December 12, 2013

By Thandisizwe Chimurenga

LAWT Contributing Writer


This week began a 10-day period of national mourning and celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela throughout South Africa.  The 95-year old statesman passed away Dec. 5, 2013 after a prolonged respiratory illness and a lifetime of struggle to free the country from violent white minority rule that officially lasted from 1948 until 1994.

Based on observations of social and traditional media, it appears that both within South Africa and worldwide, Mandela is being hailed by two different groups of people: those who remember him as an impassioned yet calm and rational thinker who felt the use of arms was absolutely necessary to end the brutal rule of apartheid – “separateness” –  in his homeland of South Africa; and those who say he forgave his enemies and became a pacifist – a believer in the power and use of non-violence – after he had been imprisoned for 27 years.

Additionally it appears that, also based on observation, key pieces of Mandela's legacy are being overlooked: the economic status of the country nearly 20 years after Mandela became president, and the role of his former wife, Winnie Mandela, in both his life and the political struggle in South Africa.

After graduating from the University of Fort Hare in 1943, Mandela began the study of law and became a founder in 1944 of the Youth League of the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest organization in South Africa dedicated to fighting for the rights of Blacks.  Mandela, along with Youth League co-founders Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo (who was also his partner in a law firm), would eventually rise to leadership positions in the ANC. Throughout the 1950s the ANC engaged in different acts of protest against the white minority government and the various laws designed to keep Blacks in their place.  After a series of direct action campaigns against the South African government were met with the full power of the police and the army resulting in scores of deaths in the late 1950s – early 1960s, Mandela led the founding of the armed wing of the ANC called Umkhonto we Sizwe – Spear of the Nation – in 1961 and became its chairman.

The purpose of Umkhonto was to engage in acts of sabotage directed at South Africa's military and its infrastructure.  Since Mandela was “banned” due to his political activities – he was not supposed to leave his home – he traveled secretly throughout not just South Africa but across the continent of Africa from 1961 through 1962 raising money to fund the organization and then, in August he was arrested.  Rumors have swirled for years that the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) played a role in his arrest but nothing has been substantiated, and Mandela said in his autobiography “Long Walk To Freedom” that his arrest was due to his own carelessness.

Once arrested, Mandela went on trial for leaving the country without permission and encouraging workers’ strikes.  He would be found guilty and sentenced to prison but while this was happening, evidence linking him to Umkhonto we Sizwe was found by the police.  He would then be tried for acts of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government.  Found guilty in 1963, Mandela would be sentenced to life in prison where he would remain for the next 27 years.

During that 27-year imprisonment Mandela never wavered in his support for the use of arms to bring about the downfall of apartheid.  Amnesty International, the London-based organization which calls on governments worldwide to release what it calls “prisoners of conscience,” sympathized with Mandela’s plight in the early years of his imprisonment but they could not name him as one of their prisoners of conscience, notes Terry Coonan, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University, because Mandela was committed to that principle of using arms to bring about political change.

Mandela “went into prison anti white, anti Afrikaner” said Coonan (Afrikaner is the name the white minority in South Afrika called themselves).  “He came out pacifist, very strongly.”

Coonan argues that this is part of the great legacy that Mandela leaves behind.  “His thinking had readily changed on violence. [Mandela was] a person who could get mortal enemies to sit down at a table; that is one of his greatest legacies.

Also part of Mandela's legacy, according to Coonan, is how Mandela led South Africa in the adopting of international law standards.  “South Africa went from being an outlier in the international community, and within four or five years … embraced international law.  South Africa has ratified far more international laws than the U.S. has.  The Rome Protocol of the International Criminal Court, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the role that international law plays” are key parts of Mandela's legacy that stand today, Coonan says.  “The way he also took on complex issues like poverty, AIDS and crime …  he didn't operate at 30,000 feet [above the people], he was a man of the people and so he had an understanding of those issues from that place, and that had an effect on people in Africa and beyond.

Bill Fletcher disagrees with some of us Coonan's analysis.  A labor and social justice activist for over 30 years, Fletcher is the former president of TransAfrica Forum, which exists to positively influence U.S. policy toward Africa.

“Mandela was no pacifist when he came out of prison. He was a very realistic liberation fighter, and what he concluded was that neither the ANC or the South African government could win militarily. Neither side could win militarily, and as a result he concluded, as did the ANC, that they needed to engage in negotiation.  He understood the need to compromise because neither side can take the other. That's very different from being pacifist,” said Fletcher.

