South African President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died on December 5, after a prolonged illness. He was 95. He was born on July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, apartheid-led South Africa, and died in Johannesburg – in a very different South Africa.
The hymn, the rallying song “Nkosi Sikelele i’Afrika,” has been the soundtrack of this week, which has seen days of commemoration for a man who in death has united at least for a poignant moment sworn political rivals who shook hands with their perceived nemesis – for example Pres. Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raoul Castro. The mainstream media had a conniption over that. Obama delivered a speech that encapsulated the defiance, the strength, the courage, the unifying focus and discipline of the man who created a South Africa free of legal apartheid rule. “Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa, ‘Ubuntu,’ a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us,” said Obama to plentiful applause.
“Grateful” was the gospel song ringing through the rafters at a Brooklyn memorial, at Rev. Herbert Daughtry’s House of The Lord Church on Sunday 8th December. The Church, revealed Daughtry, was at the center of the anti-apartheid movement in New York.
So while, revisionists ponder upon which version of their concocted or elaborated Mandela story to spin, genuine- tried and tested anti-apartheid activists who were in the trenches before it was trendy – actually when it was seen as subversive – grieve, reminisce and stratergise how to continue a mission of a free and independent truly African-governed South Africa.
Rev. Daughtry is one such activist who took on the mission of calling for the freedom of Nelson Mandela long before there were slogans, T—shirts and European-penned pop songs.
“There were movements – The National Black United Front which I headed, The All African People’s Revolutionary Party which Kwame Toure headed, Viola Plummer, Omawale Clay, D12 Movement, Mr. Ron Daniels, Councilman Charles Barron, Elombe Brath, and Clemson Brown and many more. and many more,” Daughtry told the AmNews. “One of my concerns is that in these times imposters come to the scene and who have done nothing but claim to have done everything. Even those who are enemies are now Mandela’s greatest supporters. People who criticized us are now claiming to be a part of the anti-apartheid movement. Thus, those who were in the vanguard, those who suffered, beaten, chased through the streets of New York, jailed, boycotted, demonstrated, in a word, made sacrifices, put their lives on the line are forgotten or marginalized.”
Such was the indomitable link between Daugherty’s House of the Lord Church, and his wife Rev. Dr. Karen Daughtry’s Sisters Against South Africa – that their church was the very first port of call when Winnie Mandela came to New York in 1990 – not City Hall, not Yankee Stadium, not even Harlem’s 125th Street. Nelson Mandela’s first stop when he came to New York in 1990 was Boys and Girls High school (which the Department of Education evidently has tried to soothe the blow of introducing a charter school in the Bed Stuy – by naming it for the great Pan African leader). The Mandelas traveling first to the two iconic locations was to pay homage to the people of Central Brooklyn, who forged an unbreakable bond with the embattled people of South Africa who were fighting by any means necessary to free themselves of the yoke of the racist – indeed fascist – Dutch Afrikaner apartheid system of government, where 4 million whites had created such a diabolically wicked system of government where they could take the land from and govern the 22 millions Africans in the region known as South Africa.
Mandela – though born of tribal royalty – was not having none of it. The lawyer-turned courageous guerrilla fighter launched a campaign first through diplomacy and asking and then through the African National Congress and their determined methods of getting the attention of a tin-eared Afrikaner government. And when Mandela was jailed and sentenced to life in the notorious Robben Island, his wife Winnie Mandela took up the cause; faced the abuse, the threats and intimidation of the violent Afrikaner police force – and for 27 years “mobilized the people and immortalized the name of Nelson Mandela,” African Sun Times publisher Chief Chika Onyeani told the Amsterdam News. “People are trying to ignore her contribution, but the African community will not.
“As for me personally, in this outpouring of great tribute to Tata Madiba is the absence of a mention of Winnie, because no matter what happened between the two of them, she was in the forefront for 27 years keeping his name in front of the world media.”
“They persecuted him, they jailed him, they manipulated him, and now those same hypocrites are talking heads about how great he was,” so slammed activist Caleef Cousar, member of Sonny Abubadika’s Committee to honor Black Heroes, “How are his jailers now his biggest cheerleaders? America had him on their terrorist watch list up until 2008. Like Britain, and other European nations – America supported and invested in South Africa. Artists like George Benson, the Commodores and Diana Ross went to Sun City even though South Africans asked them to boycott the place that they were not treated as equals in. Let’s not re-invent the reality.”
Chika Onyeani added, “As the tributes continue to pour in extolling one of the world’s greatest men who ever lived in this world, we as Africans should not forget Tata Madiba Mandela’s greatest gift to Africa: his brand of leadership which refused to allow himself to be corrupted by power and enabled him to stay in office for only four years [1994-1999] and handed power to his deputy. Unfortunately, this is a brand of leadership that too many African leaders are yet to learn, believing that without them their respective countries would not survive, which Mandela demonstrated magnificently is not the case.
“And for the younger Africans, the most important legacy that they should embrace from Tata Madiba Mandela was his uncompromising use of a killer-instinct and devil-may-care attitude to achieve his goals, which said no matter what happened to me, I am going to take my people to that promised land of liberating them from the yokes of apartheid racism. When we understand this, we will understand why he was willing to stay in Robben Island for 27 years in that quest of reaching the goal he had set for himself, no matter whether he died in the process.”
