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Mandela the extraordinary

MARION O'CALLAGHAN Monday, December 16 2013

A sermon by the Revd Lyder introduced me to apartheid. In South Africa, according to Revd Lyder, there was a battle within Christianity. There was Revd Dr Malan of the Dutch Reformed Church and one of the architects of apartheid. Against him was the Revd Michael Scott of the Anglican Church. He, arrested with others protesting those first apartheid laws, declared in his speech from the dock: “My God knows neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Black nor White.”

It was the treason trial. It was Chief Luthuli, Mandela’s predecessor at the helm of the ANC and himself the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, who called for a Defiance Campaign of non-violence against apartheid. The boycott was part of this. It was when non-violence failed that Nelson Mandela emerged as a leader of the ANC’s armed wing: the Spear of the Nation. He matured within the long battle against the racial oppression of the Apartheid State. Mandela did not act alone.

The ANC had fought racial discrimination since it was founded at the beginning of the 20th century. It was the lead organisation against apartheid in a coalition which included the Coloured People’s Congress, the Indian Congress, South Africa’s powerful Communist Party, African Trade Unions and “liberal” Whites. Mandela’s role as inspiration and unifier was crucial in uniting these. He was also extraordinary. He had spent 27 years in prison and was President for only one term.

Black Movements

Apartheid was separate development. To this the ANC replied with a non-racial South Africa. This brought them up against those who wished a Black South Africa: the Pan African Congress (PAC), certain aspects of the Black Consciousness Movement, the “necklacing” which nearly pitched Soweto into civil war, the Identity Movement of the Zulu chief Buthelezi. It became obvious that Black Identity movements not only threatened a non-racial South Africa but the State itself. This was the lesson from Angola. There UNITA which was a black splinter group from the MPLA, pitched the country into civil war, and allied with Apartheid South Africa. Only Cuban troops saved the whole of Southern Africa from disaster. Some Black American radicals and some Black Caribbean leaders backed UNITA, seen as a Black Movement. It was a serious failure of judgment.

Trinidad’s Dockers

One of the first to answer Luthuli’s non-violence appeal was Trinidad’s Waterfront and Dockers’ Trade Union. They refused to unload a South African ship which had sailed into Port-of-Spain’s harbour. My attempt to drum up religious support was less successful. Only one cleric, an Anglican from St Clement’s outside of San Fernando, showed some enthusiasm. An American Evangelical couple impressed on me that any opposition to apartheid was Satan inspired.

PNM won the 1956 elections. I took the question of the boycott to Learie Constantine. He explained that if Trinidad joined the boycott, how would we get cheap wines?

Throughout the apartheid period, Trinidad was ambiguous. Only calypsonians remained steady. At international level we were remarkable — as was much of the Caribbean. The Methodist Revd. Phillip Potter of Antigua was the first non-European to lead the World Council of Churches. He launched a programme of assistance to victims of apartheid. He was supported by the Revd. Neehall of our Presbyterian Church. A number of pious Trini Christians, like some of their American counterparts, were horrified at what they saw as Revd Potter being “political” and the ANC as Communist.

At Home and Abroad

At the United Nations our delegates Eustace Seignoret and Frank Abdullah were important to both the campaign against apartheid in the anti-colonial struggle confined to Southern Africa. Back home, Seignoret joined the budding Anti-Apartheid Movement. Their attempt to protest against a White South African on the English cricket team ended with claims of police blows for some and the breaking up of protest. Ralph Romaine introduced a major boycott resolution at the UNESCO General Conference. It was watered down by Jamaica’s Hector Winter. I was in charge of the anti-apartheid programme at UNESCO. My own country was out of bounds for anti-apartheid or anti-colonial meetings. These could be held in China, India, Cuba, Venezuela or Tanzania. Not in Trinidad. No other country held as many anti-apartheid positions in the UN system. In few countries was there the enormous gap between what their nationals did abroad and what the many stood for at home. Few knew that Desmond Allum had shared Chambers with Nelson Mandela.

With all of the euphoria of Mandela’s near-canonisation, forgive me for thinking of Walter Sisulu and his wife, of Dulcie September blown up before a Paris elevator, of Ruth First blown up after a UNESCO meeting in Mozambique, of Samora Machel and Aquino da Bragania, blown out of the skies by South African agents. Yes, think of the many in whose martyred steps Peace and Justice walk. And wonder, where lead our own “separate” policies.

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