Fletcher went on to extoll what he considered to be some of the other parts of Mandela's legacy:  “His courage in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles; a long-term perspective that he understood, as did the other leaders, that the struggle against apartheid is going to take a long time and you will need patience as well as passion and energy, and that you should not expect some sort of silver bullet; and that Mandela himself recognized that he was one person among a litany of great leaders in South Africa – there is a tendency to forget that; a tendency to place on Mandela sole responsibility for the movement, not recognizing that there were countless other leaders … and that there were other organizations of significance in the struggle – Mandela never forgot that, and he talked about the necessity of organization and the need to be accountable to an organization,” Fletcher said.

Activists around the world and within the U.S. who followed South Africa's struggle say that the contributions of Winnie Mandela should not be separated from Nelson Mandela's legacy.  Throughout their 27-year imprisonment, Winnie Mandela was an active participant in the South Africa freedom struggle and at one point during Nelson's 27-year imprisonment, Winnie endured 18 months in solitary confinement. 

“[Winnie Mandela's] picture helped [Nelson] remain strong and steadfast throughout those years of imprisonment,” state Emira Woods, the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus, which is housed at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.

“[Winnie] herself is a freedom fighter,” said Woods.  “[Nelson] was married before, then, essentially met Winnie in the struggle; they were both active.”

Many observers and supporters of South Africa's liberation struggle credited Winnie with keeping Nelson's name front and center during his imprisonment.  They looked on with a degree of dismay and sadness when, after walking out of prison hand in hand with Winnie in 1990, the couple would divorce in 1995, one year after Nelson became the first Black/African president of South Africa in the country's first democratic, multi-racial elections.  The Mandelas’ divorce had a mixture of the personal (charges of infidelity) as well as the political (differences in ideology) which, more than likely, should have been expected in such a high-profile marriage that was rooted in such an intense national liberation struggle. According to Woods, “Winnie wanted to pursue more militant strategies.  [Nelson] was trying to avert a blood bath, make sure [the country] did not descend into civil war.  That's a clear sort of difference in strategies.  Winnie was also looking at full emancipation, which means economic emancipation, which means the lives of the people in the street are bettered.”

Fletcher elaborated on the aspect of economic liberation that many say Nelson Mandela “left out” of his presidency, and now also comprises part of his legacy.

“The ANC made a campaign promise of redevelopment; if they won there would be wealth redistribution and a strengthening of the welfare state.  One year later, they made a fateful decision to scrap the redevelopment program and instead implement a program that was consistent with the “Washington Consensus,” neoliberalism.  In addition to instituting privatization [of key government sectors], the government – with the ANC in power and Mandela as president – made the decision to pay back the debt the previous [white minority] government “ had accumulated, fighting Black folks, borrowing all kinds of resources to fight the front line states and strengthen the apparatus of the apartheid regime.” 

In a Dec. 8, 2013 article on the website Global Research, Dr. James Winter, a professor of Communi­cation, Media & Film at the University of Windsor in Ontario Canada writes, “With its wrists handcuffed, Mandela's ANC opted for neo-liberal shock therapy of more privatization, cutbacks to government spending, looser controls on money flows, fewer labour laws, and selling off state-owned firms to service a horrendous debt owed to the oppressors” Winter quotes Naomi Klein, the author of Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism as saying that Mandela told the members of the ANC “that the globalization of capital 'makes it impossible for countries to decide national economic policy'..." in 1997, three years into his presidency.

Additionally, Fletcher states, the removal of trade barriers – the boycotting and divesting directed toward South Africa that had gone on for years – ironically created the loss of thousands of jobs in South Africa.  Since South Africa was a pariah among the world's nations, they had to rely on themselves in practically every industry; once apartheid ended and the trade barriers lifted, companies that had been forced to stay in South Africa left to other countries in Africa to get a cheaper workforce.

“So in 2013, the scorecard is very mixed,” said Fletcher.  “The apartheid state has been eliminated; great advancements have been made in electricity, sewage, water, housing, but it hasn't gone far enough.  Economic polarization is great; land has not been redistributed on any great scale.”

“Nelson led a movement for political emancipation, and the bigger struggle for economic justice is still going on, and Winnie played a role in reminding not only Nelson but the world that that struggle is not complete, not over …,” said Woods.

As the celebrations and accolades continue to roll in for Nelson Mandela, Fletcher says a note would be wise, especially for those of us within the United States.  “Could [Nelson] have done more? Probably.  Would he have liked the ANC to have done more?  Sure.  Given who he was at that point [in his life], he made certain decisions that needed to be respected … We can disagree. But did we spend decades in Robben Island Prison? There's room for humility when reflecting on the life and legacy of Mandela.  Doesn't mean we hold back on our criticism; it just means there is no need to be self-righteous with our criticisms.”

