Nelson Mandela, Dominica and the Caribbean Contribution to African Liberation

Dominica's Marlene Green, with ANC leaders Joe Slovo and  Nelson Mandela
Dominica’s Marlene Green, (center) with ANC leaders Joe Slovo and
Nelson Mandela

When former South African President and African liberation hero Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013, the world mourned and glowing tributes from around the globe poured in. However, many Dominican and other Caribbean people today are unaware of the vital role played by our islands in the Anti-Apartheid struggle and the quest for African Liberation. The following facts are worth noting:

1900 – The First Pan African Conference dedicated to the liberation of Africa was organized in London, England by Trinidadian law student Henry Sylvester Williams. Attendees included the famous African American philosopher and civil rights activist Dr. W.E.B Dubois who went on to co-found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). A key contributor to that event was Dominican law student in London, George James Christian. Christian spoke out against colonialism and called for the independence of Africa. He migrated to Ghana and became a successful lawyer in Sekondi and a member of the Gold Coast legislature. His home in Ghana was called Dominica House, and his home in Dominica was called Sekondi House; Sekondi House is the current location of the Garage Restaurant in Roseau, Dominica.

1900-1945 – West Indian/Jamaican Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) dedicated to the freedom of Africa. To this day it remains the largest African liberation organization ever founded.  Dominican politician JB Charles was a collaborator of Garvey and, together with local UNIA representative, poet and Negro World correspondent J. Ralph Casimir, invited Garvey   to Dominica in 1929. In 1945 former Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant Dudley Thompson helped organize the Pan African Conference in Manchester, under the leadership of Trinidadian born political activist George Padmore. The invited guests to that conference included Kwame Nkrumah (later President of Ghana) Hastings Banda (later President of Malawi) and Jomo Kenyatta (later President of Kenya).

1945-1993 –  The West Indian Federation Minister of Social Welfare, Dominican politician and Dominica Labour Party co-founder, Phyllis Shand Allfrey leads the first ever walkout against South Africa’s Apartheid regime at an international event. She did so at the Geneva conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1960. Her heroic action in opposition to the presence of Apartheid South Africa later gained the support of Asian, Latin American and European labour activists at the conference. By the early 1960s, the Cuban Revolution aided African independence by educating future leaders of the various liberation movements and sending troops in 1975 to resist the South African Apartheid regime’s invasion of Angola, in Operation Black Carlota (named after an enslaved African woman, Carlota, who had fought against slavery in colonial Cuba). At the Battle of Cuito Cuinvale 1987-1988, the Cuban Army defeated the South African Army and its allies, so compelling its retreat. Nelson Mandela credits that victory as a critical factor in aiding his release from prison and the end of Apartheid. The strong Pan African leadership in that epoch of West Indian leaders such as Michael Manley (Jamaica), Errol Barrow (Barbados), Dr. Eric Williams (Trinidad & Tobago), and Forbes Burnham (Guyana) is paid tribute here. During that period African Liberation Day on Dominica drew thousands of persons in marches around Roseau where Black Power leaders, from the Movement for a New Dominica, such as Desmond “Ras Kabinda” Trotter, Athie Martin, Bernard Wiltshire, Para Riviere and Ron Green would speak out against Dominica’s colonial disabilities and in support of the liberation struggles then raging in Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Namibia, Angola and South Africa. The cry “The struggle continues” was popularized during that time and locals began to take pride in African culture, dress and history.  In popular culture, the 1970s saw the rise of reggae singer Bob Marley whose songs “Africans Unite,” and “War” became anthems of African defiance against oppression. Respect for Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie work for African independence, the wearing of dreadlocks or afro hairstyles, Rastafarianism, and the tradition of Dominicans giving their children African names arose from that era. In 1971 Premier Edward LeBlanc’s Dominica Labour Party government donated $10,000 in aid of Africa’s freedom fighters, to the Organization of African Unity Liberation Committee – an unprecedented act by an island which was not event yet independent of Britain.  Dominican leader Roosevelt “Rosie” Douglas continued that trend of African Liberation struggle and led World Mathaba in Tripoli, Libya to encourage Moammar Ghaddafi to aid the African National Congress fighters in their cause. It is recorded that Rosie Douglas negotiated the financial assistance from Libya to the ANC for the 1993 South African election which brought the ANC under Nelson Mandela’s leadership to power.

In 1990, a major supporter of ANC refugees and liberation fighters in Zambia and Tanzania was Dominican born development activist and educator Marlene Green. She was the sister of my DGS teacher Cecilia Green, and relative of Roseau merchant Paul Green, community development leader Ron Green, dentist Dr. Richard Green and the Green family. Marlene Green,  now deceased, is recorded as one of the leading civil rights leaders in Canada, and a proponent of equal access to education for indigenous Canadians and those from minority communities in that country.

So, as Dominicans and West Indians, we can justly be proud that we played an important part in African liberation, and the freedom struggle to end Apartheid which brought Nelson Mandela to power. May our leadership deem it fit to rename a major street Roseau, as Nelson Mandela Avenue. Our people helped gain Mandela’s freedom and that of Africa, as part of a global freedom seeking collaborative process. By naming a street after him, we will consolidate a further sense of dignity, and meaningful patriotic purpose among our often distracted people. When we grasp that our size as small West Indian nations, or the class or color of the individual, is no limit to what contributions we can render to the betterment of humanity, then victory is certain.

