At last the role of the US civil society in the fight against the system of apartheid in South Africa is to receive the recording and recognition it deserves, due to the Apartheid Museum and the National African American Drug Policy Coalition (NAADPC) planning to collaborate to undertake a research project on the issue.
This all thanks to seed funding provided to the project by the US Mission in South Africa. The funds will enable the envisaged documentation of the American civil rights movement’s contribution in helping the black liberation movement and struggle to end apartheid.
The American civil rights movement assisted in many instances to frustrate apartheid policies of the National Party including street protests, participating in the Release Mandela Campaign, and working to ensure the white government was isolated by the international community through economic sanctions.
Leading US civil rights activists, students, artists, sports and entertainment figures, politicians, corporate executives, and committed civilians stood against not only the South African Nationalist Party’s apartheid system, but made their dissenting voices heard when addressing the US government’s own policies toward the apartheid regime.
The cultural boycott of South Africa was initiated by African American artists such as Harry Belafonte and a host of others who collaborated with black South African anti-apartheid artists such as Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela.
The new project came after the realization that the longstanding and vital support of American citizens, especially African Americans, in the fight for South African liberation has, unfortunately, received little widespread recognition in South Africa and the United States. This despite its significant historical and educational importance.
Project director Professor Jean Bailey, who is Howard University professor and chair of the Howard University Republic of South Africa Project (HURSAP), was optimistic about the success of the project.
“NAADPC and the Apartheid Museum are thrilled for the opportunity to execute this very important project. Our team of expert historians, researchers, and curators is uniquely qualified to carry out this project, having spent decades involved in studying and documenting the fight for South African liberation and transformation, and telling the stories of South Africans and Americans involved in that struggle.”
The project will feature a multimedia exhibition showcasing America’s role in the anti-apartheid movement at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2021.
“We are extremely honoured to be working again with the Apartheid Museum and its curator, Emilia Potenza. As the world’s pre-eminent institution committed to documenting and interpreting the rise and fall of the apartheid regime and the heavy toll it took on Black South Africans, the Apartheid Museum is the ideal partner for this project,” Bailey said.
Professor Sibusiso Vil-Nkomo, recently named interim director of the Thabo Mbeki African School for Public and International Affairs at the University of South Africa, is the co-chair of the project’s advisory committee, and believed that “the initiated project is timely and long overdue”. He added the struggle against the dehumanization, oppression, exploitation and serious neglect of Black South Africans became a rallying point throughout the world. “One of the center stages of this human battle was in the United States where Black South Africans interacted with African Americans and progressive White Americans from the 1800s. This was to be continued into the 1900s and the early 2000s.”
It is important that this history is now being properly recorded through the initiative. The late Professor Ali Mazrui’s thoughts about “Black South Africans and African Americans being the vanguard of development in the 21st century” still needs to be fulfilled. “There is no doubt that the anti-apartheid movement in the USA, as well as others in different parts of the world, was victorious together with South Africans in the country,” Prof Vil-Nkomo said.
Potenza said: “The story of the activism among American citizens in the fight against apartheid is one that is not often publicized, at least not here in South Africa. The Apartheid Museum is proud to partner with the NAADPC in sharing the legacy and important history of the many Americans who joined in the fight against apartheid and for our democracy in the United States.”