Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Eleanor Holmes Norton revisit their part in the Anti-Apartheid movement at the unveiling of the Mandela Statue in Washington D.C.
A statue commemorating former South African President Nelson Mandela was unveiled last week at an historic ceremony in front of the South African Embassy in Washington D.C. Depicting his immortal stride, with fist to the sky, the statue commemorates Madiba’s legacy and stands as a symbol of a struggle that through the power of resilience led ultimately to freedom and equality for all South Africans. There to participate were 2 U.S. Congresswomen, Representatives, Maxine Waters and Eleanor Holmes Norton, both significant anti- Apartheid activists in the United States during the Apartheid era, credited for helping to draw attention to the global anti-apartheid and divestment movements.
Hundreds gathered for the emotional unveiling which was held at the very spot where activists from the American Civil Rights movement stood with the Anti-Apartheid movement, back in the 1980’s, to propel sanctions leading to the divestment of billions of dollars that ultimately contributed to the end of Apartheid. And some of those activists were in attendance to participate in the unveiling, together with Mandela’s daughter Zindzi Mandela, his grandson and the South African Ambassador to the U.S. Ebrahim Rasool.
During the many speeches, the wind blew fortuitously, at moments revealing that fist in the sky, signaling a metaphorically impatient flag, draped over the statue, and held down by a selection of the very rocks which Mandela chiseled away at during his years of hard labor on Robben Island.
And finally once unveiled, the 10 foot statue revealed the replica of the Jean Doyle sculpture which is outside the gates of Drakenstein Correctional Center where Mandela was released after 27 years of imprisonment, portraying the image of Mandela leaving the prison in 1990, with the legendary fist raised triumphantly over his head.
Many spoke remembering the struggle and honoring the life of Mandela, including his daughter Zindzi Mandela, who spoke so candidly and from her heart about her father’s life and health, noting that he was strong and that he was doing well. She mentioned how difficult it had been for the family to read negative and inaccurate press reports at times when he was doing well. She noted that sometimes to lessen the blow of inevitable death, her father would joke about starting a branch of the ANC once in heaven.
For me the significance of the day was reflected by those in attendance; Randall Robinson, founder of TransAfrica; Mary Frances Berry, former chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission; former D.C. delegate, Rev. Walter Fauntroy; and current D.C. Congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton.
All four, as a group of American activists, had on a Wednesday, back on November 21, 1984, departed from the offices of the foreign policy lobbying organization TransAfrica in Washington, D.C., headed over to this very spot at the South African Embassy for an appointment with that country’s Ambassador. They were arrested later that day for trespassing at the embassy when they refused to leave the Ambassador’s offices after demanding the release of recently imprisoned trade unionists in South Africa and the end of apartheid.
A quote at the bottom of the statue remembers that first stand. It quotes Mandela, former president of South Africa, saying:
“The stand you took established…that here we have friends…fighters against racism who feel hurt because we are hurt, who seek our success because they too seek the victory of democracy over tyranny. I speak…of the millions of people throughout this great land who stood up and engaged the apartheid system in struggle. Let us keep our arms locked together so that we form a solid phalanx against racism…Let us ensure that justice triumphs without delay.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, (D-CA) who had led the divestment movement in California, reminisced about how when she was protesting and was arrested and put in jail she and others asked the guards to not release her, “so that they could be like Nelson Mandela.” She spoke about a personal call she received from Mandela after he was released: “Maxine,” he said, “it is time; you can now end California’s divestment of South Africa.”
A representative of President Obama announced that a contribution was going to be made to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital from the U.S.A. He also mentioned that Obama’s first taste of activism was organizing against apartheid as a young student and how meaningful it was for the President to meet Mandela.
The big moment came at the end of the speeches which had included words about South Africa’s 20 years of progress from South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana Mashabane.
At the moment of the unveiling, all the legendary activists gathered around the Statue. Representing one of the sponsors, I was honored to be right there. I was so proud to stand next to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, as she participated.
It was a great honor to be representing the South African Gold Coin Exchange, one of the proud sponsors of the event, donating Mandela “Long Road to Freedom” coins and medallions for the guests. The SAGCE has donated millions of rands to The Nelson Mandela Foundation and other charities.
It was a most moving moment to be right there to witness the American activists, together with Zindzi Mandela, remove the stones, those symbols of Mandela’s hard labor, and to witness the falling flag, as in one pull it revealed the magnificent statue, standing immortal for all to see.
A tribal drummer beat to the ululation and song of “Free Mandela” and the crowd, danced, some in traditional dress, others in South African uniforms and it all came together in that one moment when I turned and noticed U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters staring up at the face of Madiba, with her fist raised, in salute honoring both the past and that present symbolic moment.
First reported here : http://mandelacoinusa.com/2013/09/23/316/
After the unveiling we attended a luncheon hosted by the South African Ambassador and the Embassy, together with the Ambassador and we were treated to an 8 minute preview of the new Mandela Film , A Long Road to Freedom, meting and speaking to its Producer Anant Singh. It was extremely moving.
The South African Gold Coin Exchange (SAGCE), SCOIN shop donated coins and medallions depicting Nelson Mandela, as a gift for luncheon attendees. Distribution of the Mandela medallions provides royalties to the Nelson Mandela Foundation and other charities. The SAGCE, under the Chairmanship of Alan Demby, has the worldwide rights to distribute all Nobel Peace Prize Laureate coins and medallions, as minted by the Mint of Norway.
… “The campaign built momentum toward passage of the 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act (CAAA), a bipartisan measure adopted over President Reagan’s veto (as retold in the current hit film, The Butler) to put pressure on Pretoria to release Mr Mandela and other political prisoners and begin negotiations for a new non-racial democratic order.” Read more