Anti-Apartheid leader and former South African President Nelson Mandela turns 93 years old today. Any day above 90 is certainly a cause for celebration. On Mandela’s birthday, let’s also remember a few of the greats of the South African anti-apartheid movement who do not have enough celebrity to get mentions in the American press. Obviously, there are more than just these three.
Walter Sisulu served 26 years in the same prison as Nelson Mandela after multiple arrests for the crime of asking for equal rights and representation for black South Africans. Sisulu, though instrumental in South African rights movements, was a communist, hence his obliteration from American recognition.
Oliver Tambo, former President of the ANC, who spent 30 years in exile from South Africa. He, along with Sisulu formed the ANC Youth League, was arrested numerous times but regrettably died before he could see the end of apartheid.
Steve Biko, South African writer and inventor of the phrase “black is beautiful,” was instrumental in bringing attention to the rights movement, mostly through having been tortured and killed while in police custody, underlining the brutality of the apartheid government.
In my view, Mandela’s contributions are immense. In conversations with South Africans, however, a different view emerges. Mandela was palatable to the Americans as a non-violent, compliant figure that would do little to embarrass foreign opponents of apartheid. Other figures in the movement either advocated violence and forced resistance by Africans everywhere, were communists, or both. Some South Africans lament the attention given to Mandela at the expense of numerous leaders and martyrs.
On this day of Mandela’s birthday, let us also remember that an apartheid continues to operate with the blessing and funding of the United States government. It is unconscionable that Barack Obama, as the first African-American to ever serve as the President of the United States, would praise someone like Mandela, while turning a blind eye to the US funded apartheid in Israel.