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

December 12, 2013

By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.

NNPA Columnist


As millions of people throughout world mourn and celebrate the life and living legacy of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, it is important to focus on some of the most enduring and meaningful leadership attributes of Madiba’s long and valiant struggle for freedom, justice, equality, peace and empowerment.  Mandela’s leadership not only transformed South Africa into an inclusive nonracial democracy and a vibrant emerging economy, but also Mandela became the unquestionable moral leader of the global movement for freedom.

We well remember that historic moment and magnificent sight on May 10, 1994 when heads of state from across Africa and from around the world gathered to attend the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela in South Africa.  It was a celebration of the triumph of the election of Mandela, as well as a solemn salute to the victory of the liberation and freedom movement in South Africa and all over the region of southern Africa.  Through the hard work, tremendous sacrifices, blood, and organizational discipline of the African National Congress (ANC), the first democratic election in the history of South Africa was achieved with one of the highest voter turnouts that the world has ever witnessed. 

As Executive Director and CEO of the NAACP at that time, I traveled with Vice President Al Gore and First Lady Hillary Clinton along with a delegation of elected officials together with national civic and labor leaders on Air Force One to South Africa.  I was honored to sit beside Mrs. Coretta Scott King and Rev. Bernice King at Mandela’s inauguration.  I knew then as I know now that Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were more than kindred spirits.  Mandela and King were both relentless visionaries and fearless freedom fighters.

Sitting directly in front of me was President Fidel Castro of Cuba. It was significant for him to be in attendance because of the pivotal and game-changing role that Cuba had played in defeating the spread of apartheid in southern Africa in the 1980s, in particular in the Republic of Angola. Another crucial attribute of Madiba was his unflinching international solidarity with other freedom fighters and revolutionaries who were successful in confronting human oppression, colonialism, imperialism and poverty.

There we all were together amidst tens of thousands of dignitaries, leaders and the masses of people of Africa to observe the irreversible transformation of South Africa.  After taking the oath of office, President Mandela spoke eloquently and forcefully.  At the conclusion of his address, Mandela emphasized:  “Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another…. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement.  Let freedom reign.”  From that moment until today, it has been the bountiful and fertile seeds of Madiba’s visionary leadership that have helped to guide and shape the progress of South Africa.

Mandela believed in the importance of reconciliation and forgiveness in the context of assuring equal justice and freedom for all, yet he was not at all some sort of soft or milk-toast leader.  Madiba was strong and maintained a firm disciplined humility even after doing 27 years as a political prisoner of the evil of apartheid.  It is noteworthy to caution those who now want to attempt to reduce the multiple aspects of the genius of Mandela’s character and leadership to only the comforting singularity of being designated solely as a “forgiver” or “reconciler.”  Yes it is without question that Mandela’s courage and leadership to avoid a revengeful transition bloodbath in South Africa was the critical testimony to his towering strength and commitment to liberate all the people of South Africa toward equality, peace, economic justice and empowerment.  My point here, however, is to simply remind everyone that freedom is not free and not without sacrifice and struggle.  Mandela and the ANC willingly paid a very heavy price to enable the progress that is celebrated today.

Madiba’s leadership personified the collective dignity, integrity, wisdom, ideology, self-determination, tenacity and stamina of the African National Congress. Mandela first joined the ANC in 1942.  For more than 70 years, Mandela and the ANC were inseparable in the struggle to free and build a better South Africa for all and to be in solidarity with freedom-loving people everywhere.  From President Nelson Mandela to President Thabo Mbeki to President Jacob Zuma today, the ANC continues to provide the necessary leadership to move South Africa forward.  In the wake of the passing of Madiba, the following was the official statement of the ANC: “Our nation has lost a colossus, an epitome of humility, equality, justice, peace and the hope of millions, here and abroad.  His life gives us the courage to push forward for development and progress towards ending hunger and poverty. We have you, Madiba (Mandela), as our nearest and brightest star to guide us on our way. We will not get lost.”

Long live the spirit of Nelson Mandela. May Madiba rest in eternal peace. Long live the spirit of the ANC. Long live the spirit of the freedom movement throughout the world.

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is Presi­dent of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and can be reached at: http://drbenjaminfchavis­

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

December 05, 2013


Associated Press


BOSTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s Kenyan-born uncle, who ignored a deportation order more than two decades ago, on Tuesday was granted permission to stay in the United States.

Judge Leonard Shapiro made the decision after Onyango Obama, 69, testified that he had lived in the U.S. for 50 years, been a hard worker, paid income tax and been arrested only once.

