Jesse Jackson: South Africa is free, but not equal

Reverend Jesse Jackson (AFP)

Reverend Jesse Jackson (AFP)

Jackson, a church minister and well-known black community organiser in the United States, was in the country this week to receive the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Silver award from President Jacob Zuma during the Freedom Day celebrations at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

This was in honour of the role Jackson played during the global anti-apartheid movement to isolate South Africa internationally.

"What I want the present generation to know is that the struggle is not over. You are free but not equal. You have freedom to equality and to globalisation but that doesn't mean you're free from the humiliation of skin colour apartheid, or apartheid in land ownership, apartheid in education, apartheid in healthcare, apartheid in banking and apartheid in who owns ships and airplanes and trade and business," said Jackson. 

"There are still economic layers beneath the skin colour to give this generation much of a challenge as those who went to jail more than 30 years ago and those who went to Robben Island and exile and were murdered like Chris Hani and Steve Biko. That generation pulled down the walls. This generation must build the bridges. This generation must seize education in order to close the gap in engineering, medicine and industry and capital investment."

He urged young people to pursue education with the same determination used to end apartheid by those who came before them like Nelson Mandela and other luminaries of the anti-apartheid struggle. 

"You must pursue education with a religious passion because strong minds can break strong chains. President Mandela and Tambo were freedom fighters but they were trained lawyers as well," said Jackson.

'Keep running'
Jackson said the ANC has done a lot to improve the lives of ordinary people in South Africa but acknowledged that there have been some obstacles to prosperity, justice and equality for all.

He added that a great deal still needed to be done to building a free and equal society.

"The ANC has improved the lives of people. It has come up with the most solid and democratic Constitution in the world. The country has also had successful democratic elections and the transference of power from Mandela to Mbeki and Zuma. Has it been a perfect run? No. There are pot holes and there are mistakes along the way. Keep running," he said.

 Jackson has been a frontline figure in the global anti-apartheid movement.

He regularly marched at Trafalgar Square (London) with former ANC president Oliver Tambo, Reverend Frank Chikane and the late ANC stalwart Johnny Makhathini, who died in exile in Zambia in 1988.

In 1984, during the opening meeting of the North American Regional Conference for Action Against Apartheid held at the UN, he criticized the American policy on apartheid.

"When the ANC in South Africa and the trade unions affiliated to it are suppressed and abolished, and leaders, like Nelson Mandela, are jailed, we respond to this violation of human rights by expanding economic, diplomatic and military ties with the regime. Furthermore, the United States veto is repeatedly used in the UN Security Council to frustrate every effort by the international community to effect economic sanctions against South Africa," he said.

Jackson, along with other African American activists, also campaigned for the subsequent removal of Mandela and the ANC from the US terrorist watch list in 2008.

Bishop Robert Kelley, a member of the Democrats Abroad based in Johannesburg, said Jackson has been consistent about his efforts to represent the disenfranchised and the poor for years. "He was honoured this past week for being a vocal and active voice for the freedom of South Africa. He went to jail for South Africa in perhaps a more profound way because it caused millions of leaders and the congress in the USA to wonder why Jackson, black leaders and legislators would go to prison and fight for the freedom of people on a continent and land so far away.

"Jesse has always seen the legacy and connection in a united black people that can do it themselves and for themselves if only the playing field was level," said Kelley. "Now the quest is that apartheid in SA is in legislative remission but growing in prominence economically. The spirit and the effects of the sin still remain. Only a united people can eliminate its scars of the past."

Charles Molele

Charles Molele

Charles Molele is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Charles joined the paper in 2011. He has covered general news, court and politics for the past 19 years, and also worked as a senior reporter for the Saturday Star, Sunday World, ThisDay, Sunday Times and is former politics editor of the New Age. Charles's other career highlights include covering Kenya's violent general elections (2007/08), Zimbabwe’s sham general elections (2008), Mozambique's food riots (2010) and the historic re-election of US President Barack Obama (2012). Read more from Charles Molele


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