Category Archives: Great African Leaders

Murder in the Congo: The tragedy of Patrice Lumumba


Picture of Patrice Lumumba in jeep

Shortly before dawn on the 17th of January 1961, Patrice Lumumba the Prime Minister of the Congo was removed from his cell by Victor Nendaka. He was Lumumba’s former comrade. But now he was Larry Devlin’s puppet serving as Head of the Security Service. Devlin was a CIA field officer.

Lumumba was forced onto a plane. Onboard, his goattee beard was ripped off and he was forced to eat it. His ordeal was not over yet. Lumumba was flown over to Elisabethville, the Katangan capital under one of the most detested traitors in African history – Moise Tshombe.

His surname, Tshombe, became and still is synonmous with sellouts and traitors decades after the Lumumba tragedy.

In Elizabethville, Lumumba was shoved out of the plane and thrown into a waiting jeep under the watchful eyes of the Belgians. Swiss UN troops stationed at the airport witnessed him being driven away but did nothing to stop the inevitable.

They had orders to stand back and not intervene. Their inaction made them and the UN complicit in what was to follow and haunt Congo and Africa for decades.

Lumumba was imprisoned and held captive in a colonial villa owned by a wealthy Belgian. He was beaten savagely, repeatedly during his short stay there.

Katangan ministers, including Moise Tshombe joined in the blood bath and took turns to torture Lumumba until they were tired.

Deep into the night, Lumumba and two of his colleagues who had helped him escape were led into a clearing in the woods.

Katangan ministers and Belgians stood around to witness the end. Lumumba was propped up against a tree and executed by a firing squad. This squad included local Katangans and Belgians.

The corpses of Patrice Lumumba and his two aides, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, were dismembered and dumped into barrels of acid by two Europeans.

The Belgians kept Lumumba’s teeth and bullets removed from his body as souvenirs. The murder and bestiality of the murders exposed the hypocrisy and savagery of Western imperialism.

Only psychopaths would keep such souvenirs. Patrice Lumumba’s tragic story reveals a lot about the perpetrators of evil and the extent they will go to maintain their evil reign.

Why was the West so keen to get rid of Lumumba?

Patrice Lumumba became the first Prime Minister of Congo on the 30th of June 1960. On the morning of that day his fate was sealed.

Patrice Lumumba strode into the Palais de la nation. It was constructed to house the Belgian governor general. He was decked out in a smart suit complimented with a bowtie and a sash. He accessorised his outfit with a mischevious smile lighting his face.

Picture of Patrice Lumumba in bowtie and sash

He was not scheduled to make a speech. However, he was not going to let King Baudouin off the hook who praised developments by his great granduncle Leopold II of Belgium and made patronising promises, “Don’t compromise the future with hasty reforms, and don’t replace the structures that Belgium hands over to you until you are sure you can do better…”

“Don’t be afraid to come to us,” he informed the Congolese adopting a paternal tone as if addressing his children. “We will remain by your side.” 

His speech on the surface was cordial. However, it masked the sinister implications and threats and undertones. In a nutshell, he meant nothing was going to change.

The only change was going to be in the colour of the new leaders. They would have the appearance of political independence but the economy would remain in the hands of Belgium and the country would continue to be run as it had before independence.

Anyone who is familiar with the Beligian history in Africa, knows that there was nothing philanthropic or humanitarian about Leopold’s rule over the Congo. He was a genocidal maniac who committed gross violations against humanity.

Millions of Congolese were systematically wiped out for his pleasure and many others had their limbs severed and left to live a life of destitution as cripples with missing limbs. These grisly amputations were macabre.

No one else would have been more acutely aware of this history than Patrice Lumumba and many other Congolese who were aware of that genocidal legacy. Leopold made Hitler look like a saint in comparison.

His regime was responsible for the deaths of about two to fifteen million Congolese. These are conservative figures.

The Congolese were severely abused under Leopold’s reign in which he ran the Congo as a private enterprise looting Ivory and from the harvesting and processing of rubber.

The genocide was a far cry from his claim at the Berlin Conference (1884 – 1885) that he wanted to improve the lies of the indigenous people. The truth is he made their lives a living hell.

Leopold created such a scandal the Belgium government forced him to relinquish his control of the colony to a civil administration.

The country’s new president, Joseph Kasavubu, made a few sychophantic remarks to please his masters to remain in their good books.

Patrice Lumumba ordered the papers he had on his lap and walked across the stage. The gallery gasped in surprise. Quick exchanges were made by the people.

Lumumba stood at the lectern, tall and erect. He spoke articulately and directly to and for the Congolese rather than addressing the diplomats. He employed his oratorical gifts he was well renowned for and delivered a rousing speech, Tears Fire and Blood, which is still remembered more than five decades later.

This speech alluded to the price the Congolese paid to attain their freedom: “It was filled with tears, fire and blood. We are deeply proud of our struggle, because it was just and noble and indispensable in putting an end to the humiliating bondage forced upon us”.

He spoke about what his lot endured for eighty years of colonial rule and that their wounds were too fresh and too painful to be forgotten.

Lumumba addressed the injustice, oppression and exploitation of the Congolese and the way their lands had been annexed using ostensibly just laws which gave recognition only to the right of might.

His speech went beneath the Belgians’ skins. It pricked their conscience and they didn’t like what they heard. It was not what they were expecting to hear. Like most perpetrators of evil, they didn’t like their victims reminding them of their atrocities.

They wanted to retain their right to commit crimes against humanity and then dictate to the victims how they should react to the atrocities.

Lumumba’s speech illustrated their hypocrisy and the lack of a genuine reconciliation by the Belgians who were too proud to apologise for their shortcomings. They were hoping to sweep the matter under the mat.

Their moustaches trembled with rage as they listened to this black man who had the audacity to ditch the colonial script the new leaders were expected to follow. They could hardly contain themselves.

Picture of Patrice Lumumba in bowtie and suit and animated pose

“We are not Communists or Catholics. We are African nationalists.” Patrice Lumumba

African dignitaries in attendance punctuated Lumumba’s speech with applause. Across the country, the nation listened in wonder through their wireless radios as Lumumba spoke for the people of the Congo:

The Republic of the Congo has been proclaimed, and our country is now in the hands of its own children.

Together, my brothers, my sisters, we are going to begin a new struggle, a sublime struggle, which will lead our country to peace, prosperity, and greatness.

Together, we are going to establish social justice and make sure everyone has just remuneration for his labor [applause].

We are going to show the world what the black man can do when he works in freedom, and we are going to make of the Congo the center of the sun’s radiance for all of Africa.

We are going to keep watch over the lands of our country so that they truly profit her children. We are going to restore ancient laws and make new ones which will be just and noble.

We are going to put an end to suppression of free thought and see to it that all our citizens enjoy to the full the fundamental liberties foreseen in the Declaration of the Rights of Man [applause].

We are going to do away with all discrimination of every variety and assure for each and all the position to which human dignity, work, and dedication entitles him.

We are going to rule not by the peace of guns and bayonets but by a peace of the heart and the will [applause].

Patrice Lumumba ripped the charade to pieces. He refused to play the game the imperialists loved – handing Africans flag flying independence but retaining economic control and domination of the former colonies in a process what Kwame Nkrumah referred to as a state of neo-colonialism.

Nkrumah is credited with coining the term. It is stated to have first appeared in the 1963 preamble of the Organisation of African States Charter. It was also the title of his book Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism which was published in 1965.

Image of Patrice Lumumba with the quote “We were offered a choice between liberation and the continuation of bondage. There can be no compromise between freedom and slavery. We chose to pay the price of freedom.”

Nkrumah defined neo-colonialism as:

“In place of colonialism, as the main instrument of imperialism, we have today neo-colonialism… like colonialism, is an attempt to export the social conflicts of the capitalist countries… The result of neo-colonialism is that foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than the development of the less developed parts of the world. Investment, under neo-colonialism, increases, rather than decreases, the gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world. The struggle against neo-colonialism is not aimed at excluding the capital of the developed world from operating in less developed countries. It is aimed at preventing the financial power of the developed countries being used in such a way as to impoverish the less developed.”

A more succinct definition is the use of economic, political cultural or other pressures to control or influence other countries, especially former dependencies or colonies.

Lumumba refused to be a neo-colonial puppet. He refused to remain in economic bondage, dependent and subservient to the former colonial power. That was his sin.

He, unlike Tshombe and Kasavubu, couldn’t be dominated. And a man who couldn’t be dominated was in the eyes of the imperialists a dangerous man. He was a threat to Western interests.

This was “the” epoch of rapid change across the continent. Decolonisation was spreading like a wild fire across the land. One by one, former colonies, were breaking away from the French and British empires.

The empires were shrivelling and dying like mushrooms burnt in a wild fire. Within one generation Britain lost her mantle as the world’s greatest superpower. Africans were standing up, defiantly denouncing and challenging white and Western rule.

In under a year, more than a dozen African states would become independent. The young men defying foreign rule, like Lumumba, were the bright young men of the future.

They were inspiring liberation movements across Africa. They were lighting fires of struggle across the continent.

They were fired up by the vision of a new Africa free and untainted by colonialism. Nobody embodied this spirit of defiance and independence at the time more than Patrice Lumumba.

His speech explicitly reflected his outlook, Together, we are going to establish social justice and make sure everyone has just remuneration for his labor.

He was denouncing domination and exploitation; therefore, implicitly implying that the imperialists had to change their ways because things were not going to be the way they had been before.

Furthermore, he was stating that he was not going to put Western interests above the Congolese. They were to get a share of the economic cake which came from the rich repository of minerals found in the Congo.

This is what he meant when he said “We are going to keep watch over the lands of our country so that they truly profit her children.”

It was a challenge to the neo-colonialists. It was a threat to their coffers. African solidarity was an antidote to their domination and claims to supremacy.

Patrice Lumumba was like Gamal Abdel Nasser. He was a national liberationist whose vision was to assert sovereignty against the West.

Image of Patrice Lumumba with the quote “We know the objects of the West. Yesterday they divided us on the level of a tribe, clan and village. Today, with Africa liberating herself, they seek to divide us on the level of states. They want to create antagonistic blocs, satellites, and, having begun from that stage of the cold war, deepen the division in order to perpetuate their rule.”

Lumumba warned them that he would not allow political colonialism to be replaced by a new form of economic colonialism, as we witnessed in the great compromise made by Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela at the independence of their respective countries. They both betrayed their revolutions.

Lumumba’s approach was too much for the Western powers. They had too much too lose if Lumumba had his way.

If he succeeded, he would pave the way for other African nations to follow suit; therefore, setting up a chain of catastrophic events that would see Western interests disappear in the blink of an eye.

The Belgians, the French, The Americans and British couldn’t digest this unwelcome message. They had large investments in the mining business as they extracted the country’s rich deposits of copper, cobalt and diamonds.

Lumumba’s vision and declaration that the Congo would from independence control its extensive mineral wealth proved to be his death sentence.

From then on, everything spiralled one way, downwards.

Ten days after independence , an American who was sharply dressed and had slicked back, black hair stepped on board the ferry for Leopoldville. His name was Larry Devlin.

He would have a significant role in the death of Lumumba. He would become the arch-puppeteer of Congolese politics.

Shortly before his arrival, Patrice Lumumba increased the wages of all government employees excluding the army. Many Congolese soldiers had reservations about serving under white Belgian officers.

General Émile Robert Janssens, head of the army, spelt out on a blackboard: “before independence = after independence”. That is, their lot would not change after independence; things would remain as they had been.

The army rebelled in protest. The rebellions spread rapidly. They gained momentum. Europeans fled from the country.

And a media frenzy developed, they deliberately distorted the truth to sell papers. Some did it for propaganda purposes because it suit the undercurrents and narrative that was developing. It was their role to beat the drums of war and pave way for the elimination of Lumumba.

Image of Lumumba with the quote “We are neither Communists, Catholics nor socialists. We are African nationalists. We reserve the right to choose our friends in accordance with the principle of positive neutrality.” 

Moise Tshombe declared the mineral rich Katanga province independent on the 11th of July 1960. He was supported by the Belgian government and mining companies like Union Minière.

The Belgian Secret Service rushed to his aid providing him with intelligence, diplomatic support and making sure that all the monies destined for Kinshasha the capital ended up in Katanga, therefore, inflating his war chest and impoverishing Lumumba and crippling his ability to run the country effectively.

This was a classical case of economical sabotage preceding political assassination.

UN troops arrived. However, they refused to help suppress the Katanga rebellion. The planes they used were provided by the U.S. They had been repainted just before their flight to prevent the Russians making political mileage of American planes flying into Congo.

The “Crisis in the Congo” made global news. Fleet Street’s finest fibbers rolled into town to be a part of the action.

Lurid and entirely false tales of the murder and rape of white women were repeated and circulated around so often, the lie was accepted as the truth.

Fleet Street’s fibbers also started to portray Lumumba as a communist. Cartoons appeared of him as a black devil with horns and a forked tail.

The demonisation campaign to discredit, destroy and undermine him was accelerated to win the hearts and minds of the people to turn them against him.

Image of Patrice Lumumba with the quote “I am not a Communist. The colonialists have campaigned against me throughout the country because I am a revolutionary and demand the abolition of the colonial regime, which ignored our human dignity. They look upon me as a Communist because I refused to be bribed by the imperialists.

The Belgians responded to the situation by sending in paratroopers to protect “western interests” and their citizens’ lives. They called it a “humanitarian intervention”, borrowing tactics modelled from the British and French example in Suez in 1956.

All these tactics are still used today. We see them replayed in our media on a daily basis. They are the same tactics used to justify the murder of Thomas Sankara.

These are the same tactics used to justify the war against Bashir al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and hatred of the Iranians and Vladmir Putin.

The arrival of the paratroppers and secession of Katanga looked like a pincer movement on Lumumba. He faced up to the break up of his country.

Katanga was not just any province. It was where the majority of the mineral resources were located. Furthermore, Moise Tshombe, who was based in the provincial capital of Elizabethville, was Lumumba’s sworn enemy.

He was very close to the Belgians. Lumumba had beaten him to the coveted prize of Prime Minister. And he never forgave him for that because he had his own ministerial aspirations so he sought to make Katanga his power base.

To consolidtae his move, he serenaded the British. The business lobby and the far right of the Conservative Party put pressure on Prime Minister Harold MacMillman to recognise the secession and back the Katangans.

There were talks for the Katanga province to join the British led Central African Federation, hence stealing the territory from under the noses of the Belgians.

Eventually, a nasty breed of white mercenaries, some Belgian, a few British, and some recruited from the streets of Bulawayo and Salisbury (Harare), wielding knives and guns aided Moise Tshombe.

The secession of Katanga and arrival of the Belgian troops to protect “Western interests” and their citizens was complete. Lumumba faced up to the ultimate breakup of his country and recolonisation through other means.

