Jesse Jackson honored for anti-apartheid work
By George E. Curry
PRETORIA, South Africa — Human rights activist Jesse L. Jackson has been presented the Companions of O.R. Tambo Award, the highest award a non-South African can receive, for his extensive efforts to help end apartheid in the country.
Jackson, founder and president of the Chicago-based RainbowPUSH Coalition, accepted the award Saturday from President Jacob Zuma at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria, one of the nation’s capital cities. Jackson’s wife, Jacqueline, and two of his children, Santita and Yusef, accompanied him as he accepted the prestigious honor.
The former aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was honored “for dedicating his life to challenge societies and governments to recognize that all people are born equal, and that everyone is in equal measure entitled to life, liberty, prosperity and human rights.” He was also honored “for his excellent contribution to the fight against apartheid.”
The award was named after Oliver Reginald Tambo, the former chairman of the African National Congress (ANC) who helped end White minority rule in South Africa 19 years ago. The award is presented annually to “eminent foreign nationals for friendship shown to South Africa.” The official description of the award says recipients are “concerned primarily with matters of peace, cooperation, international solidarity and support and [are] integral to the execution of South Africa’s international and multinational relations.”
Jackson said in an interview, “I am overwhelmed with honor and appreciation. It represents momentum for our African American struggle merging with the Free South Africa struggle. Both struggles were parallel.”
According to the official program, Jackson first visited South Africa in 1979 after the death of Steve Biko, an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. Jackson drew huge crowds at his rallies in Soweto, where he denounced South Africa’s oppressive system of apartheid. When he returned to the U.S., Jackson intensified efforts to mobilize opposition to the ‘terrorist state’ of South Africa and reshape U.S. policy on the country.
From the beginning, Jackson strongly opposed President Ronald Reagan’s policy of constructive engagement with the apartheid regime and worked to mobilize public opposition against it. The anti-apartheid struggle was at the center of his foreign policy agenda when Jackson entered the 1984 presidential race.
The program recounted Jackson’s 1985 meeting with Pope John Paul II in which he invited the Pontiff to visit South Africa to help bring about majority rule. He also lobbied Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to cut diplomatic ties to South Africa. In addition, Jackson urged the U.S. government to fund resisters.
“He also called on Harvard and other universities to divest from South Africa,” the program stated. “In 1986, at the invitation of several African governments, Jackson led a delegation of activists, business representatives and academics to eight African countries, including the southern African ‘frontline states.’ The focus of the trip was to mobilize opposition to the apartheid regime.”
A frequent traveler to the continent, Jackson was in South Africa on Feb. 11, 1990 when Nelson Mandela emerged from prison after a 27-year confinement. Mandela would play a key role in the peaceful transition from minority rule to a democracy, becoming the first Black African elected president of South Africa. In speeches at Pretoria universities, the U.S. Embassy and a Black church, Jackson talked about his front-row seat to history and warned that although Black South Africans have finally won their political freedom, the next goal should be eliminating economic inequity in South Africa, where it is considered the worst in the world.
Also presented with a Tambo Award was Percival Patterson, former Prime Minister and ex-chairman of the People’s National Party (PNP) in Jamaica. Patterson was honored “for his support of the ANC and exceptional contribution to the struggle for liberation and a democratic South Africa.”
The official program noted, “A passionate opponent of apartheid, he was an ardent supporter of South Africa’s liberation movement.”
When Patterson was the chairman of the PNP, the ANC was invited to attend the PNP’s Founder’s Day banquet celebrating the 15th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence. Tambo, who was president of ANC at the time, addressed the occasion in Kingston, Jamaica on July 4, 1987.
When Patterson was serving as Prime Minister, Nelson and Minnie Mandela visited Jamaica, where they received strong backing.
Other Tambo award winners were: Dina Forti, who helped start an anti-apartheid movement in Italy, and Enuga Reedy, former head of the United Nation’s Center Against Apartheid.
Winners – who were not allowed to give acceptance speeches – were presented a neck badge, a lapel rosette, a miniature medallion and a wooden ceremonial walking stick carved in the image of a mole snake. According to African mythology, the mole snake, called a majola, visits babies in the spirit of benevolence, protecting them from harm and preparing them for success in life.