ATTORNEY JUDITH L. BOURNE
TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA
THE 30 TH LEGISLATURE
OF THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
Earle B. Ottley Legislative Chambers
December 13, 2013
Good morning to all. First let me thank the Legislature of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and especially Senator Myron Jackson, for sponsoring this tribute and for the opportunity of making this presentation.
The media have been full of descriptions of Nelson Mandela’s life, words and actions after his release from 27 years of imprisonment, but to fully appreciate the greatness of his spirit and the immense significance of that portion of his life, we need to know about how he got to Robben Island.
We need to recognize not only how he used his time in prison to further develop both himself and his fellow political prisoners in what was called “Mandela University” and how he expressed that development on his release, but also the activities, persistence and determination of the path that he followed that led to both to his imprisonment and to his ultimate triumph.
Despite all of the current statements connecting him to Gandhi and Martin King, he was not an apostle of non-violence, he was a proponent of the least damaging tactics that would be effective.
When the Virgin Islands Anti-Apartheid Committee was formed in 1985, the primary focus of the international anti-apartheid struggle was called the Campaign to Free Mandela And All Political Prisoners.
At that time, no one outside of Robben Island even knew what Madiba actually looked like, because he had been banned by the apartheid regime first in 1952 and then again at the beginning of the 1960s. Banning meant, among other things, that he could not be quoted in public, his picture could not be published and he could not attend meetings of any kind.
As a student at the University of Fort Hare in the early 1940s, he together with fellow student Oliver Tambo became involved in political activism, which led their expulsion. Mandela and Tambo became life-long comrades and friends, and founded the first African law firm in South Africa in 1952.
Mandela and Tambo joined the African National Congress in 1944 and, becoming disillusioned with what they considered to be the “policies of appeasement and compromise” of the then ANC leadership, they, together with Walter Sisulu, founded the ANC Youth League in 1947. These three eventually became the pre-eminent leaders of the ANC throughout the internationally recognized anti-apartheid struggle, Mandela and Sisulu on Robben Island and Tambo as the President of the ANC in exile.
In 1952, Mandela was the Volunteer in Chief of the Defiance Campaign (Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws) which was led by the ANC and the South African Indian Congress in which groups of volunteers, Africans, Indians, some Coloureds and a few whites, the four racial groups on which the apartheid laws were based, deliberately defied those laws by marching together into restricted areas without permits, entering European sections of public buildings such as post offices, using white facilities, etc., actions much like those of the Freedom Riders and sit-in participants of the US south two decades later.
The Defiance Campaign continued from June through December of 1952 and over 8000 persons were arrested, mostly on minor charges. However, these actions so alarmed the apartheid government that they arrested many of the leaders, including Mandela, and convicted them of “statutory communism” and gave them 2 - year suspended sentences.
The significance of these actions, which the apartheid regime fully understood, was that they showed the potential power of a militant African leadership, and marked the beginning of cooperation across racial lines in the anti-apartheid struggle. That cooperation led to the Congress Alliance amongst the African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress, the Coloured Peoples Congress, the Congress of Democrats, and the South African Congress of Trade Unions. That Alliance led to the Congress of the People in 1955 which adopted the Freedom Charter which begins with what were then very revolutionary words:
“We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people”.
The Freedom Charter also caused the United Nations to recognize South African racial policy as an international issue.
In response to the adoption of the Freedom Charter, in December 1956, the apartheid government arrested Mandela and 155 other persons, virtually the entire leadership of all five Congress groups, and charged them with high treason. The trial lasted for four years, but resulted in all being acquitted.
Shortly after the end of the Treason Trial in 1961, at a mass protest march in Sharpeville, the police shot 69 Africans to death and injured 180 more. This convinced Mandela, and Mandela convinced the ANC, that armed struggle had become necessary.
Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, known as MK) was formed with Mandela as its commander and a campaign of sabotage was begun with bombings of emblems of the regime, such as electrical pylons that carried electricity to white areas. The areas to which the other racial groups were confined, and especially African areas, had no electricity.
As a result of the beginning of the armed struggle, the ANC was banned. The organization sent Oliver Tambo out of the country as its president in exile to lead the international struggle and Mandela went underground. While masterminding the sabotage campaign, he was also smuggled out of South Africa, underwent guerrilla training in Algeria, and assisted in raising support for the struggle across Africa and in England. On his return to South Africa, he was captured when an informant revealed his location and disguise.
Investigation is now indicating that the US CIA may well have been involved in his capture.
In 1962, he was convicted of “incitement and illegally leaving the country” and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment.The following year, the government raided a farmhouse in Rivonia, which was the MK headquarters, arrested the remaining leaders of MK and found documents which implicated Mandela as the commander. At what became known as the Rivonia trial, Mandela and five others were sentenced to life in prison, unexpectedly escaping execution by hanging.
The famous words of his address to the court: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die" were not mere rhetoric. Execution by hanging was a very real possibility and, in fact, was expected by many.
But the apartheid regime apparently did not want a martyr; they wanted him to be forgotten - a prisoner whose name and words could not be mentioned and whose image could not be seen. However, the international anti-apartheid struggle, led particularly by Mandela’s former law partner Oliver Tambo, did not allow that to happen.
I was fortunate to become involved in the anti-apartheid movement as a young adult and it, as a part of the human rights movement that also included the civil rights struggle in the US, has been a major part of my life.
From the mid 1980s, the Virgin Islands Anti-Apartheid Committee took on the task of raising the consciousness of our population with regard to the anti-apartheid struggle of southern Africa, which included South Africa, South African occupied Southwest Africa,
now Namibia, and the Portuguese colonies - mainly Angola and Mozambique.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this struggle focused on the campaign to Free Mandela And All Political Prisoners. Just as Madiba insisted that he never acted alone, that he was always part of a collective, the campaign named Mandela as the acknowledged leader of the struggle, and his release as an essential first step, but included the release of all of those imprisoned for their opposition to apartheid.
So the VIAAC, in addition to designing and selling anti-apartheid t-shirts, publishing articles, and making presentations, also brought to St. Thomas representatives of the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), including Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, a leading member who had been imprisoned with Mandela on Robben Island. On the independence of Namibia in 1990, Mr. Ya Toivo became theMinister of Mines and Energy.
And in 1993, when it was learned that an ambassador of the South African apartheid regime would be vacationing on St. Thomas and had been invited to speak to the new Legislature, the VIAAC organized a visit by the ANC representative to the US, who was then invited by Gov. Farrelly for an official Government House visit (the South African ambassador received no such invitation) and who spoke at several schools as well as to the general population through various media.
But perhaps our most important action was the petition campaign to name the Nelson Mandela Circle, not only because the Legislature passed the legislation that we drafted and thereby memorialized the territory’s support of Nelson Mandela and the antiapartheid struggle, but because the campaign itself provided a platform on which the members of the VIAAC were able to publicize and explain the relevance of the struggle in southern Africa to our small islands here in the Caribbean.
I will end by quoting a portion of the statement made by the Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda, who Madiba visited in Japan in 1990 and again in 1995:
“Mr. Mandela was a lion of humanitarian causes and human rights who inspired hope and courage in the hearts of those around the world victimized by conflict, racism and injustice. His smile was like a refreshing spring breeze. ... I am convinced that his unwavering and passionate stance calling fora world that respects the dignity of all people will eternally shine as a guiding star for humankind.”
It is a star that we, in the US Virgin Islands, also need to keep before us and to follow.