Image of Patrice Lumumba with the quote “Cruelty, insults and torture can never force me to ask for mercy, because I prefer to die with head high, with indestructible faith and profound belief in the destiny of our country than to live in humility and renounce the principles which are sacred to me.”

He made a fateful error that would cost him dearly. He stopped the army’s mutiny. However, to achieve that motive, he appointed his close aide and friend to become chief of staff . He was a man he trusted like a brother.

His name was Joseph-Desiré Mobutu. He would later come to be known as Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga: the name roughly translates to the warrior who knows no defeat because of his endurance and inflexible will and is all powerful, leaving fire in his wake as he goes from conquest to conquest.

His name conjures up many things. This promotion was beyond his wildest dreams. He had been doomed to be a failure. He was expelled from school and sent to the Force Publique as punishment.

The experience was a turning point in his life. It made him. His risk taking and hard working style earned him many admirers, including Lumumba. What Lumumba wasn’t aware of was that his friend was a friend of Larry Devlin.

They had struck up an unlikely alliance at the conference in Belgium in January. Mobutu attended as an aide to Lumumba.

Mobutu’s air of bravery was useful when, aged twenty-nine, he walked up to the soldiers pointing their guns at him and slowly pulled down their barrels to quell their mutiny.

He persuaded them to return to their barracks and promised them a pay rise; consequently, crushing the mutiny and simultaneously becoming their hero.

Mobutu’s gain was Lumumba’s undoing. Lumumba was desperate for assistance to save his country. He enetered into negotiations with the United nations to assist in crushing his arch-enemy Tshombe.

He was disappointed with the international force they sent in. He was dissatisfied with their role which they spelt out as one of strict nuetrality and non-intervention.

They refused to assist him in reeling in Katanga back into his control. He was unaware that their unwillingness to assist him was partly due to British pressure behind the scenes to prevent such a role.

He set up communication with the UN Secretary-General, Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld, but the two were communicating in different languages. Hammarskjöld clearly had an agenda. It is fair to say he was an ally of Lumumba’s enemies and was unwilling to assist him. Maybe he was following orders. But it is evident he had the power to help Lumumba if he wanted to.

However, he refused to assist Lumumba in subduing the Katangan secession. After Lumumba’s death, Hammarskjöld eventually made the UN intervene in the Katangan crisis. This reinforces my point above.

Ironically, Hammarskjöld died exactly nine months after Lumumba’s murder in a plane crash near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, but now known by its post colonial name Zambia, while en route to negotiate a ceasefire between “non-combatant” UN forces and Katangese troops of Tshombe.

Frustrated by the UN and Hammarskjöld, Lumumba cast his eyes further abroad. Members of his cabinet requested 2000 US troops but President Eisenhower declared they could not provide support unilaterally.

Lumumba flew over to the US with a small delegation and made some brilliant speeches and appeals. Eisenhower refused to even meet him and he returned home empty handed. Eisenhower joked that he wouldn’t meet the “Bush Premier” as they referred to Lumumba in a derogatory manner.

Image of Patrice Lumumba with the quote “We are fighting our enemies in order to prepare a better and happier life for our youth. If we had been egoists, if we had thought only about ourselves we would not have made the innumerable sacrifices we are making.”

Lumumba sought to play a game of chess to put pressure on the UN and the West to persuade the Belgians to get out. He turned to the former Soviet Union who had a much cleaner slate than the West in the eyes of African liberation movements.

They were also in the process of providing material and financial support to a lot of liberation movements at the time in Africa. So his request definitely had some method in it. He asked them to follow the situation.

A few days later, he formally requested Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev for assistance. He was afraid that the Katanga secession was about to blow up through the assistance of the Belgians.

It was a dangerous move. Tensions were high in the Cold War and he was introducing the superpower conflict into the Congo.

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The poetry writing African President: Agostinho Neto


What does writing poetry and African presidency have in common? None. Unless you are Agostinho Neto. He was an acclaimed poet and the first African President of Angola.

I knew a bit about Neto and his role in the decolonisation of Africa. He was quite an exceptional leader in many ways. Not only did he become the first president of Angola in 1975, but he was also a medical doctor who specialised in gynaecology.

I only discovered it a few years ago that he was an acclaimed and published poet after stumbling on one of his few translated poems in the anthology The Heritage of African Poetry: An Anthology of Oral and Written Poetry edited by Isidore Okpewho.

obra_poetica_completa_agostinho_neto-300x300

It is no ordinary anthology because it features some household names and the greatest African poets to grace the African continent. This includes heavyweights like Wole Soyinka, Kofi Awoonor, Christopher Okgibo, Leopold Sedar Senghor to mention a few.

To be published among such names speaks volumes about the nature of one’s work and the quality of it. You don’t get published among legends like that unless you are made of the same stuff.

It is probably little known that Neto was a poet because his work was not so easily accessible to those of us who cannot read or write Portuguese. But it is also not so well known that Neto, to this day, is one of Angola’s most acclaimed poet and writer. That is no easy feat.

Agostinho Neto was born in 1922 at Icola e Bengo in Angola. He studied medicine in Lisbon and Coimbra in Portugal and returned to practice in Angola.

neto and machel

He joined a movement for the discovery of indigenous Angolan culture. In 1960, was elected president of the MPLA [Movimento Popular da Libertação de Angola – People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola] which was a militant anti-colonial organisation. That year he was arrested and taken to jail in Portugal but escaped two years later.

After a protracted guerrilla struggle, he helped to establish the independence of Angola. He became it’s first president but died in 1980.

He published poetry in several Portuguese and Angolan publications and a volume entitled A Sagrada Esperanca (Sacred Hope).

neto and castro

There was little in Neto’s earlier life that indicated the direction of his later life. He was born in a Methodist family. His father was a Methodist pastor. We can interpret through the trajectories of what is known about him that his conception of serving his people was strongly influenced by his father and his exposure to the teachings of Christianity.

It was only when he was in Lisbon [Portugal] that his political activism became marked. He became friends with other future political and iconic figures such as Amilcar Cabral who I have written about and would leave a lasting legacy in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. This also included Marcelino dos Santos from Mozambique.

Dos Santos and Neto seemed to have more than politics in common. Dos Santos was also a poet and a revolutionary. After Neto was arrested and his friend Eduardo Mondlane also from Mozambique and a fellow comrade from FRELIMO moved to the United States, dos Santos moved to Paris where lived with other artists and writers and became associated with the literary magazine Présence Africaine.

Their friendship seemed to be destiny because they had so much in common and as leading intellectuals of their time, it was inevitable. What we don’t know is what role they had in each other’s poetry and if they read and critiqued each other’s work.

Somehow, Neto managed to juggle both his academic life and covert political activities. However, he was soon to learn that mixing politics and medicine had its consequences.

Agostinho-Neto dr

That came in 1960 when he was arrested for campaigning against the colonial administration of Portugal in Angola. When his family, friends, patients, supporters and empathisers and others marched to protest his arrest, the police fired at them. Consequently, thirty people were killed and about two hundred others were injured.

He was later exiled to Cape Verde where he wrote his second poetry publication. It is not clear if he was able to link up with the likes of Cabral in Cape Verde. It is always a possibility and it is also possible that he learned firsthand about their struggle and used it to forward his own political development.

Like Lumumba and Cabral, he sought assistance from the Americans but as usual, the Americans let him down and he enlisted the help of the Soviet Union and Cuba.

Unfortunately, Neto’s rule was not marked by peace. It was riddled by a civil war that was sponsored by foreign agents that were sponsoring sectarian violence and trying to destabilise the country.

neto and castro 2

His country was flanked by hostile territories. On one side was the FNLA supported by the dictator, Belgian and American puppet Mobutu Sese Seko who got into power through assassinating Patrice Lumumba and given free reign to terrorise his own people.

On the other side was Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA movement which was supported by the racist Apartheid government of South Africa that had no wish in seeing a thriving majority ruled African country because this would make the Africans at home want the same.

One of Neto’s lasting legacies to Angola was his invitation to westerners to invest in the oil industry. To this day, it happens to be one of Angola’s largest export and brings in the largest revenues. However, as in most African countries, the proceeds or these great repositories of wealth rarely filter to the people. They are monopolised by the leadership who enjoy the wealth and treat it as their own.

I guess you can do more research and fill the holes in the life of this remarkable leader. I set out to share this little bit of knowledge about him and his accomplishments.

I will leave you with a poem he wrote in 1954 and entitled Bamako. You can interpret it for yourself, not that it needs it.

neto 1

Bamako

Bamako!                                                                                                                                           Where the truth dropping on the leaf’s sheen                                                                         unites with the freshness of men                                                                                               like strong roots under the warm surface of the soil                                                             and where grow love and future                                                                                               fertilised in the generosity of the Niger                                                                                     shaded by the immensity of the Congo                                                                                       to the shim of the African breeze of hearts

Bamako!                                                                                                                                           there life is born                                                                                                                             and grows                                                                                                                                       and develops in us important fires of goodness

Bamako!                                                                                                                                           there are our arms                                                                                                                         there sound our voices                                                                                                                   there the shining hope in our eyes                                                                                             transformed into an irreproachable force                                                                               of friendship                                                                                                                                     dry the tears shed over the centuries                                                                                         in the slave Africa of other days                                                                                                 vivified the nourishing juice of fruit                                                                                           the aroma of the earth                                                                                                                   of which the sun discovers gigantic kilimanjaros                                                                   under the blue sky of peace.

Bamako!                                                                                                                                           living fruit of the Africa                                                                                                                 of the future germinating in the living arteries of Africa                                                       There hope has become tree                                                                                                         and river and beast and land                                                                                                       there hope wins friendship                                                                                                           in the elegance of the palm and the black skin of men

Bamalko! there we vanquish death                                                                                     and the future grows – grows in us                                                                                           in the irresistible force of nature and life                                                                           with us alive in Bamako.

 

 

 

 

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July 4, 2017 · 4:32 pm

Arrest of Steve Bantu Biko: beginning of the end and martyrdom of a legacy


In the early hours of the 18th of August 1977, about an hour away from King William’s Town, on the Grahamstown – King William’s Town Road, Peter Jones and Steve Biko ran into a roadblock. They were both driven to the police station. They would both face torture, brutal interrogation and serve time. Biko never walked out alive again.

The arrest of Steve Bantu Biko was a turning point in his life: it marked the beginning of the end of his life and the martyrdom of his political legacy.

In a cruel twist of fate, his arrest fulfilled the prophecy and words he said in an interview conducted by an American businessman months before his death.

Image of Steve Biko dressed in a suit. The quote superimposed on the picture reads,

The extract, On Death, is ironically the last chapter in his collection of articles – I Write What I Like, was published in The New Republic on the 07th of January 1978.

Biko said then: “You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can’t care anyway. And your method of death can itself be a politicizing thing…

“So if you can overcome the personal fear for death, which is a highly irrational thing, you know, then you’re on your way,” he continued.

His words underpin the courage required to carry out the revolutionary work he was carrying out at the time. The reason he was driving around at that time of the day equally required a similar amount of courage and lack of fear.

Biko prophetically highlighted the interconnectedness between tragedy and its possibilities within the South African political context.

His words not only referred to his own death, but to the death of many young students during the protests against apartheid education in June 1976, and the death of numerous colleagues of his in the Black Consciousness Movement such as his close friend and confidante Mapetla Mohapi.

This lack of fear of death would ultimately lead to his own murder by the security police, unleashing the political and social capital tragedy bestows on political and social movements.

At the time, Biko was serving a ban in King William’s Town and he had restrictions to adhere to.

The conditions of the ban meant he could not speak to more than one person at a time. He could not be quoted.

He was banned from publishing any writing material. He was closely monitored by the Security Police. He could also not leave King William’s Town without special permission.

When he was arrested, he was in breach of the latter. However, they had to be breached because if he didn’t, the system would have won, and that was the very reason the ban was placed on Biko to frustrate him and his work. Therefore, Biko was taking a huge gamble.

It is worth reminding ourselves why he took such a huge gamble. The arrest of Steve Biko is often overlooked.

Hence its significance is hugely glossed over and is often treated as mere footnotes to a much larger narrative.

Image of Steve Biko with the quote “Whites must be made to realize that they are only human, not superior. Same with blacks. They Must be made to realize that they are also human, not inferior. For all of us this means that South Africa is not European, but African.” Steve Bantu Biko I Write What I Like

There are different accounts that explain how Biko got arrested. Some claim, there were spies within the movement that sold him out.

Others claim the roadblock was routine, and others that the policemen were on the lookout for external agitators stoking the ire of the continuing student and youth boycotts in Port Elizabeth.

Those closest to him claimed there were rumours going around that the Boers were planning to assassinate Biko.

His older brother and others urged him to leave and go into exile but Biko refused to leave his movement behind.

His older brother Kaya Biko who got Steve involved with politics admits, “Rumours were doing the rounds in town that the Boers were intent on assassinating Steve”.

“I approached Steve together with my brother-in-law to ask him to leave the country. The man said to us, ‘What kind of a captain will I be if I leave the ship I’m steering, while I see there are faults and it’s going to sink? I’m not leaving the country’.

“There was nothing we could do. That was Steve.”

Whatever the truth is, we will never really know. Speculation is not the objective of this article. There is little doubt that there were some in the Afrikaner Broderbond that wanted Biko dead. He was growing too powerful and the ban on him was not working.

The events of June 1976 and the trial of the Black Consciousness Movement also known as the SASO/ BPC Trial [May 1976] had only added to Biko’s stature: they had unwittingly offered him the stage to project his ideas across the country and internationally, cementing his place as the head of the liberation movement in the absence of the leaders on Robben Island and others under house arrest.

Biko took the trial and transformed it into the Black Consciousness Movement’s version of the Treason Trial and made it what it was for the Congress Alliance in the 1950s.

It is important to understand what happened before Biko and Jones were arrested to clarify why they were on the road at such an early hour and contextualise the arrest and significance of their journey.

Biko traveled the country extensively from time to time, despite his ban, travelling far afield as Cape Town and Durban, and more than once to Johannesburg.

He was forced to travel to Cape Town this time to meet guys from the Western Cape chapter of the Black Consciousness Movement.

There was a rebellion brewing with hardliners criticising his decision to meet American Senator Dick Clark in December 1976.

Image of Steve BAntu Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like which reads: “The most important phenomenon in South Africa today is the blacks’ struggle for freedom.” Steve Bantu Biko I Write What I Like

Clark was in the region, Lesotho to be specific, to attend a meeting of the African Institute. He thought it was important to consult with Biko as an “elder statesmen” of the movement though he was still in his twenties.

The event itself was not unusual. Biko was consulted on a regular basis by representatives of countries far and wide because he was recognised as the leader of the liberation movement in the absence of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe and other senior members of the ANC or PAC who were serving time on Robben Island and were disconnected from politics and current affairs.

