Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Apartheid: The continuing onslaught on American campuses

A report by a special correspondent in New Orleans, USA.
American academic institutions continue to pressure the Republican Administration of President Ronald Reagan in their unlimited efforts to bring about modification of the so-called "Constructive Engagement" policy. This policy, authored by Mr Chester Crocker of the US State Department in Washington, D.C., permits the American government to deal officially with the Pretoria regime of P. W. Botha without reservations.

While black and liberal white US students on predominantly white educational campuses are incessantly urging their University teachers administrators to pull out the investments of their institutions from companies doing business with apartheid South Africa, it is also very reassuring to underscore that predominantly black Universities throughout the US have not been left behind in the struggle. Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana, has recently followed the popular trend with anti-apartheid programmes to educate and enhance the awareness of its students and teachers in the universal quest for freedom and justice in South Africa.

As one of the oldest and very successful black colleges, Dillard University has educated many of America's leading blacks, including Dr Andy Young, the former US envoy to the UN and currently the mayor of Atlanta, Georgia. Dillard is very well known for its insistence on academic excellence for its products.

As part of the University's anti- apartheid efforts, Africanists and other Pan-African specialists are invited to visit classrooms and campus social groups to discuss issues related to the present situa- tion in South Africa. Such discussions in- variably reinforce the lectures and books Dillard University students use, including Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country and Donald Wood's Biko.

However, the administrators of the University are doing a lot more in support of the anti-apartheid protest movements scattered throughout the US. For example, as a major University-wide event, the regular October 1, 1985 "University Assembly Programme" was dedicated to anti-apartheid speeches given by members of faculty and the student body.

Under the dedicated direction of Dr Elton C. Harrison, the University's Vice President for Academic Affairs, Administration and Planning, the day's events drew a record crowd. In the audience was Dr Samuel DuBois Cook, a leading American political scientist, who is the President of the University. He attached so much importance to the event in the cause of African liberation that he braved his usually busy daily schedule to make an appearance. Noted for his viable contributions to the success of the US civil rights movement of the 1960s, Dr Cook's presence did not surprise the audience. It is always remembered that the late Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr was Dr Cook's classmate at Morehouse College in Atlanta and, also, both of them were personal friends till Dr King's assassination in Memphis in 1968.

Presiding over the October 1st anti- apartheid programme, which was entitled "South Africa And Apartheid", was Dr Dorothy V. Smith, a history professor. Dr Smith, a prolific writer, recently caused a nation-wide stir with an article discussing the dynamics of racism in major American educational institutions published in the July 31, 1985 issue of the Washington, DC-based The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Setting the tone for the speeches, Dr Smith succinctly traced the history and basic meaning of apartheid. Above all, she also commended the University's administrators for their foresight in permitting the anti-apartheid programme at such a crucial and opportuned moment in which black brothers and sisters in South Africa - in the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu - do not see any light at the end of the tunnel.

She told her audience further: "It is very interesting that some of us often call the repressive White rule in South Africa "Apartheid". However, I recently learnt differently from page 1 of William R. Frye's 1968 book, In Whitest Africa: The Dynamics of Apartheid. In the book, the author teaches its readers that "Apartheid" is pronounced "Apart-hate", which is very interesting. Apartheid simply means that the 4 million Briefly or less Whites of South Africa are supreme rulers over all the other races, including the over 22 million Blacks. Apartheid also means that the Blacks in their own country and on their own continent have no rights as human beings minority regime, headed by President P. unless they accept what the White W. Botha, has decreed for them".

Subsequently, Professor Smith introduced the three other main speakers to her audience. The first to take the rostrum was Mr Oupa Mokuena, a third-year South African student who is expected in May 1987 to earn his bachelor's degree in social welfare. He is also the elected vice- president of the Dillard University Student Government (SGA).

