APARTHEID: South Africa. Do you remember the days of slavery? Apartheid was slavery if you were Black in South Africa between 1948 and 1992. APARTHEID: Apart-hate. A system of forced race segregation by which indigenous Black people were stripped of their fundamental civil and human rights. As a saying among Black laborers went at the time -- the blood of oppression in South Africa runs as deep as the mines -- where they worked for starvation wages under back-breaking conditions. APARTHEID: Condemned by the United Nations as a crime against humanity -- the only politicalsystem outside Nazi Germany so condemned by this international body. And the world community. APARTHEID: imprisoned Nelson Mandela for decades, murdered Black Consciousness leader Steven Biko, and executed captured ANC guerrilla Soloman Mahlangu. APARTHEID: a nightmare of massacres where shock troops forced rivers of blood to flow from Sharpeville, Soweto, Maseru (Lesotho) and Sebokeng.
IN THE UNITED STATES, activists in the 1980s heeded the call of the African National Congress: Foreign investors have played a leading role in creating and establishing the apartheid institutions and structures within the economy and have continued to strengthen racism in this country. The erosion and withdrawal of this support can and will shorten our struggle and diminish the price paid for freedom in the suffering of our people.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE ANCS CRY FOR JUSTICE, some activists declared, American corporations are the legs upon which apartheid walks. But for the U.S. government, the criminals were not those who supported the racist apartheid system and inflicted its atrocities, but those who opposed it.
WE OPPOSED IT. We were charged under federal indictment with striking at the legs of the corporate godzilla: IBM, Union Carbide, Motorola, as well as offices of the South African government in New York. We are called the UFF prisoners because we were convicted of bombings claimed by the United Freedom Front, an anti-imperialist group. No one was injured in these bombings, though property damage was extensive. One of those actions followed the Soweto Massacre in 1976. The others occurred in the early 1980s.
THOSE OF US CONVICTED of United Freedom Front activities were guided by our political commitment, good conscience, moral obligation and responsibilities under international law, including the Nuremberg Principles. It was the intent and purpose of the UFF actions to expose U.S. government and corporate complicity with apartheid, and encourage the American people to do everything necessary to end this criminal partnership.
FEDERAL PROSECUTORS, representing a government that was itself allied with apartheid South Africa, sought to portray the UFF actions as a conspiracy and criminal enterprise. They defended the corporate interests linked to apartheid. They certainly didn't represent the American people who were then taking to the streets in demonstrations and civil disobedience, and promoting divestment campaigns to lend support to those fighting for freedom in South Africa.
FAST FORWARD TO MARCH, 1998 as President Bill Clinton tours the African continent. During his stop in South Africa, Clinton publicly admitted that the U.S. had been complicit with apartheid. Complicit - - as in accomplice to and involvement in crimes in South Africa - -crimes against humanity. It took 50 years for a U.S. president to admit complicity but there it is - - U.S. foreign policy toward apartheid and corporate collusion was wrong. Criminally wrong.
CLINTON THEN TOURED Mandelas old prison cell at Robben Island and again addressed the world media. He stated that those who resisted apartheid should be honored. Honor: to give due respect. To add symbolism to his statement, Clinton planted a tree of life to honor Hecter Pieterson, the 13-year old Black boy who was the first killed in the 1976 Soweto uprising. Hecter Pieterson was one of one thousand gunned down by apartheid bullets at Soweto, as fascism swallowed more heroes of the peoples struggle.
DURING OUR TRIAL in which I represented myself, pro se, I held up a photograph of Hecter Pieterson for the jury to see. To see the murderous hatred that is apartheid. I asked that they look at a photo of this manchild, slumped dead in the arms of a friend fleeing the carnage. It was a widely published photo at the time and had been seized from my home by FBI agents. This photo, along with reams of anti-apartheid literature also seized by the FBI, was admitted into trial evidence. I told the jury, this is what we so strongly protest - - brutal, racist killings. And what we fight for is basic human rights.
THE UNITED FREEDOM FRONT PRISONERS - Thomas Manning, Jaan Karl Laaman, Richard Williams and I - - have been imprisoned for almost 14 years. We have extensive histories of anti-racist and political activism in various organizations ranging from Vietnam Veterans Against the War to AMANDLA! (Boston). Eventually we took our work away from the eyes and ears of the police and went underground. It was from our underground activities - - members of a clandestine movement - - that the government brought charges against us.
WHAT BROUGHT ME TO THE STRUGGLE against apartheid begins with my French Canadian youth in a mill town where the Franco minority was too often disparaged and exploited. This ignited within me a life-long abhorrence of prejudice and discrimination against people based on race and ethnicity. When I left home for larger cities, military service, Viet Nam and college in the 1960s I encountered white supremacy and racism in all quarters. In early 1968, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky colored only signs were still posted over public drinking fountains. Racial segregation was supposed to be illegal, but Jim Crow finds many ways to manifest itself.
AND SO DOES RESISTANCE. By the end of 1968 I was working with the Southern Students Organizing Committee (SSOC) when apartheid entered my consciousness for the first time. Longshoremen in New Orleans refused to unload cargo shipped from South Africa - - a solidarity action linking multi-racial workers here with anti-apartheid activists there. In April, 1969, I was in Atlanta commemorating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. with an SSOC contingent. Marching with thousands of others, we demanded peace, justice and an end to racism.
LINKING THE ONGOING STRUGGLE against racism in the U.S. with the anti-apartheid struggle would take many more years to develop to the point of mass protests, but every long journey begins with the first step. During those years I encountered some of the worst aspects of racism - - from inside Americas prisons to the streets where white killer cops used Black people for target practice.
IVE ALWAYS FELT THAT A RESPONSIBILITY of mine was to work with poor and working class whites to see their common cause with people of color. In time I came to see apartheid as a vicious and degenerate representation of mans inhumanity to man, dressed in the cloak of white supremacy. To strike a blow against apartheid was not only to support the freedom struggle in South Africa, but to give hope to all whose lives are oppressed by racism.
SOUTH AFRICA TODAY has dismantled the apartheid system, freed political prisoners and taken important steps towards securing the civil and human rights outlined in the ANCs Freedom Charter. But as Mandela said - - its a long walk to freedom and the new South Africa still has a long way to go.
DURING THIS POST-APARTHEID ERA the South African government created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Commission seeks public and truthful testimony from those who perpetrated apartheids horrible crimes. Painful as it is, one result of the commissions work is to recommend amnesty for racist murderers and torturers, if they admit to their crimes as politically motivated and tell all they know. Its often been a bitter pill for apartheids victims to swallow but the consensus is that the Commission is a necessary step that will help to avert further bloodshed.
PRESIDENT CLINTON - - FOR ALL HIS TALK of wrongful U.S. complicity with apartheid and the need to honor those who resisted - - has failed to issue any pardon or amnesty for the UFF prisoners who continue to serve outrageously long sentences of 45 years and more. How would he react if asked to appoint a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the U.S. to examine the complicity of the U.S. government and corporations in relation to apartheid?
WE ASK ONLY that he honor our resistance to apartheid with pardon or amnesty. We ask nothing more for our sacrifice, but that we be freed from prison and allowed to return to our families and communities.
Ray Luc Levasseur, 10376-016, PO Box 150160, USP Atlanta, Atlanta, GA 30315
December 16th Committee, P.O. Box 323 Columbus, GA 31902-0323