However, the militants were not satisfied. They argued that they had on matters of principle refused to meet members of the American government which they viewed as part of the oppressor camp.

They had even gone as far as rejecting a request from US Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young.

When the request was initiated, Biko had just been released from prison and had served a 101 day stretch. He consulted with his comrades who were still in prison.

The memorandum was smuggled in and out of prison by a warder who lived in Ginsberg. This memorandum was presented to Clark and was published in I Write What I Like. It appears under the heading American Policy towards Azania.

Biko was scathing in his criticism of the role of the United States in supporting the apartheid regime. He accused it of collusion in the oppression and exploitation of black people, and even went as far as encouraging it to boycott trading links with South Africa and reexamine its foreign policy.

There was also an additional problem. The hardliners in the Western Cape were not happy with the position papers the BCM had developed as proposals for the African National Congress [ANC] and Pan African Congress [PAC]. They did not think the proposals were radical enough.

They strongly opposed the concept of black communalism as the basis for future economic policy. They were pushing for a socialist/ communist vision for the country.

Steve Biko Christians

It is appropriate to clarify at this point that Biko was involved in clandestine negotiations with both the ANC and PAC to bring them together with the BCM and other black political movements to form a united front against apartheid.

The only parties who were not invited were the Bantustan leaders who were seen as sellouts and were complicit in the oppression and exploitation of black people because they had embraced the concept of separate development; therefore, facilitating a fragmentation of the resistance.

You can read more about why he regarded the Bantustan leaders as sellouts in his essay Let’s talk about Bantustans in I Write What I Like.

In this same book, Biko clarified his hopes about the unity of the liberation movement:

“I would like to see groups such as the ANC, PAC and Black Consciousness deciding to form one liberation group. It is only, I think, when black people are so dedicated and so united in their cause that we can affect the greatest results.”

This is why these papers were so important and needed to be sorted out but the chapter in the Western Cape were complicating matters, adding to what was already a complicated process, using intermediaries to negotiate with members like Oliver Tambo who was in exile, and Sobukwe who was on the periphery of the PAC and also politically restricted but still yielding a lot of influence.

Picture of Steve Biko with quote taken from the Book I Write What I Like. The text reads: “If people want to be our friends they must act as friends, with deeds.” Steve Bantu Biko I Write What I Like

The process was made even harder after Biko’s intermediary with Sobukwe – Mapetla Mohapi -was murdered by the Security Police in prison.

Biko was also in pursuit of unity talks with the Unity Movement in Cape Town. He wanted to meet with Alexander Neville who was the leading figure of the movement.

Alexander had just returned from Robben Island after serving a ten year stint in prison. He had set up a study group at his home which included members of his own movement and the BCM.

However, he was unhappy because his movement was unable to strike rapport with the Black community. Therefore, he requested his colleague, Nicki Westcott, who had strong connections with the Black Consciousness Movement in Cape Town to facilitate connections.

The two movements set out to forge an alliance through joint action. They had even gone as far as creating joint committees of the BCM, Unity Movement and the ANC to carry out collaborative projects such as the nationwide protest against the granting of independence to the Transkei on 26 October 1976.

ANC members such as Winnie Mandela and Joe Gqabi were involved in the collaboration.

The chapter in the Western Cape felt that the King William’s group had centralised the movement around its resources.

They believed the guys in King William’s Town were better paid because they were right at the heart of the funding.

Image of Steve Biko with quote reading: “By Black Consciousness I mean the cultural and political revival of an oppressed people. This must be related to the emancipation of the entire continent of Africa since the Second World War. Africa has experienced the death of white invincibility. Before that we were conscious mainly of two classes of people, the white conquerors and the black conquered. The blacks in Africa now know that the whites will not be conquerors forever.” Steve Bantu Biko I Write What I Like

It was against this backdrop that Biko was forced to travel to Cape Town to address these problems.

He didn’t believe he could address these concerns without physically meeting the Western Cape chapter even if that meant he had to violate his banning order.

The well being of the movement meant more to him than his physical safety because it threatened to curtail the struggle and to Biko that was unthinkable.

Biko as he often reiterated, “It is better to die for an idea that will live, than live for an idea that will die”.

The quote above encapsulates what the movement and struggle meant to Biko. He was prepared to die for it and sacrifice his life. Therefore, there was a lot at stake in this journey.

It was not a reckless game of cat and mouse that he was playing with the system. It was about taking the movement and struggle forwards and securing, ultimately, the liberation of Black people.

Before departing for Cape Town, Biko and Jones met with colleagues at the Zanempilo Clinic, one of the many black community projects founded by the BCM to serve the community, on the 16th of August 1977 to brief them about the meeting.

He left his car with one of the drivers to create the impression that he was around town.

They used a car belonging to Black Community Programmes executive member, Rams Ramokgopa, who was in town from Johannesburg with Hlaku Rachidi and Tom Manthata to discuss the programme of the unity of the liberation groups of South Africa: it had been passed at a resolution at an earlier conference of the movement.

As a result of that meeting, Steve and Peter Jones had to leave for Cape Town. At midnight, the pair slipped away under the cover of darkness.

Peter Jones, or PC as he was known, was a fellow activist from King William’s Town. He was also Steve’s friend.

On the 17th of August, at around 10 AM, they arrived in Cape Town. They went to Jones’ home in Strand, a town outside Cape Town. Biko took a nap while Jones went out to see the people they were supposed to meet.

The people were not aware the pair were in town. There were no mobile phones or pagers around during those days. Public phones were the only means of communication.

Whenever phones were used, the exchanges had to be coded because most were tapped by the Security Police.

Therefore, Biko and Jones mainly had to show up at people’s doors to nullify the security risk and eliminate the potential of spies leaking information about their presence in Cape Town.

Jones made contact with Ronnie Crotz and they went to fetch Johnny Issel who was a leader of the hardliners of the BCM chapter in the Western Cape.

Issel was not at home. Jones left a message with his wife and informed her that Steve was around. Jones proceeded to drop Crotz back at his home and fetched Biko to meet with Alexander.

Image of Steve Biko with the quote “Russia is as imperialistic as America. This is evident in its internal history as well as in the role it plays in countries like Angola. But the Russians have a less dirty game: in the eyes of the Third World they have a cleaner slate. Because of this, they have had a better start in the power game. Their policy seems to be acceptable to revolutionary groups. They are not a ‘taboo’.” The quote comes from the book I Write What I Like.

However, they had to link up with Fikile Bam who was an activist and later became a judge.

Bam, also known as Bra Fiks, had visited Biko at his home in Ginsberg in 1974 after spending a ten year spell on Robben Island and then was restricted to the Transkei.

He had requested Francis Wilson, his former colleague at the University of Cape Town,  and now a friend of Biko to pull strings to get him out of Transkei and Biko facilitated the escape.

It was at that ensuing meeting that Biko asked Bams to initiate a meeting with Alexander. So now that meeting was due to happen and Biko and Jones would catch up with the BCM guys later. The meeting with Alexander was a priority.

They were supposed to link up with a guy called Armien Abrams who was a manager of a community based factory set up by the BCM in Cape Town.

It fell under Jones jurisdiction. Both men were always in touch and Abrams was the perfect man to play the go in between.

However, there was confusion if Jones had communicated that they were coming over with Biko. Jones insisted that he did; Abrams denied it.

Bam was staying at a mansion in the suburb of Crawford. It belonged to Ismail Mohomed who was a mathematics professor at UCT. Abrams had been assigned the task of looking after it while he was away.

On the way to the mansion, Jones stopped to make a call to inform them he was on his way with Biko. Jones dropped Biko off at the mansion to ensure Alexander’s house was secure.

However, on Jones’ arrival, Alexander refused to see Biko. Although Biko and Jones had driven eleven hours to meet him, he would not meet them for a few minutes.

Jones had no choice but to return with the bad news. Bam was furious. He called Alexander and informed him he was coming over but couldn’t get into details over the phone.

He left with Biko. They parked at the back of the house. Bam entered and left Biko in his Volkswagen Beetle.  They argued for half an hour leaving Biko trapped and a sitting duck in the car.

Eventually, Bam stormed out without securing the vital meeting. Biko was disappointed. He had the highest regards of Alexander and had viewed him as a fearless revolutionary intellectual.

They returned back to the mansion where Jones and Abrams were. Biko insisted on returning immediately to King William’s Town because every minute they away the chances of been discovered increased.

Image of Steve Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like which reads, “We are looking forward to a non-racial, just and egalitarian society in which colour, creed and race shall form no point of reference.”

In the early evening of the 17th of August, they hit the road and began the twelve hour journey back. They almost made it.

About an hour from home, the inevitable happened. Biko and Jones were stopped at a roadblock.

They were asked by the police to step out and open the boot. Jones attempted to open the boot but he couldn’t. The only person who could was Rams Ramokgopa and he was back at Zanempilo.

According to reports by Dr Xolela Mangcu and others, the car had been in an accident and there was a dent just above the left tail-light that caused the boot to jam.

Jones invited the cops to try but they also failed. Apparently, the cops were accusing Jones of been a terrorist who was on his way to see Steve Biko. Unbeknown to them, the man they were talking of was with them.

The senior officer – Colonel Alf Oosthuizen – gave orders to clear the roadblock and drive the two guys to the closest police station in Grahamstown.

The Colonel drove Rams’ car with Biko sitting beside him and Jones took a ride with the other officers.

At the police station the car was thoroughly searched. Not even the ashtray avoided close scrutiny. They found Jones’ wallet which had a few Rands and his identity document so they knew who he was.

To make the situation easy for Jones because Biko knew he would not talk on the basis of principle and would most likely be tortured to obtain the information, he admitted, “I am Bantu Steve Biko”.

The cops were shocked. It never crossed their mind that they were with the Biko they were talking about.

Biko and Jones were separated. Biko was taken to Walmer Police Station in Port Elizabeth while Jones was also taken to a prison in the same city, Algoa Police Station, but 250 km apart.

It was the last time the two friends would see each other.

Jones would spend a few years locked up. In less than a month, Steve Biko would be murdered and denied the unity that he cherished and pursued even when he knew that it could result in a lengthy prison sentence or cost him his life.

What was his motivation? Biko like most true revolutionaries like Thomas Sankara and Che Guevara was guided by great feelings of love. Love for his fellow men. Love for his society. Love for his country. Love for freedom.

It was this love that drove Biko to sacrifice all he had, career and family, for the ultimate price. His mission: The Quest of a True Humanity, which you can check out on Sister Nadine’s WordPress page: Iamgoodhope, encapsulates Biko’s ultimate goal.

Image of Steve Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like which states “We must reject, as we have been doing, the individualistic cold approach to life that is the cornerstone of Anglo-Boer culture. We must seek to restore to the black man the great importance we used to give to human relations, the high regard we had for people and their property, and for life in general; to reduce the triumph of technology over man and the materialistic element that is slowly creeping into society.”

He wanted to restore the true humanity of those who had been oppressed and exploited because of the colour of their skin, and also those who were damaged, and had lost their humanity through, actively or passively, supporting the apartheid system.

Biko’s has often been portrayed as the romantic and fearless leader but rarely is there a mention of how he had actively committed class suicide a theory pushed by Amilcar Cabral.

Biko sacrificed his career and any privileges his class and education would have entitled him so that he could work with the poor and underprivileged.

Those who supported apartheid were rewarded; those who opposed were stripped of their rights, their jobs, their voices, the right to earn and a whole lot of other rewards.

Image of Steve Biko accompanied with a quote from the Book I Write What I Like which reads “We don’t behave like Africans,we behave like Africans who are staying in Europe.”

By dedicating his time and life to developing projects like the Zanempilo Clinic and other community based projects run under the banner of Black Community Programmes, Biko had bridged the gap between the intelligentsia and the majority which he had diagnosed as a hindrance to the liberation struggle and accurately pointed out, “The separation of the black intelligentsia from the rest of the black society is a disadvantage to black people as a whole”.

Biko illustrated in this short analysis that he was a visionary and he understood that to bridge this gap, the black intelligentsia had to commit class suicide and work with the rest of the black people.

The failure of the current regime to bridge this gap has resulted in the rise of the technocrats and the big chief or big man syndrome which has resulted in high levels of corruption and the blurring between private and public interests.

Even at this early age, Biko displayed a level of maturity that all of our post independence presidents have lacked.

Picture of Steve Biko with the quote,

His organisational abilities were exceptional: he created organisations that were not reliant on him but were able to operate through having different people changing leadership on a regular basis.

The murder of Biko left a gaping hole in the body politic of South Africa. The liberation movement lost the one man who had the ability to unify black people in solidarity.

The years of political violence between the black liberation movements in the eighties illustrates how Biko’s leadership was sorely missed.

It was as if he had recognised, long before, that the fragmentation of the resistance would one day become violent and he had sought to unify the movement before the violence erupted.

More than that, South Africa lost a fearless revolutionary intellectual  who led by example, and who had a genuine liberation ideology – Black Consciousness – that sought to free the minds of the people.

Picture of Steve Bantu Biko with a quotes from the book I Write What I Like. Quote reads “We believe ultimately in the righteousness of our strength, that we are going to get to the eventual accommodation of our interests within the country.”

That no other leader after Biko ever attempted to free the minds of the people, bears testament to the depth and greatness of Biko’s gift and style of leadership.

His greatest realisation was that “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.

Picture of Steve Biko with the quote,

And it was through the decolonising of the mind that the people would ultimately be set free as he argues in his essay Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity.

Biko understood that tyrants are not going to hand over power because they have sudden pangs of guilt but they will only do it when black people exert pressure on them and force them to concede power through internal or external agitation [or both].

Hence his message reminds us today that we must continually stand against oppression as he often reminded us that, “We must accept that the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress”.

Biko’s words remind us that we are complicit in any situation where we find ourselves oppressed or exploited because most of us endure it sheepishly because we are too afraid to speak up and lose our rewards from the system.

Therefore, those who cherish freedom and liberation, like Biko and others who died in the liberation of South Africa, have to “overcome the personal fear for death”.

It is only when we are able to transcend the fear of death that we will find ourselves on the way.

It is not enough to be scholars of the Black Consciousness text, but we must embrace it’s spirit and live like Biko, following in his example and selfless sacrifice, and those other fearless revolutionary intellectuals who were prepared to commit class suicide and bridge the gap between the intelligentsia and the rest of the black people to move the goals of the struggle forward..

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Filed under Great African Leaders, Revolutionaries, Steve Bantu Biko, Under The Spotlight

Amilcar Cabral (37) Quotes from Revolution in Guinea


Amilcar Cabral‘s 37 quotes appear at the end of this article. Therefore, if you are familiar with his work and accomplishments, please feel free to skip this introduction to the legend. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with the life and work of Amilcar Cabral, I have put this intro together to contextualise his words and thoughts.

