Growing Pains: Stay true to the African cause

2014-08-13 13:45

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Years before President Barack Obama became the first person of colour to be elected to the highest office in the US, New York had its own Obama moment when David Dinkins became the first black mayor of the city.

This was in 1990, about the time Mandela was being unveiled to the world. Dinkins and his deputy, Bill Lynch, also a black man, were avid supporters of the anti-apartheid movement.

Former mayor of New York City David Dinkins

They were responsible for New York’s ticker-tape parade for Madiba when he started his eight-city tour of the US there in June that year. More than 700?000 people turned up to see Madiba.

The mayoral pair would again show how much the South African cause meant to them a few months later. For years, both had picketed and led boycott and sanctions campaigns across New York when US President Ronald Reagan opposed sanctions against South Africa.

Now Mandela was free, there was pressure from the top to drop sanctions. But he had come to the US to ask the opposite. The two barred the city from issuing contracts to anyone busting sanctions and selling or buying anything to or from South Africa.

Dinkins was then visited by David Rockefeller, grandson of the famous industrialist, John D Rockefeller, once the richest man in the US.

Rockefeller junior said he had a good relationship with South Africa and had it on good authority that Mandela wanted the US to drop sanctions, but couldn’t say so publicly.

He said on this basis, the city should drop its stance to shutting out businesspeople doing business with the country.

Dinkins dispatched Lynch, who took a flight to Joburg. Here he met my grandfather, Walter, who gave him a written undertaking that sanctions were to remain until the country became a democracy.

On relaying this message to Rockefeller and his associates at their next meeting, Dinkins was offered a chance to reconsider his stance or risk facing the financial might of the businessmen in the upcoming mayoral election.

It had been an uphill battle for Dinkins to get into office. Lynch, his campaign manager, who also ran campaigns for Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Jesse Jackson and a Kennedy, knew they didn’t stand a chance against such big money.

But they remained steadfast. They kept the ban, and lost to Rudy Giuliani. The South African cause was too great to sell out.

I was reminded of this story by the developments in the Middle East and the US. Despite taking a breather this week, Israel’s smashing of Gaza after years of an economic blockade represents the worst form of apartheid repression we’ve seen in recent years.

There are many of us who don’t yet appreciate that solidarity is about more than talk and slogans?–?it is about taking a principled stand like Dinkins, Lynch and the countless other foreigners did for us.

In this case, it means we must pressure Israel diplomatically and economically until it, like racist South Africa, resolves the Middle Eastern crisis politically.

Finally, although the US rolled out the red carpet for African leaders this week, many of its media stories carried a deeply contemptuous tone of the African. It is well deserved. African leaders must not rush to grasp the investment promise that is less than our entire GDP.

They should remain steadfast in pursuing shared continental interests –?one of which is that a united African Union must be the arbiter for transcontinental engagement.

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