What African-Americans Can Learn from South Africans and Vice Versa

By Robinson, Randall; Dinkins, David N. et al. | Ebony, August 1994 | Go to article overview

What African-Americans Can Learn from South Africans and Vice Versa


Robinson, Randall, Dinkins, David N., Jones, Elaine R., Hatcher, Richard G., Ebony


Since the 1890s, Black Americans have demonstrated an affinity for South Africans. As part of the global family of the African Diaspora, we naturally are drawn together by our shared heritage and common bonds. As South Africans rejoiced throughout the recent inaugural festivities, across the Atlantic, Blacks also celebrated with tears of joy and empathy Throughout the last century, Black Americans have extended the hands of brotherhood and sisterhood to South Africans, and have been rewarded with a friendship that only grew stronger throughout the struggle for liberation.

It was a struggle that was all too familiar to American Blacks, whose ancestors were stolen from Mother Africa and forced into bondage. in the 1950s and '60s, as we fought discrimination at home, South Africans were rebelling against the cruelty of apartheid. Our common histories of racial oppression pushed us closer together.

Throughout these years, South Africans learned from our poets, activists, politicians and business leaders, and African-Americans were influenced, in turn, by the struggles of South African artists and leaders. The South African revolution and the inaugural of President Mandela have moved this ancient dialogue to a new level, providing new opportunities for African-Americans to learn from the successes in South Africa and for South Africans to learn from the political and economic successes - and failures - of African-Americans who, despite continuing problems, have amassed considerable social assets. No other group of African descendants, in fact, has lived for so long and, to tell the truth, so successfully in the midst of a White population with overwhelming economic and military power - the precise situation Black South Africans now face. "Of all African expatriates," former TransAfrica Chairman Richard Hatcher says, "African-Americans are the best-trained, best-educated and enjoy the highest standard of living. Therefore, they may be best positioned to help the Mandela government meet the formidable challenges it faces."

Now, Black entrepreneurs and financial investors are enthusiastically responding to calls for help in rebuilding the country's economic infrastructure. "Just as the economic pressures of sanctions and divestment helped end apartheid," advised U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown in a recent Johannesburg speech, "economic assistance and private sector investment and trade can help encourage the healing process." Progressive Black American entrepreneurs are establishing factories, opening offices and creating opportunities for the country's Black citizenry. Economic empowerment would, in turn, help South African Blacks become more viable consumers.

On these pages four prominent African-Americans offer their views on how we can be enlightened spiritually, politically and economically by studying the South African struggle, and how South Africans can learn from African-American history.

I think African-Americans and South Africans have a lot to say to each other. Of course, our problems are alike in some aspects but they are different fundamentally in others, and it is important to recognize that before one gives gratuitous advice. The principal challenge for South Africa remains ahead. The part we have accomplished has been the less difficult. But this part for both of us demonstrates the possibilities when people work together to accomplish a specific result.

Having accomplished the change in the negative role the U.S. historically has played and putting this nation on the right moral side of this issue, what is our responsibility now? South Africa has enormous problems that must be addressed with the new government, and they are not going to be easy to solve. There has to be a major role played by the international community that must be as committed to democracy in South Africa as it has been to democracy in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe. …

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