His full name was Amilcar Lopes da Costa Cabral. His nom de guerre was Abel Djassi. Some of the names sound Portuguese. That was the case. Cabral rose to prominence in the liberation struggle against Portugal’s colonisation of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde.

Picture of Amilcar Cabral with the quote,

The people of Portuguese colonised Guinea took up arms to free their country from colonial domination in 1963 under the leadership of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde [PAIGC].

At the time Cabral was both the founder and the Secretary-General of the PAIGC, including the small group that formed the original core of the Party.

Cabral became aware and conscious of the wretched conditions his people were living in while working as an agricultural engineer for the government of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde Islands.

His job involved travelling around the country and meeting people. From 1952 – 54, Amilcar Cabral had visited every corner of his country, preparing an agricultural census for the colonial administration.

This gave him unprecedented contact with the people and provided him with the opportunity to understand the problems the people faced and an intimate knowledge of the local terrain.

The detailed knowledge he acquired of his people and their situation provided the basis for the PAIGC’s revolutionary strategy.

Guinea did not have the necessary elements on which revolutionary movements in Europe and Asia had based their respective revolutions.

They didn’t have a large proletariat. There was no developed working class. There was no large peasant class deprived of land ownership: colonial exploitation in Guinea was executed via price mechanism rather than by land ownership.

Therefore, a successful revolutionary struggle could not be based on any wholesale adoption of other revolutionary experiences or strategies.

Picture of AmilcarCabral in contemplation. The superimposed quote reads, “Learn from life, learn from our people, learn from books, learn from the experience of others. Never stop learning.”

They needed a strategy based on African conditions; more specifically, on conditions within Guinea and Cape Verde.

Cabral was central to the creation of these revolutionary elements, creating the theory and articulating it to Party members, locals and others outside the borders of Guinea and Cape Verde.

Cabral weighed up the revolutionary potential of each group within his society. Thus the PAIGC began its long, patient process of clandestine political preparation in 1959.

The gravity of Cabral’s political theory grew way out of proportion to the size of Guinea when compared to Africa and its influence on the liberation movements on the continent.

Cabral’s political and revolutionary analyses extended way beyond the borders of Guinea and Cape Verde.

The clear, down to earth terms in which the terms were articulated and were put to use influenced many revolutionary movements all over the world. This includes revolutionary movements in Europe and Asia.

His theory and political analysis illustrate the importance of the need to study one’s own concrete conditions and to make the revolution according to those particular conditions, rather than relying on the experience of others, as valuable as it may be.

In addition, his revolutionary strategy was centred around the mobilisation of the people around practical material issues rather than indulging in vainglorious theoretical and ideological ideals.

It is absurd therefore to find African revolutionary movements or revolutionaries who swear blindly that they are Marxists, Maoists, Leninist‘s, Sankarists, etc. or a blend of all the aforementioned schools of thought.Picture of Amilcar Cabral with his comrades in military fatigues and carrying rifles. The quote by Amilcar cabral superimposed on the picture reads, “We must practice revolutionary democracy in every aspect of our Party life. Every responsible member must have the courage of his responsibilities, exacting from others a proper respect for his work and properly respecting the work of others. Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies wherever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories.”

Cabral was deeply influenced by Marxism but he was not a Marxist. However, he became an inspiration to national liberation movements and revolutionary socialists worldwide.

This was partly due to his brilliant scholastic ability to reinvent a new ideological school of thought, that took the works of Lenin and Marx and made them relevant to the realities Africa was facing at that time.

Probably, his latter day equivalent was the late Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara.

He was also influenced by Marxism and was a committed revolutionary, Pan Africanist theorist, feminist, revolutionary icon, anti-imperialist activist and the former leader of Burkina Faso.

Cabral’s legacy today is undisputed. He is revered as one of the greatest anti-colonial and anti-imperialist leaders of the twentieth century. He is remembered as a brilliant, devoted and fearless revolutionary.

He is acknowledged as the architect and mastermind behind the drive to liberate Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde from the inequity of Portuguese colonialism.

It is fitting though that today we keep the flame burning for one of Africa’s greatest revolutionary theorist,  guerrilla fighters, an inspiring agitator, and an uncompromising internationalist.

We have a lot to learn from his methods and theory because the ideas set out in Revolution in Guinea transcend time and geographical boundaries or locations.

His ideas are probably more relevant to us Africans than Marxism is today because his ideas grew out of an analysis of the African situation and conditions in comparison to Marx whose analysis was based exclusively on Europe.

Amilcar Cabral’s legacy continues to inform the global struggle against imperialism and neo-colonialism while advocating for socialism.

His words, thoughts and ideas remain relevant in the struggle to eliminate oppression and exploitation and restoring humanity to all dehumanised people worldwide.

I have no intention of providing an in-depth analysis of this great visionary here today. That is the stuff for another day and article. In the meantime, enjoy his words, thoughts and ideas.

Closeup picture of Amilcar Cabral in a suit, seated and reading with his glasses on his forehead. He is in a hall. The superimposed text fron his quote reads ‘An African saying very popular in our country says: “When your house is burning, it’s no use beating the tom-toms.” On a Tricontinental level, this means that we are not going to eliminate imperialism by shouting insults against it. For us, the best or worst shout against imperialism, whatever its form, is to take up arms and fight. This is what we are doing, and this is what we will go on doing until all foreign domination of our African homelands has been totally eliminated.’ Taken from the book Revolution in Guinea by Amilcar Cabral.

  1. Let us be precise: for us, African revolution means the transformation of our present life in the direction of progress. The prerequisite for this is the elimination of foreign economic domination, on which every other type of domination is dependent.
  2. We are for African unity, on a regional or continental scale, inasfar as it is necessary for the progress of the African peoples, and in order to guarantee their security and the continuity of this progress.
  3. In relation to Africa, we are for fraternal collaboration between the African peoples, against narrow nationalisms which do not serve the true interests of the people.
  4. We are sure of the solidarity of all the African peoples in our struggle. We conscious of the fact that our struggle for national liberation does not only serve our own peoples: it also serves the fundamental interests of all peoples of Africa and of the world.
  5. Our struggle has lost its national character and has moved onto an international level. The struggle taking place in our country today is the struggle of progress against misery and suffering, of freedom against oppression.
  6. It is on basis of this universal principle that we would like to express our firm conviction that our struggle is for peaceful coexistence and peace.
  7. To coexist one must first of all exist, so the imperialists and the colonialists must be forced to retreat so that we can make a contribution to human civilization, based on the work, the dynamic personality and culture of our peoples.
  8. To make this contribution in independence, fraternity and equality with all peoples, it does not seem to us to be necessary to get involved in the ideological disputes and conflicts which are splitting the world. Picture of Amilcar cabral staring into space. Amilcar Cabral's quote in the picture reads, “Educate ourselves, educate other people, the population in general, to fight fear and ignorance, to eliminate little by little the subjection to nature and natural forces which our economy has not yet mastered. Convince little by little, in particular the militants of the Party, that we shall end by conquering fear of nature, and that man is the strongest force in nature.”
  9. We do not need to follow any line: our position must be and remain based on the fundamental aspirations of our people.
  10. We consider that when imperialism arrived in Guinea it made us leave history – our history.
  11. For a revolution to take place depends on the nature of the party (and its size), the character of the struggle which led up to liberation, whether there was an armed struggle, what the nature of this armed struggle was and how it developed and, of course, on the nature of the state.
  12. As you can see, it is the struggle in the underdeveloped countries which endows the petty bourgeoisie with a function; in the capitalist countries the petty bourgeoisie is only a stratum which serves, it does not determine the historical orientation of the country; it merely allies itself with one group or another.
  13. So that to hope that the petty bourgeoisie will just carry out a revolution when it comes to power in an underdeveloped country is to hope for a miracle, although it is true that it could do this.
  14. I think one thing that can be said is this: the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie is honest; ie in spite of all the hostile conditions, it remains identified with the fundamental interests of the popular masses. To do this it may have to commit suicide, but it will not lose; by sacrificing itself it can reincarnate itself, but in the conditions of workers or peasants. In speaking of honesty I am not trying to establish moral criteria for judging the role of the petty bourgeoisie when it is in power; what I mean by honesty, is total commitment and total identification with the toiling masses.
  15. Neocolonialism is at work on two fronts – in Europe as well as in the underdeveloped countries. Its current framework in the underdeveloped countries is the policy of aid, and one of the essential aims of this policy is to create a false bourgeoisie to put brakes on the revolution and to enlarge the possibilities of the petty bourgeoisie as a neutraliser of the revolution.
  16. You must analyse and study these movements and combat in Europe, by all possible means, everything which can be used to further the repression against our peoples. I refer especially to the sale of arms. Picture of Amilcar cabral smiling and wearing glasses and a hat. The quote in the picture reads, “For us, there is always armed struggle. There are two kinds of armed struggle: the armed struggle in which the people fight empty handed, unarmed, while the imperialists or colonialists are armed and kill our people; and the armed struggle in which we prove we are not crazy by taking up arms to fight back against the criminal arms of the imperialists.”
  17. Moreover, you must unmask courageously all the national liberation movements which are under the thumb of imperialism.
  18. If we are fighting together, then I think the main aspect of our solidarity is extremely simple: it is to fight – I don’t think there is any need to discuss this very much.
  19. In any struggle it is of fundamental importance to define clearly who we are, and who is the enemy.
  20. We are from the part of Africa which the imperialists call Black Africa. Yes, we are Black. But we are men like all other men. Our countries are economically backward. Our people are at a specific historical stage characterised by this backward condition of our economy. We must be conscious of this. We are African peoples, we have not invented many things, we do not possess today the special weapons which others possess, we have no big factories, we don’t even have for our children the toys which other children have, but we do have our own hearts, our own heads, our own history. It is this history the colonialists have taken from us. The colonialists usually say that it was they who brought us into history: today we show that this is not so. They made us leave our history, our history, to follow them, right at the back, to follow the progress of their history. Today, in taking up arms to liberate ourselves, in following the examples of other peoples to liberate themselves, we want to return to our history, on our own feet, by our own means and through our own sacrifices.
  21. Our national liberation struggle has a great significance both for Africa and for the world. We are in the process of proving that peoples such as ours – economically backward, living sometimes almost near naked in the bush, not knowing how to read or write, not having even the most elementary knowledge of modern technology – are capable, by means of their sacrifices and efforts, of beating an enemy who is not only more advanced from a technological point of view but also supported by the powerful forces of world imperialism.
  22. We should consider ourselves as soldiers, often anonymous, but soldiers of humanity in the vast front of struggle in Africa today.
  23. We are fighting for the complete liberation of our peoples, but we are not fighting to simply hoist a flag in our countries and to have a national anthem.
  24. We do not confuse exploitation or exploiters with the colour of men’s skins; we do not want any exploitation in our countries, not even by black people… Picture of Amilcar Cabra in a suit and glasses. There are several quotes on the page. The main one reads,
  25. In Africa we are all for the complete liberation of the African continent from the colonial yoke, for we know that colonialism is an instrument of imperialism. So we want to see all manifestations of imperialism totally wiped out on the soil of Africa…
  26. In Africa, we are all for African unity, but we are for African unity in favour of African peoples. We consider unity to be a means, not an end. Unity can reinforce and accelerate the reaching of ends, but we must not betray the end. This is why we are not in a hurry to achieve African unity. We know that it will come, step by step, as a result of the fruitful efforts of the African peoples. It will come at the service of Africa and of humanity.
  27. In the CONCP we are firmly convinced that making full use of the riches of our continent, of its human, moral and cultural capacities, will contribute to creating a rich human species, which on turn will make a considerable contribution to humanity. But we do not want the dream of this end to betray in its achievement the interests of each African people.
  28. We are willing to join any African people, with one condition: that the gains made by our people in the liberation struggle, the economic and social gains and the justice which we seek and are achieving little by little, should not be compromised by unity with other peoples. That is our only condition for unity.
  29. In Africa, we are for an African policy which seeks to defend first and foremost the interests of African peoples, of each African country, but also for a policy which does not, at any time, forget the interests of the world, of all humanity. We are for a policy of peace in Africa and of fraternal collaboration with all peoples of the world.
  30. We reserve the right to make our own decisions, and if by chance our choices and decisions coincide with others, that is not our fault.
  31. You understand that we are struggling first and foremost for our own peoples. That is our task in this front of struggle.
  32. We are with the Blacks of North America, we are with them in the streets of Los Angeles, and when they are deprived of all possibility of life, we suffer with them. An illustration of Amilcar cabral with the quote “But let us prepare ourselves too, each day, and be vigilant, so as not to allow a new form of colonialism to be established in our countries, so as not to allow in our countries any form of imperialism, so as not to allow neo-colonialism, already a cancerous growth in certain parts of Africa and of the world, to reach our own countries.”
  33. We strongly support all just causes in the world, but we are reinforced by the support of others.
  34. We know that all the African peoples are our brothers. Our struggle is their struggle. Every drop of blood that falls in our countries falls also from the body and heart of our brothers, these African peoples.
  35. It is our peoples who guarantee the future and certainty of our victory.
  36. It is the struggle which makes comrades which makes companions, for the present and for the future.
  37. The enemies of the African peoples are powerful and cunning and can always count on a few faithful lackeys in our country, since quislings are not a European privilege.

I hope you enjoyed Amilcar Cabral’s quotes above and learned something that will enrich you in many ways. You can check out quotes here by Steve Biko, Kwame Nkrumah and Thomas Sankara.

In conclusion, keep an eye open for the review of Revolution in Guinea by Amilcar Cabral coming soon.

Aluta Continua! Revolutionary Love!

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Filed under Amilcar Cabral, Famous Qoutes, Great African Leaders

30 Kwame Nkrumah’s Quotes from Class Struggle In Africa: Saluting An African Revolutionary


Kwame Nkrumah was a Ghanaian nationalist leader who led Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast, to independence from Britain. This post explores Kwame Nkrumah quotes I pulled from one of sixteen books, Class Struggle in Africa, he wrote.

You can skip the pursuing paragraphs which place Nkrumah in context to access the quotes below.

Nkrumah first became Prime Minister of the Gold Coast in 1951; he  led it to independence in 1957 when he also became the first Prime Minister of an independent Ghana. In 1960, the country became a republic and he became the president.

On a state visit to Hanoi in February 1966, Nkrumah was overthrown by a coup led by the reactionary forces within Ghana. They were assisted by their imperialist and neo-colonialist masters pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Nkrumah was later to write in Class Struggle in Africa, “Imperialist aggression has expressed itself not only in coups d’état, but in the assassination of revolutionary leaders, and the setting up of new intelligence organisations”.

