Wednesday, June 04, 2014
“A Champion for African Freedom: Paul Robeson and the Struggle Against Apartheid” (May 28, 2014). Albany Law Review, Vol. 77, No. 1, 2014.
From Part V, “Paul Robeson and Contemporary South Africa:”
“If Paul Robeson was around today, what might he say about the ‘rainbow nation’ and its transformative constitutional project? He might join in the chorus of applause about the text of South Africa’s constitution, the formal imprimatur of rights, and the mostly impressive series of judgments handed down by the Constitutional Court. He would no doubt celebrate the peaceful transition in South Africa from apartheid and authoritarianism to democracy, and particularly the significant role of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But he might pause and ponder the dissonance between the fine constitutional text and its accompanying court decisions, and the limited signs of a human rights culture, as evidenced by widespread violence, particularly against women, African migrants, and homosexual South Africans. He might wonder why the Mandela government and its successors have openly embraced the ‘Washington consensus’ and a form of unregulated capitalism that has resulted in great wealth for some and the persistent impoverishment of others? He might wonder why the kind of crony capitalism euphemistically labeled ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ empowers and enriches only so few, and continues to fan the flame of black resentment—but now leveled against their black compatriots.
Paul Robeson would no doubt be shocked at the specter of black miners being shot by police officers in a manner reminiscent of Sharpeville and the dark days of apartheid. He might wonder what happened to that wonderful African concept of dignity—ubuntu—and why it often seems in such short supply.
Paul Robeson would no doubt ponder the bundle of contradictions that make up South Africa: first world and third world; contemporary and traditional; great wealth and extreme poverty; hope and despair.
And he would no doubt wonder why the promise of dignity, equality, and rights for women, including the right of security in the public and private domain, still eludes so many South African women, particularly those who are poor.
Yes—Paul Robeson may have celebrated and he may have lamented—but his legacy has shown that even as one struggle ends, new ones surface. And that the project of justice, human dignity, and equality requires ongoing vigilance and continuous struggle.”
A note regarding the aforementioned “peaceful transition in South Africa from apartheid and authoritarianism to democracy:”
Although the transition in South Africa was perhaps “peaceful” in broad historical and comparative terms, there was in fact a considerable amount of violence, the bulk of which was not committed by the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto weSwize (‘Spear of the Nation,’ or ‘MK’ as it was commonly known). From February 1990 to April 1994, roughly 14,000-15,000 people died as a result of such violence. In fact, as Janet Cherry points out, “more people died in the four-year transition, after MK had suspended its armed struggle, than in the preceding three decades.”