Speaking on the topic "Apartheid As I Saw It In South Africa", Mr Mokuena held the audience spell-bound with vivid details about his own experiences in apartheid South Africa. He brought home to his American audience that in his childhood back in South Africa, many things baffled him. For example, he wondered why White families had cars, but Blacks did not have and, above all, he was puzzled by the fact that White families, with their nuclear families, had a lot more spaces for accommodation purposes than needed; yet Blacks, with larger families, were crowded into limited spaces, adding: "Now, I have come to understand that all our problems as Black people in South Africa stem from the fact that we are Black, but not White".

Mr Mokuena urged his Black American audience to contribute their quota to the world-wide efforts of men and women of goodwill who are doing their best to help bring about freedom and justice to all South Africans, irrespective of the colour of their skin.

Dr A. B. Assensoh, a history professor from Ghana, told the audience that an in-depth study of America's civil rights movement and its history has helped him in understanding better the racial issues involved in the South African debacle. He underscored: "In the 1960s, some of us were teenagers, but we have grown up today to read from books and to see in movies that Blacks in America had to suffer racial segregation and from inequality in general. On buses, non- whites were seated in the back seats reserved for coloured persons, including Blacks.

Every public place in America - including toilets - before desegregation was categorically labelled: for Whites only or for Coloureds only. Today, all such inimical and repressive anti-social measures in America are only part of history because they have been abolished as a result of the toil of Black leaders, led by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. of blessed memory. Yet, in South Africa, since the 1940s when apartheid laws were institutionalised, Blacks are suffering similar inequities and problems as a result of the colour of their skin".

Dr Assensoh, who is also the Director of Honours Programme at Dillard University, told his audience further: "In Africa, our countries have refused to deal with apartheid South Africa in any form. But major nations of Europe and America are still doing just the opposite for purely economic reasons. On the other hand, some of us take the consolation from the fact that our brothers and sisters in America are contributing their quota through public demonstrations at the South African Embassy to get arrested and, also, through financial and other forms of donations to assist the needy".

"In Africa, our countries have refused to deal with apartheid South Africa in any form. But major nations of Europe and terests' America are still doing just the opposite for purely economic reasons"

It was at this juncture that Professor Assensoh disclosed to his audience the plight of a South African refugee, Mr Lindello Dzana, in New Orleans. Mr Dzana, a Soweto-born seaman, came to the city in search of political asylum but because of his political views, including the accusation by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service that he held Marxist views, his application was denied and for eighteen months Dzana has languished in jail without trial.

Dr Assensoh added that through the efforts of State Representative Avery C. Alexander, a "Dzana Defence Fund" has been established at the local Liberty Bank. He urged the audience to contribute to the Fund. He also drew the attention of his listeners to the fact that a day was to be declared as "South Africa Day" in the US. On that day, he urged Black Americans and their African friends to team up to demonstrate against the continued imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and also in support of all the efforts to dismantle apartheid.

The final speaker was Dr Monte Piliawsky, a liberal White Political Science Professor and the Director of Institutional Research at Dillard University. His topic was "South Africa: The Challenge For American Politics" Professor Piliawsky's opening statement was deemed powerful by the audience. He stated: "Both lessons of history, and the force of numbers argue that the black majority will eventually come to power in South Africa. Given this reality, the challenge to the US is to adopt a far-sighted policy designed to encourage peaceful transition to majority black rule, and to protect US long-term financial interests.

In Dr Piliawsky's view, one could "hardly be sanguine about President Reagan leading a crusade in support of black majority rule in South Africa". Additionally, Dr Piliawsky recommended a six-point agenda for the US government to follow in South Africa: abandonment the "Constructive Engagement" policy; there should be a harder push for negotiations involving all South Africans: pressure should be stepped up for Nelson Mandela to be freed; there should be a support for "one person, one vote"; there should be the creation and enforcement of tougher sanctions and, finally, negotiators should seek protection for the White minority when the Black majority takes over power.

Dr Piliawsky predicted: "Africa will suffer most if Washington continues to support the government of South Africa. On the other hand, by taking a strong stand in favour of justice for South Africa's Blacks, the US would realise a stronger position across the African continent.

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