Front cover of the book Class Struggle in Africa written by Kwame Nkrumah

His experience taught him a lot of things that ordinary people were unaware of. His experience permeates the texts he writes and this is what makes his testimonies so powerful.

His words would became true in the assassination and murder of revolutionaries like Thomas Sankara from Burkina Faso in 1987 and Samora Machel, leader of Mozambique in 1986 to mention a few.

Patrice Lumumba from the Democratic Republic of Congo was long gone by then, killed like the latter two for his anti-imperialist views, and will to uphold the will of his countrymen while refusing to be a puppet of the agents of imperialism.

Fleet Street and the western media and other media outlets demonised Nkrumah, creating fictions that he was a dictator and his rule was becoming authoritarian to justify the coup in support of his political enemies, the reactionaries, who were nothing more than mere puppets in the whole charade.

Nkrumah was a threat to their interests and cut a lonely figure, a voice crying in the wilderness, denouncing neocolonialism and imperialism and calling for the expulsion of the European powers from Africa, and the Unification of Africa into a single state under a socialist government as he spells out in the video clip below.

He was a threat to the neo-colonialist and imperialist ambitions and interests of the west; especially, as he was turning more and more towards the east, China, Russia and other socialist countries.

The western powers couldn’t afford to lose their lucrative share of Ghana’s diamonds, gold and cocoa. They couldn’t let Nkrumah influence other African countries to follow his lead.

The European powers were at war trying to maintain their stranglehold on Africa’s resources. America was using the United Nations to force the European powers to release their stranglehold on Africa so it could get a slice of the cake.

Therefore, he was a threat to their colonial, neocolonial and imperialist ambitions and interests. Nkrumah was a dangerous man. His ideas were dangerous.

The Americans were not happy with him for trying to create a government that was against their interests. They were even more afraid of other African governments which might have been encouraged to follow Nkrumah’s lead.

In addition, Nkrumah’s material and financial support for liberation movements fighting the white minority and colonial regimes in Africa made him a figure who had to go.

Therefore, they used the reactionary forces to get him out of power and continue their monopoly of Ghana’s valuable resources.

Nkrumah spent the last six years of his life as co-president of Guinea where his friend Sekou Toure invited him to partner him.

He also spent time writing books such as Class Struggle in Africa published in 1970 and others.

During that time, he also founded PANAF BOOKS. It came about after the two publishers who had previously published his work refused to publish his books after his fall from grace.

The political motivation was evident: Nkrumah understood better that this was an attempt to silence him and his ideology. He was also able to buy the previous books before they were turned into pulp and all his ideas killed.

Fortunately for us, these books and Panaf Books are still around continuing where he left off.

Nkrumah published about 16 books during his life. Only two of these: Revolutionary Path and Rhodesia File were published posthumously in 1972 by the company he set up. All sixteen books are available through Panaf Books.

I am sure there are numerous other books out there, volumes about Nkrumah’s speeches, and many others inspired by the great man.

Nkrumah died in exile and he never set foot in his Ghana again. There are many around, those close to him, who maintain that Nkrumah was murdered: his death was unnatural as the speech below, Cancer of Betrayal, by Amilcar Cabral spells out.

However, time has been kind to him. Time has absolved him of all the accusations made by his detractors.

Time has restored him as the great man he was. He is remembered as the firebrand of African liberation.  Today, those people who overthrew him hail him as the greatest man in Ghana.

They in turn have since sunk into oblivion. Across Africa he is revered as an international symbol for freedom. His ideology for a United Africa lives in the hearts and minds of true African Revolutionaries.

Nkrumah was central to the founding of the Organisation of African Unity and his support for the liberation movements striving to free themselves from the colonial powers during the decolonisation of the continent made him a hero right across Africa and the Black Diaspora.

Those who have tried to push his visions for a United Africa like Colonel Muammar Gaddafi or Robert Mugabe are either murdered by the imperialist powers or demonised.

Nkrumah’s ideology continues to live in young and old across Africa and the Black Diaspora.

His words remain relevant to an awakening generation of revolutionaries. This is why I have taken the time to share 30 of his quotes below from Class Struggle in Africa. Enjoy.

  1. Workers are workers, and nationality, race, tribe and religion are irrelevancies in the struggle to achieve socialism.
  2. In Africa there should be no African “alien”. All are Africans. The enemy-wall to be brought down and crushed is not the African “alien” worker but Balkanisation and the artificial territorial boundaries created by imperialism.
  3. It is the task of the African urban proletariat to win the peasantry to revolution by taking the revolution to the countryside.
  4. It is the indigenous bourgeoisie who provide the main means by which international monopoly finance continues to plunder and to frustrate the purposes of the African Revolution.
  5. The exposure and the defeat of the African bourgeoisie, therefore, provides the key to the successful accomplishment of the worker-peasant struggle to achieve total liberation and socialism, and to advance the cause of the entire world socialist revolution.
  6. Colonialism, imperialism and neocolonialism are expressions of capitalism and of bourgeois economic and political aspirations.
  7. There is not one country in Africa today where the political consciousness of the worker-peasant class has resulted in the establishment of of a socialist state.
  8. The worker-peasant class even though it has assisted in the winning of independence, has not yet assumed leadership in Africa as a conscious class. Closeup picture of Kwame Nkrumah and his book entitled I Speak Of Freedom. The quote superimposed over his face reads,
  9. Imperialist aggression has expressed itself not only in coups d’état, but in the assassination of revolutionary leaders, and the setting up of new intelligence organisations.
  10. As long as African States continue to be dependent in any degree for training, and for arms and supplies on capitalist sources, the African Revolution is in jeopardy.
  11. Historically, professional armies of the capitalist world have a tradition of suppression of socialist and revolutionary movements. They are the instruments of the ruling class or classes for maintaining bourgeois power.
  12. There is little justification for the enormous sums of money spent on the armies of Africa. Africa is not threatened territorially by any outside power. The border disputes which exist between certain African States, most of them legacies from the colonial period, are all capable of peaceful resolution.
  13. Inequality can only be ended by the abolition of classes.
  14. Ideologies reflect class interests and class consciousness. Liberalism, individualism, elitism, and bourgeois “democracy” – which is an illusion – are examples of bourgeois ideology. Fascism, imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism are also expressions of bourgeois thinking and of bourgeois political and economic aspirations.
  15. Those who for political reasons pay lip service to socialism, while aiding and abetting imperialism and neocolonialism, serve bourgeois interests. Workers and peasants may be misled for a time, but as class consciousness develops the bogus socialists are exposed, and genuine socialist revolution is made possible.
  16. The principles of scientific socialism are universal and abiding, and involve the genuine socialisation of productive and distributive processes. Picture of Kwame Nkrumah waving at the masses at a stadium. The quote superimposed on the picture reads “And my last warning to you is that you are to  stand firm behind us so that we can prove to the world that when the African is given a chance, he can show the world that he is somebody!”
  17. For race is inextricably linked with class exploitation, in a racist-capitalist power structure, capitalist exploitation and race oppression are complementary; the removal of one ensures the removal of the other.
  18. A non-racial society can only be achieved by socialist revolutionary action of the masses. It will never come as a gift of the minority ruling class.
  19. Elitism is an ideology tailor-made to fit capitalism and bourgeois de facto domination in the capitalist society. Furthermore, it intensifies racism, since it can be used to subscribe to the myth of racial superiority and inferiority.
  20. In general, intellectuals with working class origins tend to be more radical than those from the privileged sectors of society.
  21. Intelligentsia and intellectuals, if they are to play a part in the African Revolution, must become conscious of the class struggle in Africa, and align themselves with the oppressed masses. This involves the difficult, but not impossible, task of cutting themselves free from bourgeois attitudes and ideologies imbibed as a result of colonialist education and propaganda.
  22. Socialist revolutionary struggle, whether in the form of political, economic or military action, can be ultimately effective if it is organised, and it has its roots in the class struggle of workers and peasants.
  23. The total liberation and the unification of Africa under an All-African socialist government must be the objective of all Black revolutionaries throughout the world.
  24. The core of the Black Revolution is in Africa, and until Africa is united under a socialist government, the Black man throughout the world lacks a national home. Picture of a portrait of Kwame Nkrumah on the front cover of Time Magazine. A quote beside the picture reads,
  25. It is around the African peoples’ struggles for liberation and unification that African or Black culture will take shape and substance.
  26. The African Revolution is not an isolated one. It not only forms part of the world socialist revolution, but must be seen in the context of the Black Revolution as a whole.
  27. Socialism can only be achieved through class struggle.
  28. In Africa, the internal enemy – the reactionary bourgeoisie – must be exposed as exploiters and parasites, and as collaborators with imperialists and neo-colonialists on whom they largely depend for the maintenance of their positions of power and privilege.
  29. The rural proletariat are workers in the Marxist sense of the word. They are part of the working class and the most revolutionary of the African rural strata.
  30. The basis of a revolution is created when the organic structure and conditions within a given society have aroused mass consent and mass desire for positive action to change or transform that society.

I hope you enjoyed those quotes and found them not only interesting but enlightening and they inspire you to know more about Kwame Nkrumah. Keep your eyes open for my book review of Class Struggle in Africa by Kwame Nkrumah coming soon.

If you want your copy of the books or others by him, you can order from Panaf Books. Follow the link.

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June 26, 2015 · 4:25 pm

Thomas Sankara’s remains to be exhumed: Revisiting The Upright Man’s Legacy



Last year, I signed a petition calling for the remains of Thomas Sankara, popularly known as The Upright Man and the former leader of Burkina Faso, anti-imperialist activist and revolutionary, to be exhumed. Now, his remains or what are believed to be his remains are in the process of been exhumed.

Medium closeup picture of Captain Thomas Sankara wearing military fatigues. The quote “We are not against progress, but we do not want progress that is anarchic and criminally neglects the rights of others.” appears in the picture.

I am not sure if the petition I signed had anything to do with it or if his widow and her family’s calls for his remains to be exhumed are the catalyst. It is immaterial.

The good news is that an injustice can be corrected and the late revolutionary, feminist, anti-imperialist activist and one of the best leaders to emerge from Africa can receive a dignified burial befitting a legend of his stature.

It is more important that this is done not only to provide closure for the family but for Thomas Sankara’s story to be told in full.

The truth is something we all want to hear. We want to know who killed him. We want to know about the alleged involvement of external imperialist and neo-colonialist forces. We want those who took him out to be brought to justice.

The exhumation of Sankara’s remains reopens a chapter of African history that those who assassinated him hoped would never be revisited.

His assassination echoes the murder of other great African leaders like Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel, Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Herbert Chitepo, Dr Samuel Tichafa Parirenyatwa, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Khalid Abdul Muhammad and many other revolutionaries too many to mention here.

Revisiting Sankara’s legacy will provide us with the opportunity to understand the modus operandi of those forces that trot the globe preaching democracy on the world stage, but use proxy wars and propaganda to silence and remove leaders who are critical of their unorthodox methods and install puppet regimes sympathetic to their interests.

The assassination of African leaders who have upheld the interests of their people’s and selflessly defended their sovereignty is beyond tragic.

It has arrested the development of the continent and in many cases set Africa back decades, and provided a platform for corrupt dictators and despots to flourish with the support of many Western nations.

The support of these despots has been a vain attempt to maintain the cultural, socio economic and political hegemony of the more powerful nations over the weaker nations and maintain their stranglehold on the resources of Africa for their exclusive use.

These are the ills Sankara diagnosed through a Marxist critique and offered remedies to cure Africa of its ailments. He reached out to and spoke on behalf of all the oppressed and exploited people’s of the world who refused to accept the economic subjugation of classified societies and their consequences.

He condemned ecological devastation, African genocides and wars, racism, wars of conquest and plunder brought on by the workings of capitalism. He understood that those conditions were unnatural but a by-product of the modern imperialist order.

Closeup picture of Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara in military fatigues and a red beret with a star on his head. The subtitles on the screen read

For 28 years, what happened on that fateful day in October 1987 has been shrouded in mystery. Now, the opportunity to find out the truth has become a reality.

Nowhere is this need to know greater than within Burkina Faso. Hundreds of Burkinabe went to the graveyard where the exhumation was taking place in Ouagadougou. However, the security forces kept them out.

Blaise Compaore who is largely believed to have been instrumental in the assassination of Sankara, has always denied involvement but while he was in office, the courts denied a request by the family for Sankara’s exhumation.

His ousting during the riots in October last year paved the way for this historic occasion.

The assassination of Sankara made him a martyr not only in Burkina Faso, but across Africa and internationally. His star continues to rise and many people are embracing his ideas, reinforcing his belief that, “You cannot kill ideas. Ideas do not die”.

Picture of a smiling Thomas Sankara with the quote, “It’s true You cannot kill ideas. Ideas DO NOT DIE.”

His most popular quote, “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas”, has proved that the assassination of Sankara did not kill his ideas, and that they continue to influence new generations 28 years later.

His mission to confront imperialism, colonialism, social inequality, socioeconomic and political transformation and the subjugation of women has not diminished with time.

More and more movements are sprouting internationally, continuing the work Sankara started and he has become a figurehead of many of these social movements.

The riots last year that led to the ousting of Compaore were attributed to the lingering influence of Sankara.

The spirit of Sankara lives on in the downtrodden, oppressed and exploited people’s of the world. His calls for a more humane world where people live with dignity resonates with most people: this is why Sankara’s ideas continue to inspire new and old followers alike.

A quote of Thomas Sankara which reads,

Books like We Are Heirs of the World’s Revolutions, Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle, and Thomas Sankara Speaks which are books that contain Sankara’s speeches are powerful weapons to those fighting oppression and exploitation and trying to gain a better understanding of the man and what he represented.

The books mentioned above are important resources that make Sankara’s ideas more accessible but most importantly, they illustrate what he stood for as well as show that he was an excellent theoretician who could break down complex ideas and reproduce them in a form palatable to the layman.

They reveal his accomplishment as an orator but also set out his plans for Burkina Faso and his achievements within the four years he transformed his country from a nation dependent on France to a self reliant people.

His growing popularity is a direct result of his selfless task to speak on behalf of “‘the great disinherited of the world’, those who belong to the world so ironically christened the Third World. And to state, though I may not succeed in making them understood, the reasons for our revolt.”

Probably Sankara’s most endearing quality was his total trust in the people providing answers to their own challenges and transforming their own society and governing it.

His extraordinary confidence in the revolutionary capacity of human beings set him apart from all other leaders and politicians who tend to preach that the role of governance and maintaining order is the sacred duty of only the enlightened in society. That means only the “elite”!

He played a role as a leader of African people and as the unofficial spokesperson for the oppressed, and exploited in the semi colonial world, plus he provided leadership to working people in the imperialist world: it is this internationalist appeal and perspective of his that many people identify with and embrace.

Many have no idea who he is. But once they see his videos or read his books, they are converted almost instantaneously, attracted by Sankara’s charisma, confidence and honesty.

