Magazine article New African

The African-Americans Who Worked for Apartheid

Magazine article New African

The African-Americans Who Worked for Apartheid

Article excerpt

If some African-American leaders had had their way, Nelson Mandela would have died in prison on Robben Island and South Africa would still be ruled by a white minority. A new book, Operation Blackwash, has exposed their nefarious activities, reports Leslie Gordon Goffe from New York.

Having suffered a form of apartheid themselves in the USA and known how dehumanising it was, you would think that all African-Americans would hate the apartheid regime in South Africa. But no, some of them were wooed by dirty lucre and became agents of apartheid in the US. All of this has been uncovered in a fascinating new book, Operation Blackwash, written by Ron Nixon, an African-American journalist at The New York Times.

Published by Mampoer Books of South Africa, Nixon's book details how the apartheid state invested more than $100m over 50 years in an attempt to convince Americans that South Africa was not a racist state that practised an inhuman system of racial segregation. Digging his way through once secret government files in South Africa and the US, Nixon discovered that the apartheid state had hundreds of influential African-Americans on its payroll and that it paid them to wage a propaganda war on its behalf in the US between 1940 and 1990. With millions of dollars at its disposal, South Africa's Ministry of Information was able to tempt African-Americans who had worked for the US government, top public relations firms, and powerful Washington lobbying firms to put aside their principles and work for the apartheid regime. By employing African-Americans to lobby for it, the apartheid government believed it could convince Americans, particularly black Americans, that it could not possibly be racist, as Jesse Jackson and other anti-apartheid activists said they were.

"They knew that white lobbyists talking to African-Americans was not going to work," says Nixon. "So they needed black people talking to black people."

Among the African-Americans who acted as agents for the apartheid state was William Keyes, a black conservative who had worked for the Reagan administration, and Rev Gilbert Caldwell, who had marched with Martin Luther King in the 1960s. But years later he became a conservative who believed Mandela would, if he ever became president, seize American companies in South Africa and hand the country over to the communists in the Soviet Union. The chief task of the African-American agents was to discourage the US Congress from imposing economic sanctions on South Africa. Pretoria knew that sanctions would cripple the apartheid economy and would lead eventually to the toppling of the apartheid state.

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To stop this, Pretoria ordered its American agents to set up anti-sanctions organisations like Operation Heartbreak and the Wake Up America Coalition. The agents were also to finance conferences encouraging African-American businessmen to do business in South Africa's segregated Bantustans. The agents were pressed to use their influence to get black newspapers to run articles presenting the apartheid state in a positive light. "The problem with that was, some of these black people were sounding just like the white lobbyists," says author Nixon, laughing at how the apartheid state's propaganda plans backfired.

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Black dolls for Congressmen

Though their activities bore little fruit, the African-American agents persisted. The Rev. Kenneth Frazier, a Methodist minister, an avowed anti-communist, and friend of the apartheid regime, is remembered for staging an impressive but fruitless anti-sanctions stunt. He arranged for dozens of black schoolchildren to accompany him to the US Capitol in Washington with black dolls they were to deliver to US lawmakers. The dolls were, of course, meant to represent suffering black South African children, hungry, and homeless as a result of sanctions.

"We are here in the interest of millions of suffering South African children who are already the poorest and most helpless and the most vulnerable in South Africa," Rev Caldwell said on the steps outside the US Congress. …

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