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SALMON: Mandela's Influence Runs Deep

Barrington M. Salmon | 12/11/2013, 3 p.m.
I'm not sure why but there has always been a special bond between Jamaica, South Africa and Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela surrounded by members of the extended family following his 90th birthday celebration. Courtesy Photo

In 1972, Jamaican voters swept the late Prime Minister Michael Manley into office. Manley introduced a populist-based brand of governance he called Democratic Socialism. It focused on developing or creating social programs that catered primarily to the needs of the poor and middle-class and served as a counterpoint to capitalism whose exploitative aspects had not served Jamaica well.

The Manley government and leaders from developing countries tied their fortunes to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) because they had no desire and saw no real benefit to being a vassal to either the United States or Russia during the height of the Cold War.

I was a teenager in the early '70s, and the beauty of Jamaica at that time was that all around the tiny island nation, pride in our African heritage, a cautious embrace of Rastafarianism and an exploration of our ties to Africa and other developing nations was in full bloom. I am proud that Jamaica, in the 1950s, joined India as the first states anywhere to ban all trade with South Africa’s rogue government.

Manley, a fiery and compelling orator, delivered a number of speeches in defense of the exploited black South African majority, calling for Nelson Mandela to be released and an end to the apartheid system. All the while, he was unceasing in blasting the brutality and viciousness of the racist white minority government in South Africa.

I’m not sure why but there has always been a special bond between Jamaica, South Africa and Mandela.

Countless reggae singers praised Mandela, blasted apartheid and they too, looked to the day Mandela would be free. The day after Mandela’s death, I laughed out loud as I listened to a piece on National Public Radio where some of Mandela’s colleagues talked about how much he and other freedom fighters depended on Bob Marley and reggae music to help them pass time in prison.

In high school, my mates and I discussed and argued about apartheid, and very seriously – and naively – looked at ways to get to South Africa and put our lives on the line for a cause we felt deeply and closely connected to.

We learned from Manley’s speeches, in our classrooms, from the media and in our everyday conversation that Mandela and his comrades were imprisoned because they were David to the government’s Goliath against a government that dominated black lives in every sphere of their existence. We saw grotesque pictures of the thousands of men, women and children killed in South Africa, Rhodesia, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia, by the South African military, police, and mercenaries. And through it all, we heard apologists like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Dick Cheney and corporate leaders defend a hateful and repulsive system in the name of anti-communism and the status quo.

It is painful to recall that Mandela paid a steep price, languishing in different prisons for 27 years – robbing him of his freedom during the prime of life. Incarceration took him away from his family and he ended up divorcing wife Winnie Mandela, herself a stalwart in the liberation struggle.