Image of Captain Thomas Sankara dressed in a red beret with a starand military fatigues. The subtitles on the screen read

Sankara’s legacy has many facets I cannot cover here. In principle, his life’s work provides us with the blueprint of what an African leader can, could and should be.

His honesty and integrity and political will are qualities we should seek in those who we elect to power.

In addition, the way he lived his life with compassion, empathy, in reverence of nature, cognisant of the struggles of women and all oppressed people should inspire us to live a more meaningful life with purpose, and think and act like those mad men who dare to dream and change the world.

The Upright Man, Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara, gave us hope when we had all but lost it. He gave us the confidence to believe that we can create a world built on different economic and  social foundations and not by technocrats, financial wizards or politicians.

He inspired us to acknowledge that we, ordinary human beings, can transform ourselves by becoming active, conscious forces, transforming our conditions in life.

Most importantly, the Burkinabe Revolution is a blueprint to freedom that he left to inspire us to dare to dream and change the world. It enlightened us and left us with many valuable lessons in the same way Sankara was inspired by those revolutions that came before him.

In his own words, he said we are “open to all the winds of the will of the people’s of the world and their revolutions, having also learned from some of their terrible failures that led to tragic violations of human rights. We wish to retain only the core of the purity from each revolution. This prevents us from becoming subservient to the realities of others”.

Like Sankara, “we are heirs of the world’s revolutions” and we too can learn from the “terrible failures that led to tragic violations of human rights” and the loss of The Upright Man’s life to prevent such mistakes from happening in the future.

Revisiting Sankara’s legacy is necessary to understand our potential as revolutionaries and our role in determining the future of a liberated Africa. No developed nation, no matter how benevolent, can provide us with solutions to develop our continent. Let the spirit and ideas of Sankara be our guide to the Promised Land.

Thomas Sankara was a soldier, not only in the literal sense, and even from beyond the grave, he continues to fight for justice and inspire a new generation of fearless warriors, soldiers and revolutionaries. As long as we are breathing, we will continue to uphold Sankara’s legacy and spread it internationally. Sankara Lives!

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Mama Africa: Miriam Makeba, A Revolutionary Musician


Picture of Miriam Makeba

She was affectionately known as Mama Africa: her real name was Miriam Makeba. She was a South African musician. She was a revolutionary. And with music as her weapon of choice, she bravely fought against Apartheid, bringing the plight of millions of black South Africans to the collective consciousness of the world.

This poignant quote of hers encapsulates Miriam Makeba:

I look at an ant and I see myself: a native South African, endowed by nature with a strength much greater than my size so I might cope with the weight of a racism that crushes my spirit.

The picture she painted comparing herself to an ant is very apt. She was a young, charismatic, vivacious and beautiful black woman who appeared  fragile, but beneath her vulnerable exterior, she was extremely resilient.

She had to be to bear the burden of white racism and apartheid that from her birth, had done everything to reduce her to a non-being. This formed her anti-racism attitude. It made her aware of white injustice from an early age.

Miriam Makeba meme image

Makeba came from humble roots. She was born on the fourth of March 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma (a traditional African healer).

I remember her saying in one of her interviews that she inherited her ability to heal with music from her mother who healed with herbs.

Her father was a Xhosa; he died when she was six years old. Eighteen days after her birth, her mother was arrested for selling umqombothi, an African traditional beer brewed using cornmeal and malt. It was illegal to brew and sell this homemade beer.

Her mother spent six months in prison together with Miriam Makeba. The experience left an indelible mark on her. The music she would make decades later would be grounded in the life and struggle of her people.

In a nutshell, it was social commentary capturing the many facets of life for Africans living in the townships of Apartheid South Africa.

Music was part and parcel of her formative years. She sang in the choir of Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria. It was a primary school she attended for eight years.

Makeba had her only child at the age of eighteen in 1950. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time. Her first husband, James Kubay, left her then.

Pic of Miriam Makeba

Her singing skills were honed in the 1950s when she was a part of the Manhattan Brothers, they sang African jazz. However, the union didn’t last.

She left soon after to sing with her all-woman group, The Skylarks. Their music was a concoction of Jazz and traditional South African melodies.

Pata Pata which she released in 1956 catapulted her to the top. It was written by a fellow Southern African musician and friend of hers: Dorothy Masuka came from Zimbabwe, then known as Southern Rhodesia. The song was played on all radio stations and made Makeba into a household name.

A few years later, she appeared on an anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa, produced and directed by American filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. The viewers response was awesome and Rogosin secured her a visa to attend the twenty-fourth Venice Film Festival in Italy.

It won the Critics Award. It opened up new vistas for her. She suddenly found herself in the lead female role in King Kong, the Broadway-inspired South African musical.

She later met the charismatic musician and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte on her travels in London. He was instrumental in helping her secure entry to the United States. He was equally instrumental in helping her rise to fame in the US.

Picture of Harry Belafonte with Miriam Makeba

Harry Belafonte was instrumental in paving Miriam Makeba’s rise to fame and entry in the US.

However, disaster struck. Her mother passed away. On her attempts to return, she discovered her South African passport had been cancelled. The injustice radicalised her; it strengthened her resolve to fight apartheid.

She buried herself into her music and signed with RCA Victor. She released her first U.S. studio album. She named it Miriam Makeba. About two years later, she sang with Belafonte at John F. Kennedy’s birthday party at Madison Square Garden.

However, she didn’t attend the after party because she was not feeling well. Kennedy insisted on meeting her so Belafonte arranged a car to pick her up.

Three years after her first studio album, she released the second, The World of Miriam Makeba.

It peaked at number eight-six on the Billboard 200. However, her fight with Apartheid regime was raging in the background. Months later, she appeared at the United Nations to testify against apartheid.

The Apartheid regime retaliated: they revoked her citizenship and right to return to her motherland. She was left country-less. However, good fortune followed in her footsteps. There were no shortages of countries willing to serve Mama Africa.

Ghana, Guinea and Belgium stepped up and offered her international passports putting Apartheid South Africa to shame. From that point, she became a citizen of the world. The world was dying to own this African songbird.

She held nine passports in her lifetime and was granted honorary citizenship in ten countries. That was ironic for a person rejected by her country because she dared to speak against the Apartheid regime’s inhumane treatment of her people.

Her life was one of lifetime struggle.

She married another musician, Hugh Masekela, in 1964. They first met on the set of King Kong where Masekela was a member of the cast. However, it was short lived. They divorced two years later.

That same year in 1966, Miriam Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording for her collaboration with Harry Belafonte for An Evening with Belafonte/ Makeba.

Cover of An Evening With Belafonte/ Makeba

The album that netted Makeba’s Grammy for Best Folk Music Award with Harry Belafonte.

The album focussed on the plight of black South Africans under Apartheid. It set new ground blending Zulu, Sotho and Swahili songs in an authentic setting. Her fame was growing.

She went on to release some of her most memorable and popular songs in the US such as Malaika and the Click Song [Qongqothwane in Xhosa].

One often overlooked aspect of Miriam Makeba is her rebellious spirit. She had an iron will. She was unconventional.

At a time when many artists and women were embracing huge wigs and white standards of beauty, Makeba embraced her African roots.

She was a bonafide star but she shunned makeup. She refused to curl her hair for shows. She was a forerunner of what many would term the “Afro look”. It is such an absurd misnomer. She was simply being herself and looking the way God created her, black and beautiful.

Her stance confounded critics. The media didn’t know how to pigeonhole her. Trouble and controversy surrounded her because of her maverick ways. But her star quality was undeniable.

She released Pata Pata in the US in 1967 and it became an instant hit sending her reputation even higher.

However, the following year she married a young radical who was a member of the Black Panther Party, and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee leader.

Picture of Miriam Makeba and Stokely Carmichael

Miriam Makeba’s marriage to Trinidad born Stokeley Carmichael caused a lot of controversy. It was the beginning of a huge fallout with power brokers in the musical industry.

His name was Stokeley Carmichael. He would later change his name to Kwame Ture. His name was an amalgamation of Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure‘s name and surname.

The marriage caused huge controversy in the United States because Carmichael was a civil rights activist and considered too much of a radical because of his advocacy for self defence against state brutality in the US.

The power brokers and gatekeepers of the music industry reacted by cancelling her record deals and tours. It cost her a fortune. But she remained steadfast and refused to have the music industry define who she could love. She stood by her man and her decision.

Picture of Miriam a Makeba with Stokeley Carmichael

Consequently, the couple bid farewell to America and relocated to Guinea where President Ahmed Sekou Toure welcomed them with open arms. Guinea was home to Makeba for fifteen years. It became her home away from home.

The couple were close to the president and his wife Andree. Stokeley worked closely with the president while Makeba was appointed Guinea’s official to the United Nations. This was a public relations coup for Toure.

Miriam Makeba was rewarded with the Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize in 1986 for her new role. Her marriage to Carmichael lasted until 1973. The toll had taken its effect on the couple.

Picture of Miriam Makeba with Stokeley Carmichael

She continued to perform in Africa, Europe and Asia and stayed clear of America which had rejected her because of her love for Stokeley Carmichael. She found herself at one of the most historic events to be held in Africa.

She was one of the entertainers at the Rumble in the Jungle match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1974.

The following year she addressed the United Nations again. Makeba used her profile to raise awareness of the plight of her people and pushing for freedom snd equal rights.

She didn’t think twice about using her star quality and charm to put the cause of freedom above her own career. Black liberation was her motivation.

Tragedy struck again. Her daughter Bongi passed away. She was more than just her daughter. She was her friend, confidant, collaborator and song writer on unconventional projects such as the Tribute to Malcolm X.

As usual her mettle and never say die attitude got her through the difficulties.

She met Paul Simon through her ex Hugh Masekela. He introduced the pair and months later they were on the road of the historic Graceland Tour. It took her mind off the death of her daughter.

Two concerts were held in Harare, Zimbabwe. I remember watching them on TV. The shows were billed as Graceland: The African Concert. It was an exquisite show. I was mesmerised watching Paul Simon performing with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

However, Miriam Makeba stole the show and my heart though she was much too old for me. Nevertheless, I had a crush for this woman whose aura radiated way beyond the TV screen. I can understand why Carmichael and Masekela and others fell for her.

Makeba was a strong woman. She was outspoken. She was a revolutionary. She was an artist and unconventional. She attracted men with similar strengths to hers. It is possible that this is why their unions were short lived.

She had a thing for strong black men who were about black liberation and Black Power. If she was not with them physically, she was with them mentally and spiritually.

They were the subjects of her music. They were her muses. There was a two way exchange of energy fuelling the fight for liberation. Her projects on Malcolm X. and Samora Machel illustrate her awareness of the icons of the Black liberation struggle.

The tour worked its magic and brought record executives back to their senses. Warner Bros signed her up and she released Sangoma [Healer], in honour of her mother who was a sangoma. It was her way of paying tribute to her and dealing with that tragedy that seemed to dog her.

The album consisted of accappella healing chants. Her autobiography Makeba: My story followed shortly after. It was published and translated into numerous European languages.

She soon returned to what she did equally well – getting under the skin of the Apartheid Regime. She performed at Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute held at Wembley Stadium in London on the 11th of June 1988.

It was broadcast to 67 countries and garnered an audience of about 600 million. The purpose of this event was to call for the release of the struggle icon Nelson Mandela.

It didn’t do her any favours with the Apartheid regime which was nearing its doomed shelf life and squirming under the glare of the world. The pressure was too much and the cracks began to appear.

Two years later, President Frederik de Klerk unbanned the ANC [African National Congress] and other banned organisations. His announcement that Mandela was to be released sent shockwaves across the world.

Mandela was finally released on 11 February 1990. I remember the moment he was released, walking hand in hand with Winnie Mandela and waving to an ocean of supporters.

Mandela never forgot the efforts of Makeba. He persuaded her to return. She promptly returned at his invitation and reassurances for her safety. Three decades after she left, she was finally back home to reap the rewards of her sweat and tears.

She marked her return with another album, Eyes on Tomorrow. It was a collaborative effort with Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone and her ex and lifetime collaborator – Hugh Masekela.

Her return home was magical. She made an enchanting appearance in an episode of The Cosby Show. Now, she could have some fun. A role in Sarafina followed the same year. It was a role befitting her role in the struggle.

She played Angelina, the mother of Sarafina. The film follows the footsteps of students involved in the 1976’s  Soweto youth uprising. She returned to the studio and released, Sing Me A Song.

Good fortune continued to follow her and her life of struggle seemed to be behind her. Miriam Makeba was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in October 1999.

The following year she was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best World Music Album category for her album Homeland. Cedric Samson and Michael Levinsohn for the New York City based record label Putumayo World Music produced it.

However, Mama Africa was touched by the suffering she saw in Africa. Away from the glare of the limelight, she rolled up her sleeves and worked with Graça Machel-Mandela; she was the South African first lady. They worked with children suffering from HIV/AIDS, child soldiers, and the physically handicapped.

Awards and accolades followed soon after. Makeba received the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold by the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin. It was awarded for outstanding services to peace and international understanding in 2001.

Many others followed. She was voted 38th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. She embarked on a farewell tour in 2005, performing concerts in all the countries she visited during her years in exile or working life.

Tribute shows were done in her memory at the Barbican in London and the Festival d’Ile de France. The latter was hosted by another prominent musician and activist Angelique Kidjo from Benin and a Grammy Award winner.

A documentary, Mama Africa, about her life also followed providing insight into her long and colourful career and personal life. It cemented her legacy as a musician and a revolutionary.

Miriam Makeba dedicated her life to fight injustice and wherever she found it she fought it. So it is no coincidence that on the 9th of November 2008, she was performing at a concert organised to support Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camora.

The Camora is a mafia like organisation found in the Region of Campania.

Mama Africa suffered a heart attack after performing the hit, Pata Pata, that brought her to the world’s attention. The doctors at the Pinetta Grande clinic were unable to revive her.

She passed away doing the two things she loved doing – music and fighting for freedom. It was typical of Miriam Makeba to sacrifice her life to causes she believed in even if it cost her comfort or her life. She always put others before herself which is the opposite of what most musicians do today.

It is not only her music that made her such a loved person. It was her humanitarian and civil rights activism that garnered the respect of the world. Unlike most musicians today, she was outspoken and refused to be silenced by the corporations or those in the corridors of power. She spoke truth to power.

That was a remarkable feat for a young black girl who spent her first months in prison, then grew up in the dusty townships of South Africa. Throughout her life, she embodied the African’s resiliant spirit to overcome adversity against all odds.

For Makeba, the people, Africa came first. She was never ashamed of her culture. She was proud of it and made African culture cool. She didn’t have to chant the slogan Black is Beautiful. She personified it. She wore it like a royal cloak with subliminal splendour and grace. She said it loudly and silently but without uttering a word.

