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)