And in Mandela’s memory we say: Long live a free and independent Africa! The struggle continues!

(For more details see In Times Crucial: Radical Politics in Dominica at http://da-academy.org/radpol.html, excerpted from In Search of Eden:  Essays on Dominican History (Irving W. Andre & Gabriel J. Christian, Pont Casse Press, 2002)

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23 Comments

  1. December 10, 2013

    This is a very well structured article. It invokes some questions that we should be asking ourselves. Hopefully together we can find said answers and pick up where we left off as a people.

  2. December 10, 2013

    I believe that this an excellent article. I believe that we have lost our way a bit as a people. Things article brings to mind certain questions that we should be asking ourselves. Ones that we might hopefully find answers too.

  3. December 10, 2013

    As always, Gabriel, you’ve done an incredible job putting in context the Caribbean’s significant contribution to the global Pan African movement. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. The struggle continues.

  4. UDOHREADYET
    December 10, 2013

    This is a beautiful well written article that should be the premise for such future articles informing those that are unaware of our history… this type of info should be shared either on a weekly or monthly basis. thank you for sharing UREADY!

  5. Justice and Truth
    December 9, 2013

    This information is interesting, dating back to those years. Throughout the world there were constant demonstrations to free Mandela. No exception, some so-called white people contributed to this. There are some who are compassionate and understanding people of this race. All these contributed to his release which Nelson Mandela greatly appreciated.
    Dominica’s, the late Marlene Green, daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Green, once a Head Girl at the Dominica Convent High School, was a great advocate. She was a passionate worker in this field. This was her life. When she passed on, I attended a memorial gathering in her honor.
    Consider too the Americans who were also oppressed. In the end, they won the fight. It was not without loss of lives as Martin Luther King, Jr and others.
    Whatever good we do, recognizing the rights and freedom of others and assisting them in whatever manner possible, God will reward us.

  6. Away and Looking in
    December 9, 2013

    I am happy to see it was TRUE DLP members that were connected with the struggle. No where is mention made of those bothas in Dominica then headed by Mamo and her little devilish tool(charles savarin).They to busy destroying the country because they were power hungry. For them at that time it severed them better to assassinate other peoples character. The Rose was called by them the biggest communist. But I will say like one great leader said: “History will absolve me”.
    No matter what lies they may come up with to assassinate someone who is true to his conviction one day we will hear: La Historia me absolvera.
    For all those think that my honorable Prime Minister never worked for Dominica and the wider world I say: History will absolve me”.

  7. jane messam
    December 9, 2013

    Thank you for this piece of information. Domininica played a great part in the struggle. I thank all these great people. We need to continue the love God meant for us and stop the hate. May your soul rest in peace Mr Mandela!

  8. ????
    December 9, 2013

    WOW….This is hair-raising….How can we black people bring back that sense of pride we had growing up????????It is surely lacking in our society today…

  9. Michael Norris
    December 9, 2013

    Thanks Gabriel for this informative peiece. I concur with you we should name a street (a major one) in honour of Nelson Mandela

  10. HATERS THEN GROUPIES
    December 9, 2013

    It’s so transparent how much people are falling over each other with accolades for Mandela. When he was in jail, where were they? Holding on to their lucrative investments in South Africa. These were the very same ones telling the freedom fighters wait, wait, wait your time. In fact they considered Mandela a leader of a terrorist organization, the ANC.

    For the rest of us, his life is just another lesson, what God have for you no man can take it from you. What a privilege to live at the same time with this man! And thanks to Gaibu as always, for showing in his vintage authoritative way, how these international events relate so directly to us.

  11. Impressed
    December 9, 2013

    Always enlightening. Thanks for sharing Esq.

  12. December 9, 2013

    Thanks DNO, proud history worth knowing about. Was very informative and a pleasure to read and learn.

  13. Anonymous
    December 9, 2013

    Excellent piece Gabo. I noticed that your article highlighted the positive contributions made by Dominicans to the liberation struggle and you need to be commended for that but I think that to be fair and balanced you should out that our record of voting at the UN vis-a-vis sanctions against South Africa during the 1980’s was dismal.

  14. 100% Proud Dominican
    December 9, 2013

    Very interesting and educational…Yeah the struggle continues…

  15. Truth be told
    December 9, 2013

    When Dominicans were great and we were a greater thinking people! Thank you Gabriel Christian for reminding us of our better selves – for reminding us that we have been and can be better than we are now!

  16. Anonymous
    December 9, 2013

    The Reverend Dr. Philip Potter, as head of the World Council of Churches, also played a very important role in the dismantling of apartheid.

  17. Anonymous
    December 9, 2013

    this reminds me that we are to keep in mind our responsibility to the human race to ensure the everyone is liberated

  18. SD
    December 9, 2013

    The pride I feel right now in my little Island in the sun brings shivers to my body. It just goes to show, we can achieve greater if all fight and work together instead of all this political finger pointing.

  19. Joejoe
    December 9, 2013

    Great to know we played our part!

  20. DA in Brooklyn
    December 9, 2013

    I must say that was Very Very educative

  21. Views Expressed
    December 8, 2013

    Brilliant stuff,,,thanks Gabriel….thanks Irvin Andre…….great scholars…great Dominicans

  22. Country Man
    December 8, 2013

    Yes I – The struggle continues. We all have a part to play.

  23. Love I
    December 8, 2013

    WOW, this is great….Dominica really played a great part…and Marlene….wonderful

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