On March 10th 2021, Jack Heyman, a retired member of the International Longshoremen and Warehousing Union and longstanding member of theWest Coast Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal shared with the Mumia and prison human rights’ groups nationally and internationally a press release from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA).
The South African press release called for proper healthcare for Abu-Jamal and all other prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19. It stated that Abu-Jamal is a political prisoner whose “only crime is exposing the racist, capitalist justice system in the U.S. which for decades defended and supported the Apartheid government.”
Importantly, NUMSA’s statement to the world ends with these words: “We urge our comrades locally and around the globe to join us in this just campaign to free Mumia.”
I am not a historian but I will submit to you five reasons why I believe the NUMSA statement already belongs to our History.
1) I have been privileged to be part of the struggle to free Mumia ever since he wrote in the early eighties from death row to my mother, Ellen Wright, and to me asking for help to prove his innocence.
Before then I had done international black liberation work whether it was with the Black Panther delegation to the first Cultural Pan-African Festival in Algiers or helping James Forman collect biographical interviews in preparation for his book on Frantz Fanon.
But above all, before that, I had worked as a journalist in the socialist Republic of Ghana as a staff member of the “L’Etincelle,” the French version of “The Spark.” The late President Kwame Nkrumah had set it up as the voice piece of the liberation movements against colonialism and neo-colonialism that he gave asylum and training to on his independent soil. As such my beginnings in journalism caused me to attend meetings alongside the FRELIMO of Mozambique, the MPLA of Angola, the PAIGC of Amilcar Cabral, the ANC and the UNITY movements of South Africa but also anti neo colonialist movements such as the UPC of Cameroon and Nigerian S.G. Ikoku’s opposition party.
The CIA had its eye on this and the white power of the Volta Dam: they overthrew Nkrumah with the help of the local military in 1966. President Sekou Toure of Guinea offered Nkrumah co-Presidency and asylum in the spirit of Pan-Africanism.
This is why my late husband and I traveled to Guinea to attend the Funeral of Nkrumah on May 13th 1972. At the funeral, Amilcar Cabral delivered his now famous eulogy called “The Cancer of Betrayal.” Then we all gathered together for a wake at the villa where Nkrumah used to work on an open terrace by the sea.
At the time, I was completing a series of interviews on what African freedom fighters thought about our Black Power movement. When I asked Amilcar Cabral this question, he replied:
“I will answer your question as an agronomist. You, African-Americans, are seeds hibernating under the snow of North American capitalism. We, the freedom fighters on the periphery, will create with our victories, the climatic conditions, the Revolutionary Spring that will end up by thawing that snow. Your struggle will then bear its fruit. This is how I see our synergy.”
These words, this analysis have since guided my international work in general and the work to free Mumia in particular. So it is not surprising that when solidarity statements started pouring in after the alarming news about Mumia’s health, NUMSA’s appeal to the trade unions of the world leapt out as an action Cabral would have ideologically welcomed.
In the wake of the NUMSA call, the tsunami from the periphery continues to be amazing : Columbia, two statements from Mexico, the International Dockworkers Council, the Labor Party in the Philippines, the Alba Movimientos-Capitulo Brasil, The Palestinian Feminist Collective, the International Workers Committee, the 6th Region of the Pan-African Diaspora, the Rassemblement National Democratique in Senegal founded by Pr Cheikh Anta Diop, the Partido Obrero of Argentina, forty five Algerian students, professors, trade unionists and others.
As for Amilcar Cabral, he was assassinated less than a year after I interviewed him, by real bullets but viscerally by the neo colonialist “cancer of betrayal” he had warned Africa about.
2) Another reason that makes NUMSA’s appeal for Mumia so historically relevant is that South Africa’s form of Apartheid is close to what we have historically experienced and still undergo in the United States as our own forms of segregation from slavery to Jim Crow and the ghetto economy.
3) The solidarity of the civil rights and the Black Power movements with the struggle against Apartheid was remarkable in its consistency and its efficiency.
I would wish to mention my own small involvement in the anti-Apartheid support African Americans like myself were happy to offer. Caroline Hunter, a black Polaroid worker, wrote to me in Paris asking me to back her coalition of black Polaroid workers to force Polaroid to withdraw from South Africa. Caroline had happened to discover that her company was secretly helping the Apartheid regime to make the photos for the infamous “passes” the Blacks needed to enter forbidden white zones. This divestment movement led by an African American worker sparked a far-reaching boycott and is recognized in South Africa as being instrumental in the downfall of Apartheid.
But other boycott movements were just as key such as the strike against South African ships by the Longshore Union on the West Coast credited by Nelson Mandela as sparking the anti-apartheid movement there. Today, the South African people have an abiding gratitude for our solidarity.
4) During the last days of Apartheid, there was a tense debate between the fascist, racist, land-owning Boers and Oppenheimer, DeBeers and other companies who owned huge diamond, gold and other metal ore mines employing millions of Black and Brown workers.
The debate was over which form of neocolonialism would prevail after independence. Would it be the Trump-like white supremacist neocolonialism advocated by the Dutch settlers? Or would it be the neoliberal model of neocolonialism advocated by the mine owners who needed to continue to attract and exploit Black and Brown workers as cheap subservient labor to maximize their ever soaring profits?
Thus the key importance of trade unions such as NUMSA to offset the post-independence corporate neo-colonialist paradigm. This debate is closely mirrored in our post-January 6th society in the United States today.
5) Last but not least, when Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner was elected, he created a Conviction Integrity Unit that he proudly patterned on the iconic Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission that the late President Nelson Mandela tasked Desmond Tutu to create. Krasner’s unit has to date exonerated at least 18 prisoners wrongfully convicted on the basis of the same racial bias, and the same police, prosecutorial, and judicial misconduct as Mumia underwent.
Unfortunately, DA Krasner is still adamant that he holds no legal key to open Mumia’s prison door even at this stage of Mumia’s guarded prognosis. Therefore, I would venture to raise the following questions:
Does DA Krasner know that the founding fathers of the model of reparative justice that he claims he supports (Mandela and Tutu), both specifically called for Mumia’s immediate release back in 2013? Notably, their call for Mumia’s release was even before his Hep-C, before his COVID-19 and before his congestive heart failure.
Is it a coincidence that among the 18 prisoners exonerated by Larry Krasner’s Unit, there is no political prisoner?
Does Larry Krasner see political prisoners as radioactive?
Does Larry Krasner know that the same Nelson Mandela he so admires was a political prisoner before a people’s movement liberated him?
This is the testimony that I feel is timely to share concerning what I consider to be the milestone news of NUMSA’ s appeal to progressive groups and trade unions worldwide.
In the spirit of a Revolutionary Spring.