Long Walk to Freedom

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 10, 2017


Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeI spent four weeks in South Africa and Swaziland at the end of June and the beginning of July. These were some of the most educative and inspiring days of my life. I had followed the South African liberation struggle since the late 1950s when Miriam Makeba sang her freedom songs. In the 1960s I read Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country and cried. Later I read Peter Abrahams Tell Freedom. It did not produce the same emotional impact on me.

Given my attachment to PNM, T&T’s nationalist movement, I gravitated to the African Nationalist Congress (ANC) when it became more active in the 1960s. I did not know much about Nelson Mandela but I nursed an aversion to the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). I was a budding socialist and cared little for what I considered PAC’s racist ideology. Eventually, I modified my views on the PAC.

I was in New York when Malcolm X was killed February 1965. His assassination led many of us to sympathize with the Nation of Islam, particularly, the faction that was led by Louis Farrakhan. In 1966 Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), fresh from being jailed in Greenwood, Mississippi, announced he was going to advocate the philosophy of “Black Power” in defiance of Martin Luther King’s non-violent strategy.

In the 1960s the Black Panthers took to the streets of US cities and Frantz Fanon’s advocacy of therapeutic nature of violence gained currency in oppressed communities. Mao Tse-tung’s Little Red Book also gained prominence in the black communities of the US. Those of us who believed in the primacy of the working class in transforming the world looked askance at the leading revolutionary role Mao gave to the peasantry in overthrowing the imperialist system.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s the Communist Party of the United States was led by Gus Hall and Henry Winston, president and secretary respectively. In 1975 some comrades and I took the long journey from Ohio to Chicago to listen to Hall’s brand of communism. Most African Americans rejected communism but a few, such as Angela Davis, accepted it as the way out of the dispossession felt by African Americans.

In 1975-76 I was appointed an associate professor at Ohio University in the Afro-American Studies Department. I met a group of dedicated brothers and sisters (Africans, African Americans and Caribbean people) who were committed to overthrowing South Africa’s apartheid system. There I became familiar with Mandela and ANC’s long struggle to create a non-racist society in his country.

We studied Marxism intently at Ohio as we sought to understand its theoretical efficacy in breaking apartheid’s chains. In prison, Mandela dedicated himself to acquiring as much education as possible. Two South Africans, Barbara Masekela, a graduate student and sister of Hugh Masekela, and Lindiwe Mabuza, my colleague at Ohio University, returned to Africa and joined ANC camps on the continent.

Alfred Nzo, the secretary of ANC, visited our group in Ohio and urged us to continue our propaganda efforts. Based in Zambia, Nzo was fiercely committed to Mandela. His visit coincided with my interview for a faculty position at Harvard University. I accompanied Nzo to Harvard where he implored his audience to work to free Mandela and to aid in the creation of a democratic South Africa.

At that time Mandela and leaders of ANC were imprisoned on Robben Island. They were deemed “terrorists” by the Western governments that supported South African apartheid. The CIA had assisted in capturing Mandela in 1964. It was a different story after he became president of South Africa. When Harvard awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1998, over 20,000 persons attended the ceremony to honor him.

In June 1976 seventy-six students were massacred in Soweto when they protested the teaching of Afrikaans in South African schools. In the following September three of the surviving leaders came to Boston to expose SA’s racism to the world. I was among those who led that rally in Boston, holding the banner of freedom aloft as we marched to Boston Common. On Tuesday last, I visited the site in Soweto where these students were massacred.

In 1979 I addressed Harvard’s faculty and demanded that the university divest its financial holdings from companies that did business with South Africa. It was not a sensible thing for a junior professor to do-Harvard didn’t have much regard for junior professors then-but my revolutionary convictions demanded that I support my South African brothers and sisters.

In June 1990, when Mandela visited Boston to celebrate his release from prison, all the stalwarts from the Massachusetts campaign who had supported freedom for South Africa were on hand to welcome him as Hugh Masekela played “Mandela (Bring Him Back Home)” and Mandela danced upon the stage.

Twenty-seven years after that memorable occasion, I visited Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island. I saw the garden in which he hid the first draft of his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. I also visited his home at 8115 Vilakazi Street in Soweto.

