He made it abundantly clear that the struggle against the apartheid regime had to continue relentlessly, until a “democratic, nonracial and unitary South Africa” was established. He appealed to all anti-apartheid forces to escalate the fight against the oppressive government: “Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts.” That call for sustained action also included the armed struggle because, as he defiantly pointed out, “factors which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today.”
Mr. Mandela emphasized the paramount need for democratic practice and universal suffrage. He called upon white South Africans to “join us in the shaping of a new South Africa” and appealed to the international community to “continue the campaign to isolate the apartheid regime.” He forthrightly and effectively covered all the major points, relating to the intensification of the struggle against white supremacy. It was by all counts a superb and riveting presentation! But at the end of it all, I had to struggle with an increasingly disturbing and numbing sense of depression and disappointment, caused by certain parts of the speech:
The whole occasion relating to Mandela’s long awaited release was profoundly moving, but I was struggling with an unsettling and melancholic feeling, relating specifically to a jarring note in his address, stemming from the part focusing on salutations. For some reason, when he made mention of some freedom fighters, who had given up their lives for our liberation, I naturally expected the name of Steve Biko to be recognized as well, even though he did not belong to the African National Congress, or its ally, the South African Communist Party. It was certainly right and proper for Mr. Mandela to make special mention of ANC cadres and eulogize them in these commendable words:
“I salute combatants of Umkhonto We Sizwe [Spear of the Nation], like Solomon Malhangu and Ashley Kriel, who have paid the ultimate price for the freedom of all South Africans.”
It was indeed highly praiseworthy and necessary that the courageous and outstanding individuals, who had fought apartheid to the bitter end, be remembered in a very special way, for giving up their lives for the cause of liberation! The oppressed people of South Africa indeed owed these brave stalwarts tons of gratitude!
The same gratitude, however, was unquestionably also owed to Steve Biko, who was an outstanding national and international freedom fighter! The man was of course not a combatant as such, but he was a very brave leader, who had also paid the ultimate price when he was killed by the apartheid regime in a way that utterly shocked and outraged the country and the whole civilized world! He could have been cited in the same breath, or related context of the salutations, but that unfortunately did not happen!
I, therefore, simply could not fathom how such a prominent national leader like Steve Biko, who was so brutally murdered by apartheid agents, and whose death had generated such national outcry and international outrage, could not be mentioned alongside the other exemplary models of courage and supreme sacrifice!
I was fully aware that the ANC and the Black Consciousness Movement were ideologically in different camps, and even at loggerheads! But, when the ANC went underground and was in exile, the BCM filled up the political vacuum as a movement that was still able to operate defiantly aboveground. It was an autonomous movement, which followed a black political philosophy that the multiracial ANC did not particularly like!
The leadership of the ANC, therefore, viewed the BCM, not as an ally, but a rival movement that could undermine its hegemony and which had to be neutralized! The BCM members were being physically attacked and hunted down by ANC supporters, before and even after the release of Mr. Mandela, to the extent that some had to go into hiding for fear of losing their lives! However, I had mistakenly believed and entertained the hope that, at such a great national moment pertaining to Mandela’s release, magnanimity in victory, and solidarity in struggle, would ultimately prevail and triumph over tendencies of sectarian politics! The fact that Steve Biko was not even mentioned in passing, proved me absolutely wrong!
In his continuing salutations, Mandela proceeded to acknowledge the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), without even making a fleeting reference to the new South African Students Organization (SASO), a black students organization that Steve Biko had established, after successfully engineering the breakaway from the old white-dominated organization. Mandela was effusive in his praises of both the Black Sash, an organization of white liberal women, and NUSAS, the white-controlled national students’ organization:
“I also salute the Black Sash and the National Union of South African Students. We note with pride that you have acted as the conscience of white South Africans. Even during the darkest days in the history of our struggle, you held the flag of liberty high. The large-scale mobilization of the past few years is one of the key factors which led to the opening of the final chapter of our struggle.”
It was precisely at that point of the speech that, as a product of SASO and the BCM, I felt a deep sense of alienation, exclusion and marginalization! It struck me poignantly that Mr. Mandela, the national icon, was actually not going to go out of his way to embrace members of the Black Consciousness Movement, to put it mildly:
It was a well known fact in South Africa that SASO came into being in 1968, when Steve Biko and other black university students, broke away from the white-dominated NUSAS, to establish their own black organization. They took that drastic action to protest against their subordinate status in the white-controlled national body, and ultimately wanted to be in a better position to pursue their militant stance, which they felt was being blunted by their white liberal counterparts. That marked the beginning of the ideology of Black Consciousness, similar to that of the Black Power movement that had come into existence earlier in the United States. The South African version of the Black Power ideology had an immediate and revolutionary impact on young militants:
The philosophy of Black Consciousness, which was propagated mainly by black university students, quickly found fertile ground in the restless minds of the youths of black townships. It was indeed a powerful idea whose time had come, and the young militants wasted no time in putting it into practice, in the historic Soweto students uprising of 1976! That uprising marked a critical juncture in the struggle for liberation because, from that point onwards, the country became ungovernable and the stage was finally set for the eventual demise of the apartheid regime!
Therefore, if ever there was a group that should have been specially recognized by Mr. Mandela in his salutations, it was SASO, which established the philosophical basis and ideological milieu for the Soweto Uprising. It was that historic rebellion which had actually merited to be categorized as a “large-scale mobilization” and “one of the key factors which led to the opening of the final chapter of our struggle” – to use Mandela’s well chosen but misdirected words of praise!
It must be pointed out that, in all fairness to Mr. Mandela, his speech had to toe the ideological line of his organization, and ultimately reflect the ANC’s political position in every respect. He may have been the most famous political prisoner in the world, and the undisputed symbol of resistance against the tyranny of apartheid, but he was not the leader of the ANC at the time of his release from imprisonment. The leader of the organization was Oliver Tambo, the president of the ANC. Mandela duly saluted him for “leading the A.N.C. even under the most difficult of circumstances.”
The primacy of the organization was acknowledged and underlined in the speech, when Mr. Mandela pointed out that he was “a loyal and disciplined member of the African National Congress”, and that, therefore, he was “in full agreement with all of its objectives, strategies and tactics.”
In the final analysis, the ideological basis of the speech and its political thrust could not, contextually and realistically, be separated from the organizational imperatives of the ANC. Therefore, however unhappy I might have felt about the fact that entities of the Black Consciousness Movement featured nowhere in his address, I could simply not isolate him personally for special criticism, because his views had to reflect the official line of his organization. And, being the first and conceivably the most important and defining presentation after his release from prison, the writing of the speech had to involve a number of minds and take a carefully crafted organizational approach to achieve the desired product: Mandela’s speech had to be the ANC‘s speech!
About The Author
Thomas Ranuga was born in South Africa in 1938 where he matriculated. He was compelled to leave the country in 1972 as a result of his opposition to Apartheid. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology at Brandeis University 1982 and retired as Chancellor Professor Emeritus in 2008 at Umass Dartmouth.
Copyright 2013 – 2014, Thomas Ranuga