She paved the road for the current crop of African musicians who are enjoying international fame today.

She was a phenomenal African woman who embraced her Africaness with pride and the dignity of royalty. She serenaded the world with her music and documented the life’s of Africans in the townships of South Africa.

She brought their plight to the world. She was the most vociferous and visible anti-apartheid campaigner for over three decades. She was a civil rights activist and stood for freedom, equal rights and justice all over the world.

She said it best herself when she said, My life, my career, every song I sing and every appearance I make, are bound up with the plight of my people.

She was and will always be a revolutionary musician. It is not enough to love her music. Her legacy should remind us and inspire us to do more to be better people and make the world a better place.

There are those who claim struggle credentials to monopolise power and accumulate wealth in society and conveniently omit the contributions of people like Miriam Makeba who gave of themselves selflessly without care for reward or financial compensation.

These are the true heroes and heroines who we must continue to write about and tell their stories to prevent the collective memory from forgetting. I salute this phenomenal revolutionary musician. May the Makeba spirit live through every one of us through the act of remembering her and impersonating her selfless sacrifice for freedom and justice.

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November 10, 2014 · 4:25 pm

Remembering Samora Moisés Machel: Death of a Revolutionary


Samora Machel and his son

On the 19th of October 1986, at twenty-one minutes past nine, 28 years ago, a Russian built Tupolev 134, flying to Maputo from a summit of African leaders in Zambia crashed into Lebombo mountains near Mbuzini in South Africa’s Transvaal province, now known as Mpumalanga, killing the first Mozambican President Samora Moisés Machel.

His plane crashed in mysterious circumstances killing President Samora Machel and thirty-three members of his FRELIMO party and the Russian crew.

Only nine of the people onboard that plane survived.

The site where the plane crashed was at the confluence of Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland’s borders.

Samora Machel‘s death was felt far beyond the borders of Mozambique.

It was about a month before my tenth birthday when I saw the news. It was a horrible moment watching the mangled wreckage and hearing my sister’s cries echoing through the house.

Samora Machel

Samora Machel flanked by Sam Nujoma (President of Namibia) on his right, and President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia to his immediate left and Prime Minister Robert Gabriel Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Machel would never make it back from this ill-fated meeting alive. It was one of the last times he was seen alive in public.

I walked out onto the streets of Harare, I was in Zimbabwe at the time, to get away from the horror of it but everywhere I turned, people were weeping and lamenting and throwing themselves onto the ground as if they had lost their favourite uncle or kinsmen.

That’s how I felt about him. I had grown up seeing his huge smile lighting up our television screens. He always appeared to be overwhelmed by the love and attention lavished upon him.

He always appeared to be uncomfortable in the glare of the spotlights and television cameras. As I was walking on the streets, I knew then as as I know now that we had lost something special, like a limb lost, that you’d always feel it’s presence yet it wasn’t actually there. And it was irreplaceable.

That is Samora Machel. He was and is irreplaceable. His death robbed us of a true revolutionary and leader. A leader who led from the frontline. A leader who led by example. A leader who remained humble until the end despite his heroic deeds, revolutionary credentials and his unquestionable integrity.

Samora Machel

Samora Machel flashing his familiar smile while meeting and greeting the people.

The respect and adoration he elicited from Zimbabweans and others made you forget that he was actually the leader of another country, the first president of Mozambique, and the revolutionary leader of FRELIMO.

It was impossible to believe that the man who brandished that disarming smile was a ferocious soldier on the battlefield respected and feared by foes. And the totalitarian and illegitimate Apartheid and Rhodesian regimes.

His humility lent him the appearance of a gentle and a meek man. He had the instant likeability quality that made you warm up to him even if you had never met him personally. There was an inexplicable aura about Machel. He had that rare human trait.

That made his death that much harder to digest. It was difficult to imagine that anyone would want to kill him.

The cause of the crash still remains a mystery. Questions were raised about the involvement of the Apartheid regime because the plane crashed over South African territory.

These suspicions have never died and have only been reinforced by statements made by some members of the military though they have been strongly refuted.

Samora Machel

” Only by freeing ourselves from this will we be able to understand the world and understand colonialism. Only, only, only understanding this, are we in a position to make the revolution triumph in Mozambique. First, let‟s be proud to be Mozambicans — to be what we are. Yes or no? (Yes). There is no inferior race in the world. There is no superior race in the world. All races are equal. All peoples are equal. There is an imbalance in development that is a reality. But if that‟s how we must classify the superiority of races, then the Portuguese race is the lowest of all the peoples, because it‟s the most backward, yes or no? (Yes). Do you hear, comrades? (We hear). With this, we want to say that we don‟t want — we don‟t want — racism here in Mozambique. White racism. Black racism. We don‟t want it here in Mozambique. We want harmony between peoples. Harmony between races. Because we are all equal. Do you hear, comrades? (We hear).” Samora Machel in action exuding vigour and charisma while addressing a rally of supporters.

The Apartheid regime’s fear of Samora Machel provided a motive to kill him.

It is no secret they formed, armed, trained, financed and provided material support to RENAMO, led by Alphonso Dhlakama, a rebel group without a policy, to undermine Machel’s government.

It is no secret they were also involved in various acts of sabotage in Zimbabwe and arming dissidents there to undermine the newly formed Zimbabwe.

Their objective was to make majority African rule so unattractive it would dissuade the liberation movements fighting Apartheid and their supporters to accept white colonial rule as the best form of government.

It was a vain gesture because the writing was on the wall: South Africa was the last remaining isolated bastion of white supremacy in Africa surrounded by hostile African countries constantly snapping at its heels.

Time, history, the world and inevitability were also against them. Consequently, they were temporarily prolonging the shelf life of a doomed regime.

Fidel Castro and Samora Machel

The meeting of two great revolutionaries and anti-imperialist fighters. Fidel Castro and Samora Machel.

The question many may be asking is why Samora Machel and not Robert Mugabe.

Maybe it was fate. Machel died and Mugabe survived numerous attempts on his life.

Alternatively, there were unsubstantiated rumours, you know how stubborn these things are, real or imagined, that Samora Machel had made a pact with Josiah Magama Tongogara, another much loved and revered revolutionary who died in a car crash during the liberation war, to turn their attention to South Africa once Zimbabwe got her independence and drive the Boers back into the ocean and back where they came from.

Don’t take my word for it. The two people who can verify that story are no longer here to give their account of that particular narrative.

The only truth is that Samora Machel left us too soon. The truth is that, whether the rumours were true or false, Mozambique’s independence was not enough for him.

He couldn’t see his country having the racist and totalitarian regimes of Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa for neighbours. He helped Zimbabwe gain her independence and then continued pressing South Africa to grant independence to the indigenous peoples of the country.

Samora Machel

“SALARIES AND WAGES MUST REFLECT THE REALITY OF THE ENTERPRISE’S ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE; DEVIATIONS FROM THE PLANNED PERFORMANCE SHOULD BE REFLECTED IN PAY.” A quote by Samora Machel above in the picture holding a baby while surveying the devastation caused by RENAMO, the South African sponsored bandits.

Samora Machel dedicated his life to fighting for the independence of Africa as a whole, not only Mozambique, and he remained true to his spirit until the very end.

His leading role in the total decolonisation of the continent was seized upon by the imperialist forces who sought to stop him because he was a threat to their interests in Southern Africa.

They in turn did what they do best. They used their powerful network of news media to churn out propaganda and generate the single story demonising Samora Machel as a dangerous communist who had to be stopped.

So it is no surprise Rhodesia and South Africa and their backers (bankrollers) responded by sponsoring a civil war in Mozambique to discredit its independence.

Dr Kenneth Kaunda,  Julius Nyerere

The trinity of Zimbabwean Independence: Samora Machel on the right, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in the centre and Dr Kenneth Kaunda on the left.

Like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, who trained and supported African liberation movements, Samora Machel on seizing independence after defeating the Portuguese colonialists, he set his sights on Rhodesia to continue the struggle of decolonizing Africa and defeating the imperialist forces.

He turned his superior fighting party FRELIMO to fight the Rhodesian army. FRELIMO fought alongside ZANLA, the military wing of ZANU while ZIPRA (the military wing of ZAPU) attacked from Zambia.

This marked the turning point of the Chimurenga, opening a new chapter, the Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle.

There are those today who try to underplay the role of FRELIMO in the independence of Zimbabwe in a vain attempt to upgrade their own liberation and revolutionary credentials. Their contribution is relegated to the footnotes or totally omitted.

However, those in the know, know the truth that Samora Machel was instrumental in bringing Smith’s regime of diehard racists to its knees. Mozambique and FRELIMO opened up a new chapter in the liberation struggle.

Not even the Rhodesians aerial bombing and usage of chemical weapons like napalm against unarmed refugees (women and children) and a few guerrillas (liberation fighters) at camps like Nyadzonya and Chimoio could stop the inevitable train of black anger from crushing the old jalopy of white supremacy.

Samora Machel and Dr Kenneth Kaunda

Samora Machel and Dr Kenneth Kaunda.

Unlike some revolutionaries who come to power and overstay their welcomes and lose their people’s respect, Samora Machel remains greatly loved and revered.

He joined the ranks of legends like Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Josiah Magama TongogaraHerbert Chitepo, Dr. Tichafa Samuel Parirenyatwa.

Despite leading Mozambique for 11 years, from 1975 to 1986, people still cry or get emotional when they recall the memory of one of Africa’s most respected and revered revolutionaries.

Samora Machel is not judged by the same standard as some leaders or revolutionaries who went on to lead or failed to lead the countries whose freedom they fought for.

Samora Machel never got to tarnish his legacy, not that I assume he would have, or revolutionary credentials. His untimely death secured his lasting and unblemished legacy. At the time of his death, it seemed he couldn’t do anything wrong.

Death made him an African martyr and guaranteed him a prominent seat at the table of rendezvous where Africa’s most revolutionary and truest sons gather at the dusk of their illustrious careers fighting the beasts of white supremacy and Devils of neocolonialism.

Samora Machel the leader of FRELIMO and first president of Mozambique

“We are here because we are the people with responsibilities. We are here because we merit the political confidence of the party. We have the task in our sectors of smashing the structures, working methods and mentality of colonial-capitalism. We have the task of building a new state apparatus that in character, content and working methods serves our interests.” Samora Machel captured during a speech in 1980. Above is an artist’s impression of the revolutionary leader of FRELIMO.

A commission consisting of representatives of Mozambique, South Africa and the Soviet Union was brought together to establish the cause of that fateful crash.

A multiplicity of reasons were put forward. Bad weather was cited. A mechanical cause was cited too. Pilot error.

The investigations failed to establish the exact nature of the crash.

Counteraccusations flew between Maputo and Pretoria for over a decade without shedding light on the exact cause of the crash. However, the residue of a conspiracy of the Apartheid regime’s involvement has never been put to rest and will probably never die.

The release of Nelson Mandela and independence of South Africa brought renewed hope to establishing the cause of the crash. However, like the Apartheid regime before it, Mandela’s government fared no better.

For a boy who came from a village in Mozambique, he travelled a long journey to become a maverick guerrilla strategist who pledged his life to defeating colonialism in Southern Africa and Africa as a whole.

His charisma, integrity and vigour transformed him into a psychologically resourceful leader who led from the frontline and never asked his followers to do what he couldn’t do himself.

Nonetheless, no one can accuse Samora Machel of being a revolutionary who can’t handle a gun or who never fought, as some other revolutionaries who claim liberation credentials are constantly accused of falsifying their liberation credentials. He was there in the battlefield.

He came, he saw and he conquered.

Machel was a leader who couldn’t be corrupted and till the end he died a man of high principles. Africa and the world lost a champion of freedom. We all lost to the detriment of the human race and world peace.

Samoral Machel

“So we must build a strong Mozambique, and prosperous. Do you hear? We must build a free society, a society of good relations amongst us all — we must create a spirit of cameraderie. Brothers aren‟t enough, no. It‟s not enough to be brothers. A spirit of cameraderie! Above all, because we have a big task, which is the task of the liberation of Mozambican women. The task of creating a new mentality among the youth, so that they can serve the whole people, so that they can serve the whole world. Do you hear, comrades? (We hear).” Samora Machel

Samora Machel’s obituaries and tributes painted a picture of a truly remarkable leader. The snapshot below illustrates this point.

Death dealers cannot kill Machel spirit. Herald [Harare] (29 October 1986).

Guardian viewpoint: a stunning loss. Guardian [New York] (29 October 1986).

Driving spirit of a nation’s struggle. New Nation [Johannesburg] (21 October 1986).

Enormous implications for Southern Africa: tributes pour in for Maputo leader. Citizen [Johannesburg] (21 October 1986).

His dream: man, a world renewed. New Nation [Johannesburg] (21 October 1986).

Machel: fiery and charismatic leader. Citizen [Johannesburg] (21 October 1986).

President Samora Machel. Times [London] (21 October 1986).

Quest for freedom was life’s goal. Herald [Harare] (21 October 1986).

Albin Krebs. Samora M. Machel, man of charisma: he held impoverished nation together by personality. New York Times [New York] (21 October 1986).

The arch-enemy of racism. Star [Johannesburg] (24 October 1986).

Iain Christie. The Machel I knew: what Frelimo’s leader taught me about racism. Weekly Mail [Johannesburg] (24 October 1986-30 October 1986). Iain Christie was the author of a biography of Machel published in both English and in Portuguese.

A great man. Sunday Mail [Harare] (26 October 1986).

Machel as South Africans saw him; Machel as the world saw him. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986).

People’s president. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Mono Badela. Machel the healer. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

John D’Oliveira. Africa has lost a shining son. Sunday Star [Review] [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986).

People’s president. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Mono Badela. Machel the healer. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986).

John D’Oliveira. Africa has lost a shining son. Sunday Star [Review] [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986).

Gerald L’Ange. Machel leaves painful legacy. Sunday Star [Review] [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Davison Maruziva. Mozambican president died at crucial time. Sunday Mail [Harare] (26 October 1986). 

Percy Qoboza. The noblest of them all: Percy Qoboza pays tribute to President Samora Machel. City Press [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Messages of condolence on death of Samora Machel. Summary of World Broadcasts [London] no.FE/8400/A5 (27 October 1986), p.1-2. Messages of condolence from China, North Korea, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia.

We’ve lost the champion of freedom: Muzenda. Herald [Harare] (October 1927). 

Comment: death of a hero. Herald [Harare] (28 October 1986). 

Andrew Mutandwa. Guerilla [sic] leader who radiated dignity. Herald [Harare] 

Death dealers cannot kill Machel spirit. Herald [Harare] (29 October 1986). Report of a speech by Canaan Banana, then president of Zimbabwe.

Guardian viewpoint: a stunning loss. Guardian [New York] (29 October 1986). 

