Memorializing Madiba, ‘the one who stirs up dust’

Professor Roger Green | 12/13/2013, 10:55 a.m.

As articulated on Saturday at the memorial service held at the Rev. Herbert Daughtry’s House of the Lord Church, Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and eventual election as president of a government ruled by a nonracial constitution represented a penultimate victory for activists in my generation who had forged long and personal ties to the struggle for liberation in southern Africa, including Namibia, Zimbabwe and Guinea-Bissau.

From 1971-1973, I served as the midwestern coordinator for the African Liberation Coordinating Committee. This was a coalition of anti-apartheid activists primarily comprised of college students throughout the nation. Each spring, we would mobilize a march to end apartheid, colonialism and neocolonialism at the U.S. Capitol and at the White House. Cleveland Sellers and Howard Fuller (Owusu Sadauki) were the leaders and guiding spirits of this  movement. The late Jitu Weusi and Adeyemi Bandele and Elombe Brath were the local leaders who supported this movement. Randall Robinson, founder of TransAfrica, provided a public policy expression on behalf of this movement.

Upon being elected to the New York State Assembly in 1981, I joined forces with Assemblyman Albert Vann to co-author the New York State Divestiture Legislation. This bill sought to prohibit New York state government from doing business with any corporation that contracted with the apartheid regime. The legislation would eventually serve as a rallying point for the local movement.

The late labor leaders Cleveland Robinson and Jim Bell and the activist artist Harry Belafonte provided invaluable support for this legislation.

Although we allies in the movement employed diverse strategies, we were very conscience of the fact that Mandela and the liberation forces in South Africa were “freedom fighters” and involved in a struggle for liberation that necessitated an armed defense of their right to human dignity and life itself.

We were aware that the Sharpeville massacre and the Soweto uprising were titular examples of the violent and fascistic oppression that the apartheid regime had directed at the Black African majority. We were aware of the fact that more than 2,000 South African youth were being slaughtered every year as a result of this brutal reign.

Given this reality, we wholeheartedly supported and endorsed the liberation movement’s right to armed resistance and self-defense in pursuit of a nonracist South Africa.

In this spirit, we applauded the sacrifices of Joe Slovo and Chris Haney, who served as the leaders of the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC).

As a professor at Medgar Evers College, I am deeply disturbed by the revisionist interpretation of Mandela and the ANC leadership’s strategies and tactics. Our children should be taught a history that is consistent with the truth. We should not engage in an interpretation of history the appeases the conscience of the “power elite” or the fantasies of U.S. corporate media.

Mandela and the leadership of the ANC were revolutionaries who consistently calculated which tools they should use as they sought to secure democratic governance. When Mandela was released from Robben Island, the ANC was actively promoting armed resistance to the apartheid regime. However, he was aware of the fact that his movement was gaining the upper hand because of the growing international isolation of the apartheid regime.