“I am honored to have encountered Nelson Mandela on several occasions,” said Rev. Al Sharpton. “He changed human history and taught activists around the world that in
order to legitimately further what is noble, you must actually be a
noble person. Nelson Mandela personified someone that non-violently
changed the course of world history with the democratization of South
Africa. Everything humanly possible that could be done to someone
other than killing them was done to him, yet he maintained his dignity
and his determination. It is almost unthinkable what he endured and
yet forgave. He taught us that you have to keep your eye on the prize,
and that nothing you suffer is as important as the goals that you are
fighting for. He showed us that you can change the course of human
history without lowering yourself to human depravity.”
Rev. Daughtry recalled that he was part of the “Welcoming Committee, I was at the John F. Kennedy Airport when Nelson and Winnie Mandela, and members of the African National Congress (ANC) landed at the airport. We had been waiting for hours…then, he stepped on the doorway to the plane. He was smiling broadly in his emendable smile. His fist went into the air, and what we used to call the ‘Black Power’ sign. I, along with others, went forward to shake his hand. It was dreamlike. At that point in time, we had been on the forefront for over twenty years of the Free South Africa – Free Mandela Movement. We had organized and participated in countless demonstrations, boycotts, rallies, workshops, and civil disobedience.
In 1986, I led the New York’s civil disobedience and encouraged my whole family – my wife and four children – to go to jail in front of the South African Mission in Manhattan. And now, the man whose name we had called countless times, there I was, in his presence, shaking his hand.”
Acknowledging the likes of former Assemblyman Roger Green at Sunday’s memorial at his church, Daughtry said, “We wanted to bring together some of the people who were part of the anti-apartheid movement. We want to talk about where do we go from here.”
Reminiscing, Daughtry said he, his wife (Rev. Dr. Karen Smith Daughtry), daughters and son were arrested during the time period when “Free Mandela” was the call, and when South Africans were fighting against apartheid. He also commended his wife for helping to lead the Sisters Against South Africa Apartheid organization with Winnie Mandela and other South African women.
“People should acknowledge his wife, Winnie Mandela, for keeping the movement going when Mandela was in prison,” said, Rev. Karen Daughtry.. She spoke of how the Brooklyn women of their church gathered and sent six dumper truck loads of material support to the women of South Africa. Speaking of the determination of the women, she recalled their saying; “Now you have touched the women you have a touched a rock – you have dislodged a boulder – and you will be crushed.”
Rev. Daughtry said that one of his most powerful memories is when he learnt that Mandela started writing South Africa’s constitution while he was in jail, because he knew they all would be free one day.
“He always said, they can take away everything, but I’m not going it give them my heart and mind.” said Daughtry.
Randy Weston delivered a tremendous jazz performance, and low key City Comptroller John Liu was in attendance.
Daughtry spoke of fighters like Joshua Nkomo (who visited the church), Robert Mugabe, and Southern African freedom movements such as ANC, ZAPU, and SWAPO.
Mandela spent 27 years in jail. He refused to bow to the rule of white supremacists who fought their inevitable defeat with everything they had – arms, whips, dogs, and inhumane treatment of a native people. But their spirits were not broken, and Mandela emerged that bright sunny Sunday; hand in hand with Winnie Mandela who kept the movement to free him and kill apartheid alive for the 27 years – six months and six days her husband was locked up in a dingy jail cell. She was the heart, the core, the sole of a force of people who would not surrender to fascist rule in a time when everything about them rejected that condition.
Full disclosure, this reporter was an anti-apartheid activist from the age of 14, attending weekly protests and writing letters to both Mandela, – telling him “Don’t worry, we will bring you home;” and to Barclay’s Bank demanding that they disinvest and remove themselves from apartheid South African; all the while boycotting companies such as Coca Cola, Rowntrees, Cadburys – and still would never ever touch De Beers.
“My mother Adeline will be up there with the people she loves; Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Nelson Mandela,” said England-based activist Lorna Downer, as she fought to hold back tears, just moments after the announcement of Madiba’s passing. She along with this reporter threw an impromptu celebration party for the Manchester community on February 11, 1990, when Mandela was released from prison and walked out to a crowd of 2000 cheering, ecstatic well-wishers. “I am lost for words.” Downer said. “My phone’s been ringing off the hook, but I wanted to call you at the Amsterdam News. Power FM over here has just interrupted their programming to pay tribute to Madiba and take phone calls from the people. Everyone is crying because he suffered so much and achieved so much.”
Certainly, from Fidel Castro to Yasser Arafat to Moammar Ghadafi – Mandela built strategic relationships world wide in a righteous struggle to free his nation from the rusty chains of apartheid. He achieved it. He became president, and while the conversations will go on about how he shook the bloody hands of former president F,W. De Klerk (receiving the Nobel Peace Prize with him), ultimately left Winnie to the whims of the baying Afrikaners; and fought for reconciliation and not consequences and repercussions – his surviving the wretched system of apartheid, and giving his people hope – and the world a beacon – has made a global symbol of African greatness.