Paul Fauvet. Mozambique mourns. Guardian [New York] (29 October 1986). 

He challenged colonialists from start. Herald [Harare] (30 October 1986). 

Machel’s big role in freeing Zimbabwe. Herald [Harare] (30 October 1986). 

Andy Higginbottom. Samora Machel: son of the Mozambican revolution. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! [London] (15 November 1986), p.7. A tribute in the newspaper of the British Revolutionary Communist Group

Gerald L’Ange. Machel leaves painful legacy. Sunday Star [Review] [Johannesburg] (26 October 1986). 

Davison Maruziva. Mozambican president died at crucial time. Sunday Mail [Harare] (26 October 1986). 

Percy Qoboza. The noblest of them all: Percy Qoboza pays tribute to President . 

Messages of condolence on death of Samora Machel. Summary of World Broadcasts [London] no.FE/8400/A5 (27 October 1986), p.1-2. Messages of condolence from China, North Korea, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia.

We’ve lost the champion of freedom: Muzenda. Herald [Harare] (October 1927). 

Comment: death of a hero. Herald [Harare] (28 October 1986). 

My tribute to a great revolutionary and remarkable man would be incomplete without the videos of Journeyman Pictures, Wellington Ziwenga, Afravision and the numerous photographers and organisations whose photos appear in this article.

Thank you for taking the time to peruse this blog and I hope you have been equally rewarded reading this article and watching the documentaries as I found compiling it.

Tell your friends and share this article and let us tell our own stories. As Chinua Achebe wrote in Things Fall Apart, “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

It is our duty to remembering these stories and our heroes so that we don’t forget where we are coming from and no one can turn back and erase our past as what happened during colonialism.

This is why I wrote this article to remember a type of time, a place and a man that might otherwise be forgotten with the passage of time.

He gave us our freedom. He sacrificed his life in the way Jesus Christ is alleged to have done. Therefore, the likes of Samora Moisés Machel live on in everyone of us through our collective remembrance of this gallant shining son of Africa.

Viva Revolution! ALUTA Continua!

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Filed under Great African Leaders, Under The Spotlight

The Upright Man: Captain Thomas Sankara


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Twenty-seven years ago, on October 15, during a staff meeting, a rogue military gang, either led or ordered by Blaise CompaoréThomas Sankara‘s close friend, ally and trusted comrade, assassinated the young Pan Africansist icon and anti-imperialism revolutionary, Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara.

He was was only 37 years old. His untimely murder marked the death of one of Africa’s last anti-imperialist revolutionaries.

His body was chopped, cut up and dismembered in macabre circumstances. He was buried unceremoniously and his ideas, memory and name erased from the public view. However, it remained in the personal memory of Africans worldwide. And this is why I choose to remember this icon to prevent us from forgetting, and keeping Thomas Sankara‘s ideas alive.

Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara is remembered fondly as the hope of Africa. Some compare his charm and political trajectory and the tragedy that robbed Africa of an inspirational leader to Che Guevera.

That does a disservice to him. He was unique. He was the spokesman of the poorest of the poor in Africa and an advocate of women worldwide. There are those who have a less romantic and idealistic perception of him: they depict him as an autocrat who came to power through a coup. They are entitled to their opinions.

Sankara was ahead of his time. It’s a cliché but it’s also a fact. It is undeniable.

However, one thing is unquestionable: his legacy to African political thought and inspirational leadership are unparalleled especially in the present. His popularity, then and now, remains as strong as ever. Once he came to power, he undertook the most ambitious and radical programme for socioeconomic change ever attempted on the African continent, then and now.

image He is remembered for the value he placed on discipline, plus his integrity and selflessness. He implemented radical reforms when he came to power. His ministers drove small cars and travelled economy class. Sankara, himself, rode a bicycle. Chauffeur driven Mercedes Benz and 1st class airline tickets were banned.

He reduced his own salary and that of his own government ministers and public servants. He left nothing in the way of the immediate and radical transformation of society which is a move that upset his opponents and the western powers.

They (France and her allies) feared his ideology of an independent Africa which was not dependent on the West for its survival. It threatened its hegemonic control over Burkina Faso and other west African colonies.

He was an advocate for good governance, sustainability and transparency.

He understood why women are so critical to Africa’s transformation and he implemented bodies and policies that addressed women’s rights long before it was popular.

Decades before Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was calling on African men to be feminists, he had already declared, “We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph.” Thomas Sankara viewed the struggle of Burkina Faso’s women as “part of the worldwide struggle of all women”.

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Sankara was a preeminent thinker. He was the first African leader to recruit women into the military and appoint them to major cabinet positions. He was a doer not just a talker.

He was not afraid of challenging culture and tradition. He risked the ire of Burkinabè men by banning forced marriages and encouraging women to work outside the home, plus implementing policies to retain girls at school when they fell pregnant.

He put an end on the pressure on women to marry.  He viewed the emancipation of women as central to dismantling the stranglehold of the feudal system on Burkina Faso.

He set a world record, launching a nationwide public health campaign vaccinating 2 1/2 million people in a week. He was an avid environmentalist planting over 10 million trees to arrest the desertification of the Sahel.

To promote local production, Thomas Sankara actively encouraged cotton production and made a decree for public servants to wear a traditional tunic sewn by Burkinabè tailors and woven using local cotton. Western style suits were discouraged. Sankara himself also wore clothes made by local tailors, when he was not in military fatigues, and advertised them at continental and international conferences.

He angered the feudal landlords by taking land from them and redistributing it directly to the peasants. Consequently, wheat production rose in just three years from 1700kg per hectare to 3800, making Burkina Faso self reliant, a feat nations like Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa and other African nations with rich repositories of precious minerals and fossil fuels have failed miserably.

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Thomas Sankara shunned foreign aid and famously called for aid that helped the aided to become self reliant. He began a rail and road building programme to link up the country’s infrastructure and improve market accessibility.

Instead of foreign aid, he relied on (national building exercises) the commitment and energy of the Burkinabè to lift Burkina Faso out of the economic doldrums.

His political education was simple: “Let us consume only what we ourselves control!” Be self sufficient. Be honest. Live simply. But above all, it was his main goal that resonated beyond Burkina Faso and the African continent: Sankara wanted a fairer, proud, independent Africa that was equipped to tackle its challenges and that is what ultimately cost him his life.

He famously said, “Where is imperialism?” Look at your plates when you eat. These imported grains of rice, corn, and millet – that is imperialism.”

His solution was self reliance through growing what they could consume.

Thomas Sankara was a political statesmen and a political thinker who merged theory with practise in the manner of great philosopher-Kings throughout human history. His dual approach places him in the exalted company of a few. image

What probably sets Sankara aside is his application of Marxist-Lenist ideology to drive structural change in an unequal society characterised by poverty and oppression by a tiny political minority.

His appeal to the majority of modern Africans, unlike the current crop of African leaders, is his undisguised dedication to the welfare and well being of his country and country-people.

Few African leaders today can match his extraordinary zeal to uplift Africa and its citizens. Today’s breed of African leaders come to power and do little or nothing to change the miserable conditions the masses find themselves in.

After independence, the people are left asking: what did we fight for. The only change in the post-independent state is the colour of the oppressor by a tiny wealthy minority.

There are no sweeping policy, structural or socioeconomic changes. There are a few aesthetic changes but the colonial structure and apparatus remain virtually intact and are used to maintain the status quo after independence.

Imperialism and neocolonialism emerge as the true winners and economic apartheid continues unchecked.

There is no need to emphasise that Thomas Sankara was a committed African nationalist. African nationalism is a broad based and flexible mode of thought which encompasses African Marxism, African populism and African socialism.

In addition, African nationalism isn’t a uniform ideology but it takes various forms. Some African nationalists embraced modernisation, capitalism and westernisation.

Then there were the early theorists like Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmed Sékou Touré and others who advocated for a unique blend of African socialism mixed with traditional African values and traditions together with elements of Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Captain Thomas Sankara in Harare flanked by the first prime minister of Zimbabwe Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and Zimbabwe's first president Canaan Sodindo Banana.

Captain Thomas Sankara in Harare flanked by the first prime minister of Zimbabwe Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and Zimbabwe’s first president Canaan Sodindo Banana.

However, Thomas Sankara was a class apart from the types described above. He was an African populist like Steve Bantu Biko. They both embraced the tenets of African socialism but their emphasis was on structural change such as the transformation of their countries’ economies, policies and their societies for the benefit of their people.

Apart from their youth and charm, Biko and Sankara were doers, active participants in social transformation, contrary to the older brand of African socialists and nationalists who were theorists and merely played lip service to their political rhetoric.

They both came up with genuine and practical liberation ideologies.

Biko and Sankara, like Amilcar Cabral, believed in the intelligentsia committing class suicide to help uplift the masses because they believed that the gap between the black intelligentsia and the masses was a deterrent to development.

Two of Africa's finest sons and popular leaders: Captain Thomas Sankara and Samoa Machel (president of Mozambique)

Two of Africa’s finest sons and popular leaders: Captain Thomas Sankara and Samora Machel (president of Mozambique)

Thomas Sankara like Biko, Samora Machel, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba are African martyrs. They share a common thread that runs through their tragic narratives: they were murdered by agents of the Western powers.

Sankara’s murder eerily echoes that of Lumumba.

Sankara’s untimely death robbed both the Burkinabè and Africa of a young charismatic leader who was chartering a new course. However, he left behind a template of what an African leader can, could, must and should be.

Captain Thomas Sankara with Colonel Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi

Today, there are many committed Sankarists across the African continent, extending, into the Diaspora reinforcing Sankara’s thoughts: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas“.

The appeal of Sankara’s ideas is even stronger today because of the growing divide betweens the haves and have-nots, the oppressed and the oppressed, the western puppets and masses.

Thomas Sankara‘s radical four year rule in the early 1980s transforming Upper Volta, which he renamed Burkina Faso (the land of upright men), into a self reliant nation fired the imagination of Africans and Pan Africanists. His ideas not only found currency with the Burkinabè but they resonated elsewhere in Africa and the Diaspora.

Sankara’s ideology of African economic independence, self reliance, freedom from serfdom and slavery, education, literacy, women’s equality, addressing deforestation and wiping out corruption are ideas that are still poignant in the struggle for African liberation and the realisation of the envisioned self.

This is why Thomas Sankara is still as popular and relevant as ever. His ideology, memories and popularity have a longevity which continues to haunt those responsible for his murder. They assassinated him but they didn’t kill his ideas.

Sankara’s Revolution sent seismic shocks throughout the continent threatening the status quo of France’s unchallenged dominance of its ex-colonies in West Africa and the corrupt regimes (neocolonial elite or puppets) acting as gatekeepers of these neocolonialist states.

Thomas Sankara spoke in layman’ terms publicly and at forums such as the OAU (Organisation of African Unity), articulately diagnosing the raping and pillaging of Africa by the neocolonialist powers using proxy wars, Western finance and trade. He pinpointed the pitfalls of aid saying it simply and clearly, “he who feeds you, controls you”.

He also provided the remedy to his diagnosis.

He called for the formation of the Club of Addis Ababa to collectively confront the catastrophes and issues debt was causing in Africa. He reiterated the benefits of a united front of African nations to refuse to pay debt for many reasons such as if Africa paid, it would face a crisis.

He said, “It is our duty to create an Addis Adeba’s unified front against debt. That is the only way to assert that refusing to repay is not an aggressive move on our part, but a fraternal move to speak the truth.”

Best friends, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings (Ghana) and Captain Thomas Sankara

Best friends, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings (Ghana) and Captain Thomas Sankara

In addition, he argued that the current governments were not the ones who had run up the debts. It was their (neocolonialist powers) cousins. Therefore, it was not Africans’ responsibility to repay that debt.

Below is an excerpt of his speech against debt at the OAU in Addis Ababa in 1987:

“We think that debt has to be seen from the standpoint of its origins. Debt’s origins come from colonialism’s origins. Those who lend us money are those who had colonized us before. They are those who used to manage our states and economies. Colonizers are those who indebted Africa through their brothers and cousins who were the lenders. We had no connections with this debt. Therefore we cannot pay for it. Debt is neo-colonialism, in which colonizers transformed themselves into “technical assistants”.We should better say “technical assassins”.

They present us with financing, with financial backers. As if someone’s back could create development. We have been advised to go to these lenders. We have been proposed with nice financial set-ups. We have been indebted for fifty, sixty years and even more. That means we have been led to compromise our people for fifty years and more.

Under its current form, that is imperialism controlled, debt is a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say a true slave, of those who had been treacherous enough to put money in our countries with obligations for us to repay. We are told to repay, but it is not a moral issue. It is not about this so-called honour of repaying or not.”

You can read more at the following link: Thomas Sankara’s  Speech Against Foreign Aid at the OAU.

He was aware about the role of Western aid and equally clear on the role of debt in controlling Africa as he stated: “The root of the disease was political. The treatment could only be political. Of course, we encourage aid that aids us in doing away with aid. But in general, welfare and aid policies have only ended up disorganizing us, subjugating us, and robbing us of a sense of responsibility for our own economic, political, and cultural affairs. We chose to risk new paths to achieve greater well-being.”

Three months after this famous speech at the OAU, the angel of death closed in on Thomas Sankara because of his outspoken and uncompromising stance against neocolonialism and white supremacy.

He had prophesied at the OAU summit that, “If Burkina Faso alone were to refuse to pay the debt, I wouldn’t be at the next conference.”

Unfortunately, he was correct.

He was warned to take action but he refused because he chose to remain true to the ideals and spirit of the revolution.

Consequently, the dogs of imperialism in the Burkinabè leadership and another French puppet, Côte d’Ivoire president Félix Houphoet-Boigny, did the bidding of their masters and Africa’s brightest star was murdered.

image Thomas Sankara‘s  narrative has all the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy. It has betrayal, intrigue, friendship, loyalty, a hero, a villain; he is overthrown and murdered at the request of his best friend, ally and trusted comrade.

Most important of all, his case study is a must for those who preach about Black Consciousness and unity. It illustrates the selfless approach and self discipline required to practise what you preach especially if you are dedicated to African advancement and development.

If you want to find a solution to the problems afflicting Africa, Thomas Sankara‘s narrative provides the perfect case study. He is the antithesis to the current crop of neocolonialist puppets.

Africa’s leaders and political parties should borrow several pages out of his book, if not the whole book.

Thomas Sankara‘s character and ideology doesn’t fit in with the dominant narrative propagated in the west for decades. It is impossible to find a less corrupt, selfless or self-serving leader than Thomas Sankara. It is even more impossible to find a leader today with more integrity than Sankara.

He was a man among great men. This is why he is referred to as The Upright Man.

To understand why, watch the documentary about The Upright Man by following the highlighted link or copy and paste the following URL http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=J5USbA701SI#.

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October 16, 2014 · 2:36 am