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Jesse Jackson honored for helping end apartheid

George Curry | 5/5/2013, 8:15 a.m. | Updated on 5/6/2013, 9:05 a.m.
Human rights activist Jesse L. Jackson has been presented the Companions of O.R. Tambo Award, the highest award a non-South ...

PRETORIA, South Africa (NNPA ) – Human rights activist Jesse L. Jackson has been presented the Companions of O.R. Tambo Award, the highest award a non-South African can receive, for his extensive efforts to help end apartheid in the country.

Jackson, founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition, accepted the award Saturday from President Jacob Zuma at the Presidential Guesthouse. Jackson’s wife, Jacqueline, and two of his children, Santita and Yusef, accompanied him to the capital city to accept the prestigious honor.

The former aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was cited “for dedicating his life to challenge societies and governments to recognize that all people are born equal, and that everyone is in equal measure entitled to life, liberty, prosperity and human rights.” He was honored “for his excellent contribution to the fight against apartheid.”

The award was named after Oliver Reginald Tambo, the former chairman of the African National Congress who helped end White minority rule in South Africa 19 years ago. The award is presented annually to “eminent foreign nationals for friendship shown to South Africa.” The official description of the award says recipients are “concerned primarily with matters of peace, cooperation, international solidarity and support and is integral to the execution of South Africa’s international and multinational relations.”

The official program noted, “Jackson first visited South Africa in 1979 following the death of Steve Biko. He attracted huge crowds at his rallies in Soweto, where he denounced South Africa’s oppressive system of apartheid … Upon his return to the United States, Jackson intensified efforts to mobilize opposition to the ‘terrorist state’ of South Africa and reshape U.S. policy on the country.

“From the outset, Jackson strongly opposed President Ronald Reagan’s policy of constructive engagement with the apartheid regime. He worked tirelessly to mobilize public opposition to the U.S.A.’s stance. Jackson entered the 1984 presidential race with the anti-apartheid struggle at the center of his foreign policy agenda.”

The program recounted Jackson’s 1985 meeting with Pope John Paul II in which he invited the pontiff to visit South Africa to help bring about majority rule. He also lobbied Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to cut diplomatic ties to South Africa. In addition, Jackson urged the U.S. government to fund resisters.

“He also called on Harvard and other universities to divest from South Africa,” the program stated. “In 1986, at the invitation of several African governments, Jackson led a delegation of activists, business representatives and academics to eight African countries, including the southern African ‘frontline states.’ The focus of the trip was to mobilize opposition to the apartheid regime.”

A frequent traveler to the continent, Jackson was in South Africa on Feb. 11, 1990, when Nelson Mandela emerged from prison after a 27-year confinement. Mandela would play a key role in the peaceful transition from minority rule to a democracy, becoming the first Black African elected president of South Africa. In speeches here at universities, the U.S. Embassy and a Black church, Jackson talked about his front-row seat to history and warned that although Black South Africans have finally won their political freedom, the next goal should be eliminating economic inequity, considered the worst in the world.