Asked about his family in the U.S., he said he has a sister and two nieces, then added, “I do have a nephew.” Asked to name the nephew, he said, “Barack Obama,” then added, “He’s the president of the United States.”

Onyango Obama, the half brother of the president’s late father, testified he has lived in the U.S. since 1963, when he entered on a student visa. He had a series of immigration hearings in the 1980s and was ordered to leave the country in 1992 but remained.

During his testimony, he identified himself as Obama Okech Onyango. Court records and authorities have identified him as Onyango Obama, and no explanation was given for the discrepancy.

Obama told the judge he had led a quiet, simple life, graduating from high school in Cambridge, then atten­d­ing Boston University, where he received a degree in philosophy. He said he has worked for years as a manager at a family-owned liquor store in Framingham, just west of Boston. He also said he has worked for decades to help African immigrants find housing and settle in the U.S.

The judge, while announcing his decision, cited a law that entitles immigrants who are “out of status” to become permanent residents if they arrived in the U.S. before 1972, maintained continuous residence and are of good moral character.

Obama testified he hasn’t been back to Kenya since he entered the U.S. and said it would be difficult for him to return after all these years.

“Mr. Judge, America is a land of opportunities, a land of chances,” he said in a thick accent.

His immigration status didn’t become public until his 2011 drunken-driving arrest in Framingham. Police said after the arrest he told them, “I think I will call the White House.”

Asked about the exchange by a prosecutor on Tuesday, he said he might have said that but couldn’t recall.

The charge was dismissed after he completed a year of probation and 14 weeks of alcohol education classes.

The judge said he considered testimony about Obama’s character, including letters from people who praised him for being a “kind and decent person,” and considered the drunken-driving charge and allegations of discrepancies in what he told immigration officials 20 to 30 years ago.

“He appears to me to be a gentleman,” the judge said.

Obama testified that President Obama stayed with him for three weeks in Cambridge while the president was a student at Harvard Law School.

“In our tradition, your brother’s kids are your kids as well,” he said after the hearing.

Onyango Obama’s Cleveland-based immigration attorney, Margaret Wong, called him a “wonderful older gentleman.”

“He has earned his privilege to stay in the United States. He has been here for 50 years,” she said.

After the hearing, Obama quickly left the courthouse without speaking. Wong said he didn't receive any special treatment and was happy with the judge's decision.

If the government appeals, a notice must be filed within 30 days. Wong said Obama could get U.S. citizenship after five years.

The White House had said it expected the case to be handled like any other.

In the president’s memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” he writes about his 1988 trip to Kenya and refers to an Uncle Omar, who matches Onyango Obama’s background and has the same date of birth.

Onyango Obama is the second Obama family member to be found living illegally in the United States. His sister, Zeituni Onyango, the president’s aunt, was granted asylum in 2010 after her first asylum request in 2002 was rejected and she was ordered deported in 2004.

Onyango didn’t leave the country and continued to live in public housing in Boston. Her status was revealed just days before Barack Obama was elected in November 2008. At the time, then-candidate Obama said he didn’t know his aunt was living in the U.S. illegally and he believed laws covering the situation should be followed.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

December 12, 2013

By Jennifer Bihm

Contributing Writer


President and First Lady Obama joined former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter December 10 in Johannesburg to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, who died of complications from a lung infection last Thursday. The U.S. presidential team was part of a group of world leaders and dignitaries, who came to pay tribute to the anti- apartheid icon, affectionately known by his countrymen as “Madiba” a tribal name from his original village Qunu. Tens of thousands of “regular” citizens also attended the memorial, which precedes Mandela’s burial, to take place December 15 in Qunu.

As if they had known his destiny, Mandela’s parents gave him the name Rolihlahla when he was born in the village of  Mvezo, July 18, 1918. In the Xhosa language, Rolihlahla commonly translates to “troublemaker.”  When he was still an infant, his family became political outcasts in Mvezo, forcing them to move to Qunu, where eventually, Mandela became the first in his family to attend school.

At school, Rolihlahla became Nelson (a common practice in schools was to give African children English names). When his father fell ill and died in about 1927, 9 year old Mandela moved to Mqhekezweni, the provincial capital of Thembuland with Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, a political ally of his father, who adopted him. He continued his education, ending up at the University of Fort Hare where he studied English, anthropology, politics, native administration, and Roman Dutch law.

His first bout with activism also began at Fort Hare, where he joined the student majority in protesting poor conditions at the university. But, Mandela couldn’t stay in Mqhekezweni. The chief had arranged an undesirable marriage for him, causing him to flee.

