AN OPEN LETTER TO THE COMMITEE TO WELCOME NELSON MANDELA TO SEATTLE:

by Selma Waldman
Seattle, Washington, United States
October 15, 1999
4 pages
Type: Correspondence
Coverage in Africa: Namibia, South Africa
Coverage outside Africa: United States
The letter says although I understand that the committee to welcome Nelson Mandela to Seattle has already progressed in its several decisions, I believe it is nevertheless important at this time to submit a few respectful suggestions. The letter says when Nelson Mandela came to the United States the year after his release from prison, his first request on arrival in Washington, D.C., as well as in the other cities he visited, was to meet with ANC associates, supporters, and community activists; a framed photograph from that time, taken by a South African colleague who was present at an ANC breakfast gathering, has occupied a special place in my house and studio since it was given to me six years ago; it shows Mandela holding the baby daughter of an activist from Zimbabwe-and cuddling her in a most practiced grandfatherly way. The letter says during his visit to this city, in recognition of his love and regard for children, it seems appropriate that "Madiba" receive a gift of the print Nontsikelelo's Song: Albertina Sisulu with Baby from the same series as the work displayed at the Funda Community College School of Art in Soweto, not far from the Sisulu household. The letter says as we know, Albertina Sisulu was an active midwife in Soweto for many years (I have enclosed a reduced copy of this print). The letter says most suitably, this gift would be presented by Maryamu Eltayeb-Givens and her children at First Place in Seattle: a gesture that will not only inspire a sense of hope for these children, but may also resonate for the larger community with a suggestion of the essential spirit of Nelson Mandela. The letter says luckily, for this spirit of compassion and struggle to be further honored, many of the "larger community" of grassroots anti-apartheid activists are still living in Seattle. The letter says there are these former members of the Seattle Coalition Against Apartheid who are very much present in the community: Ruperta AlexisCaldwell; Cecilia Beckwith; Bill Corr, Jr.; Rick Harwood; Sadikifu Akina-James; Charles Rolland; and, of course, Maryamu Eltayeb-Givens, who chaired the Coalition (following Gerald Lenoir)-and myself. The letter says moreover, several former activists of the Church Council's South African Task Force-and the University of Washington's Students Against Apartheid (a persistent presence in the long struggle for divestment)-are still living in Seattle: Dr. William Cate, Elaine Hickman, Marjorie and Garry Prince, the Rev. Clarence Solberg and Helen Solberg, and Kwame and Zenko Turner (quite a few years ago, Zenko had a reception in her home for fellow South African Archbishop Tutu when he came to Seattle)-and Tracy Lai and Stan Shikuma. The letter says recently, the veteran South African activist Ahmed Kathrada, in the course of a discussion about his newly-published book Letters from Robben Island, confided to the interviewer that the prison warden told him (at the beginning of the infamous life sentences), "In five years time, nobody is going to remember the name Mandela." The letter says somewhere, I still have a few of those rain-battered FREE MANDELA signs that we held in the countless picket lines at the Seattle "honorary" South African consulate during the last years of apartheid; and somewhere, in storage, are the displays created especially for the wonderful celebration of Mandela's release-which occasion, of course, took place at Mt. Zion. (Like CAMP and Langston Hughes, Mt. Zion was "where it happened.") The letter says but one does not want to remember only the first year of big demonstrations at the consulate, when so many citizens from diverse community, civil rights, labor, educational, religious, cultural, medical, professional, and political groups and offices marched up those stairs to be arrested: rather, one wants not to forget those who week after week, month after month, year after year, kept the pressure on and made the difference-people, for instance, such as Doris and Lenus Westman, both faithfully marching in their eightieth years. The letter says certainly, a great many people in Seattle contributed over the years in one way or another, as they could, to various anti-apartheid events and demonstrations (in particular to those organized by the Coalition), i.e., the annual Sharpeville commemorations; the annual South African Women's Day celebrations (with a remembering of Harriet Tubman at the consulate, when Kikora Dorsey, Zakiya Stewart, Bettylou Valentine, and Bunny Wilburn were arrested, among others); the Youth Days (and one of the first Seattle rap contests!); the anti-apartheid art exhibition and other benefits; the tent city protests and agitations for divestment at the U.W.; the forums on health care and children (often organized by Cece Beckwith); the campus African Liberation Day events with their South African programs and marches; the numerous protests at the Federal Building; the intense public meetings with various ANC (and SWAPO) reps; the trips to Vancouver, B.C., and to New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco for conferences; the community teach-ins and workshops (especially at the MLK Birthday rally and march); the Dennis Brutus Defense Committee; the occasions with visiting South African unionists, and with theater people, performers, and musicians (such as Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim during the cultural boycott of South Africa); the organized confrontations with official apartheid apologists and tourist promoters; the Seattle-Daliwe Sister Community Project; the triumphant trial of the arrested doctors; the Shell Oil boycott and protests; the rallies and vigils for the assassinated and the imprisoned; and, hardly least, the poetry readings, press conferences, proclamations, and fasts, not a few of which occurred at the consulate. The letter says unfortunately, one can compose here only the briefest summary of the antiapartheid activities in the Seattle area, or the communities of people who entered into the organizing-such as the South Africans (and others from the continent) who gave so much to our efforts and have since gone home: who could forget the contributions of Michael Nixon, Maseko and Mokeshane Nxumalo, Neeta and Tivan Ravjee, Vivian and Peter Manyike, or ANC rep Fred Dube? (One of the most memorable public forums in Seattle took place when Fred spoke at the Militant Bookstore, as he often did, in an evening dedicated to the memory of the powerful sculptor Dumile Feni, whose untimely death had occurred in New York in exile.) The letter says coincidentally, last month I finally made the decision to transfer several dozen large boxes, portfolios, and files of anti-apartheid archives to the University of Washington and Douglass-Truth Library, precisely because an historical if modest part of the struggle took place here. The letter discusses the Soweto Uprising, the ANC (African National Congress), Municipal Judge Judith Hightower, AFSC (American Friends Service Committee), U.W. (University of Washington, UW), Eddie Rye, Jr., Marjorie Prince, Dr. Gretchen Kalonji, the 1994 election, Somafco (Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College), Boeing, Rev. Robert Jeffrey, Rick Harwood, Lora Chiorah-Dye, Lynne Wilson, Larry Gossett, Rickie Malon, Tyree Scott, Angela Gilliam, archives, Randy Carter, Chris Hani, Rev. Samuel McKinney, Pat Wright, Fred West, Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), PAC (Pan Africanist Congress), and Ubuntu.
Used by permission of Selma Waldman.
Collection: Southern Africa Solidarity in the U.S. Pacific Northwest (Selma Waldman collection), Michigan State University Libraries Special Collections