Harry Belafonte (GIN photo)

(GIN) — Yusuf Bangura will always remember the legendary calypso singer, actor, and social activist Harry Belafonte for “bringing happiness and hope to many people around the world.”

Although many Americans know of Belafonte’s activism to end apartheid in South Africa, the whole story of his no-holds-barred diplomacy is still to be told. 

Kenyan independence hero Tom Mboya first met American stars Harry Belafonte, Jackie Robinson, and Sidney Poitier when he was coordinating an airlift of 81 Kenyan students to the United States. That was the beginning of a warm friendship between Belafonte and Mboya. With funds from an “African Freedom Dinner” and the help of Martin Luther King Jr. and other African sympathizers, Mboya was able to raise enough money to fund the airlift.

Belafonte made his first visit to Kenya in 1963, in time for Kenya’s Uhuru celebrations, along with the great South African singer Miriam Makeba. The two won a Grammy in 1964 for the concert record “An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba.”

As a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF for 36 years, Belafonte’s dedication and generosity of spirit helped set a high standard for the role. He met with world leaders to secure support for the issues that affected children’s lives, said UNICEF director Catherine Russell.

“Kenya’s decision to abolish school fees is a shining example of just what can be achieved in the developing world by sheer political will,” Belafonte said.

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed deep sadness on the eve of the country’s Freedom Day Celebration. “He was an influencer of his time who spared no energy in supporting our liberation struggle and in campaigning for human rights in many other parts of the world,” he said of Belafonte. “We will remember him as a hero and true friend of South Africa that we must celebrate during our National Orders ceremony and for many years to come.”

Banning Eyre, lead producer of the Peabody Award-winning public radio program Afropop Worldwide, also shared a memory. “It is impossible to overstate the enormity of the loss of this icon of global entertainment and social activism, around longer than most of us have been alive. His story will be told many times and in many ways in the days to come, and most beautifully in his 2011 memoir, ‘My Song.’”

In 1987, Belafonte traveled to Dakar and Senegal, where he served as chairperson of the International Symposium of Artists and Intellectuals for African Children. In 1994, he went on a mission to Rwanda, and launched a media campaign to raise awareness of the needs of Rwandan children. In 2001, he visited South Africa to support the campaign against HIV and AIDS. In 2002, Africare gave him the Bishop John T Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award for his efforts to assist Africa.

The Beninese-French musician Angélique Kidjo called Belafonte “the brightest star in every sense of that word. Your passion, love, knowledge, and respect for Africa was unlimited.”

Finally, Ittu Aba Farda contributed this to Ethiopian ZeHabesha.com: “To us above all he was a friend of the country that produced us all. He was by her side during her deadly rainy days. May he rest in eternal peace!!!!”

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