He landed in Johannesburg in 1941, where he started out in poverty, working menial jobs until he decided to finish earning his BA and enter law school. He joined the African National Congress Youth League, a small group within the general ANC with goal of starting a grass roots movement among the poor and voiceless in South Africa who suffered under the apartheid regime. The regime, made officially legal after a general election in 1948, was severe for blacks.

Under it, blacks lost their citizenship, trapping them in extreme poverty and forcing them to suffer its debilitating effects. Initially, Mandela and the ANCYL led peaceful boycotts, strikes and other acts of civil disobedience and non-cooperation. They wanted full citizenship, redistribution of land, trade union rights, and free and education.

But twenty years of nonviolence didn’t seem to be getting results. Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe, a group dedicated to taking up arms and declaring guerilla warfare against Apartheid.  He and other ANC leaders were eventually sentenced to life in prison for sabotage and other political offenses.

His twenty seven year imprisonment sparked a litany of protests and demands for his freedom throughout the world. In 1982 Mandela had a choice. Stop his armed struggle against Apartheid and be released from prison or remain.

He refused the offer, he said, until blacks received the right to vote. He was released in 1990 and in 1994 became South Africa’s first black president.

News of his death reverberated around the globe, garnering commentary from dignitaries, celebs and civilians alike.

“His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph,” president Obama said during the celebration. “Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy. The world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us.”

“Our hearts are heavy with the news of Nelson Mandela's passing,” said Essence magazine Editor in Chief Vanessa Bush.

“The life of Nelson Mandela is a singular example of devotion and dignity in the face of unthinkable oppression. As a fearless ambassador for equality across the globe, his legacy is beyond measure.”


“In my lifetime, I have never met a world leader more humble or more gracious than Nelson Mandela,” said Senator Rod Wright who met Mandela during his visit to Los Angeles 23 years ago and who is a member of the Los Angeles Free South Africa Movement led by Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

“He was, in my eyes, a giant of a man. I will always be amazed that he was able to grow so much as a person and accomplish all that he did having sacrificed so many years of his life in the isolation of prison.

While it is certainly sad to lose someone as great as Nelson Mandela, it brings me some peace to know that he lived to such an age that he got to experience a rich life with his children and grandchildren after his release. We think of him for his presidency and his Nobel Peace Prize, but his family was likely his greatest joy.”          

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

December 05, 2013

By Jason Straziuso

Associated Press


NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Only four months after a raging fire engulfed the arrivals terminal at Kenya’s main airport, Kenya’s president on Tuesday broke ground on new construction that officials hope will cement the country as East Africa’s transportation leader.

President Uhuru Kenyatta said the goal is to make Jomo Kenyatta International Airport one of the world's leading air terminals. The revamped airport will serve 20 million passengers a year, up from 6.5 million passengers currently. Con­struction on the new $635 million terminal is expected to last until 2017.

In August a small fire at the Nairobi airport swelled into a roaring inferno that destroyed the arrivals terminal. Firefighters were desperately short of equipment and crews took hours to control the flames. Kenyatta said the fire, which was caused by an electrical fault, “threatened our vision” of Nairobi’s airport being the gateway to Africa.

Tourism fuels Kenya's economy. The country’s safari parks and white-sand beaches beckon more than a million tourists per year, with most coming from the U.K. and the U.S.

Nairobi’s airport is far bigger than any other in the region, but the cement structure is old, cramped and uncomfortable. Passengers are often made to walk across a busy tarmac to board their plane, one of the reasons the United States does not allow direct flights from Kenya.

Aly-Khan Satchu, who once ran the global trading desks in emerging markets for Credit Suisse First Boston and now runs his own financial management business in Nairobi, said Kenya must cement its position as a transportation hub by laying more infrastructure groundwork. With the new airport terminal, Kenya is making a play to be the Africa-Asia transit hub, he said.

“All the U.S. multinationals setting up shop here like Kenya Airway’s routes into other African countries,” Satchu said. “But if Kenya Airways is going to be an airline leader it has to have a first class airport. The airport experience now is just so awful.”

During Tuesday’s groundbreaking, Kenyatta noted that airports boost economic growth and give tourists and businessmen a first impression of the country, and can thus influence foreign direct investment.

Kenya in recent days also launched a multi-billion-dollar railway project to link its port city of Mombasa with Nairobi, a line that will run on to Uganda and possibly Rwanda and South Sudan.

Both transportation projects are being financed largely with Chinese money. Kenyatta on Tuesday thanked the African Development Bank, the World Bank, the European Invest­ment Bank and China, the only nation he singled out individually.

Construction projects in Kenya are prone to costly delays and corruption. Kenyatta urged project managers to overcome those hurdles.

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Category: News


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