These enchanting moments were the culmination of a long journey. I could only exclaim, as my mother would, “God bless my eyesight.”

5 thoughts on “Long Walk to Freedom”

  1. “Long Walk To Freedom” personal nostalgia at the end of man’ limitedly life span, is usually filled with mass contradictions, freedom have many meanings depending who you asked. Individually, a man may seem to be free, only to have his psyche imprisoned by his eyesight,man is clouded by what he sees all the time.Nations are judged by the condition of their people, in terms of South Africa, there was no walk to freedom, can a man bargain his freedom being incarcerated? the answer is NO, in most instances compromising his way out is the norm, you are set free on certain conditions, at that point, you are broken, a shell of your former self, with years waning, the capacity of hard core decision making gone,you end up being manipulated as the face of the Freedom movement.Not one of the yesteryear men mentioned could have envisaged what have happened in South Africa,not in their wildest dreams, those of us still alive have been left with broken egos and a waste of our international solidarity. Building a nation after a struggle for self determination,a new revolution must be embarked on,one of emptying the compromising cup has to come into play,conciliation was nothing but a sell out of the blood shed, today, because of the lack of vision shown by Mandela, he has transitioned leaving his people in a worst position.MAO’ China is a force to be reckoned with today, because he recognized then, that he had to eliminate the anti forces internally, all the nations standing firm presently, had to clean their slate of everything regarded as anti nation building. South Africa today should be after years of internal cleansing, building the nation they would want to live in. India in 1948 had to go through the same with Pakistan becoming a nation. The African at home or abroad, have not evolved into self determination, as an individual yes, but coming together to create, because of his all compromising self, has been left wanting. He is easily infiltrated with his inner circle always opened for other ethnic groups to have their say and way,master minding his own continuous downfall.While his acquired knowledge is nestled within the domain of his oppressors, he continues to stumble, only to be left picking up the pieces.

    1. He is easily infiltrated with his inner circle always opened for other ethnic groups to have their say and way,master minding his own continuous downfall.(Cooper)

      In reference to the African, this is so true generally. The unfortunate fact is that other ethnic groups are usually sealed and protective. When Africans are let in politically or socially they usually submit to the mores of the dominating group. This is a prevailing pattern universally resulting in the acculturalization of the African with reference to language, religion, dress and other societal factors. I am no expert on African culture but this is only an observation made in my travels.

  2. A beautifully written, nostalgic history tour.
    But is the journey over, especially when one considers the antics of Trump and his supporters and their preoccupation with erasing the Obama legacy.

  3. It was a short walk to freedom. The long walk started with Gandhi when he “faced off” against the mighty British Empire. A single man armed with the most powerful weapon “truth” or “satyagra” “soul force”. It took years of provoking, imprisonment, reasoning and resistance through non-violence to produce any walk towards freedom. Most difficult was raising up an army of non-violent marchers people whose natural impulse is to retaliate when attacked. No easy task and many times the march of peace was greatly tested by those who retaliated.

    Thought provoking article though. The future of South Africa hangs in the balance. Ethnocentric jealousy, unemployment, massive unequal pro white land distribution, poor leadership, threatens South African gains since arphatheid. How do you pacify an angry black population? That walk is getting longer. After so much hope and dreams, lets hope a nightmare do not emerge.

  4. America practiced the worst arphateid movement in history. It started with the slaughter of the native Indians and continued with the disempowerment of black people after the end of emancipation. Etch in the tombstone of every black person in the southern United States is the words “second class citizen”. The womb of the black woman was bastardized today producing generations of youths who still struggle with their identity. This cycle can only be broken when a new more meaningful identity takes shape. A revisionist form of history is a needful and a necessary venture of any writer who understands the need for heroes. There are lots of them, like gold in the mud just has to be found.

    Dr Williams in his Independence Day address took much pains to explain democracy to a young Trinidad and Tobago. He went on further to emphasize the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. South African history similar to all colonial nations that achieved independence has now begun. The need to educate South Africans like Williams did on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship is a daunting one. Most people think the government should solve all their problems. It is my hope that in TNT children would learn from Dr. Williams speech their rights and responsibilities. Not only their rights but their responsibilities. It is only when they understand these things that true freedom will rise.

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