About Craig Divis

I am a high school History teacher in Bremerton, Washington where I teach World World History and A.P. World History. I was awarded acceptance into the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program during the 2011-2012 school year. With this Fulbright, I traveled to South Africa to study the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa's history, including how it is incorporated into school curricula, how it is taught in school classrooms, and its impact in South Africa today and moving forward.

South Africa loses the “Mother of the Nation”

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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away on Monday in South Africa at the age of 81.  While most of the world only knows of her from her marriage to Nelson Mandela, Winnie was an ardent anti-apartheid activist in her own right. She is so much more than just the wife of Nelson Mandela, she is a woman who kept the struggle alive when most of the leaders were imprisoned, in exile, or dead.  In many ways, it was through her strength, leadership, and commitment that made it possible for the struggle to succeed in liberating the country and ending apartheid.

Her marriage to Nelson did not make Winnie an activist.  In fact, she was an activist prior to meeting him in the 1950s.  She worked as a social worker in Johannesburg at the Baragwanath Hospital, and it was from this experience that she reality that social change was necessary in South Africa.

In 1958, Winnie and Nelson married.  They would be married for 38 years, however for 27 of those years they were apart as Nelson was imprisoned.

That same year, Winnie embarked on her first entry into political activism when she joined a women’s march in Johannesburg.  Led by Lillian Ngoyi, the march against pass laws included thousands of women from throughout Johannesburg.  According to Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob, author of Winnie Mandela: A Life, “There were professional women and office workers in smart suits, factory workers in overalls, rural residents wrapped in tribal blankets. Some were young and educated, others old, bent, and illiterate.”  The police cracked down on the protest, arresting more than 1,000 women, including Winnie.

Winnie refused to apply for a pass book, which was required by law.  She saw this insulting documentation as racist and as a form of oppression, and her protest was to refuse to take part in it.  As a further protest, she refused to pay the bail and chose instead to remain in prison.

Winnie was inspired by the actions of the women she saw as leaders in the movement, including Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi, Albertina Sisulu, Ruth Mompati, and Ruth First.  These women were committed leaders in the anti-apartheid movement, and Winnie drew strength and inspiration from them.

In 1962, Nelson was arrested and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.  Winnie, who was left to raise their two young daughters alone, assumed the mantle of leadership in the struggle.

“Much as she loved and admired her husband, she would not hide in his shadow, or become known as nothing more than just his wife,” du Preez Bezdrob states.

The state quickly turned their attention to her, banning her numerous times which cost her her job as a social worker and prevented her from being able to visit her husband in prison on Robben Island.  In 1969, Winnie was arrested under the Terrorism Act and held in solitary confinement for 491 days, where she was subjected to extreme emotional, psychological, and physical torture.

In Winnie’s own words, “The years of imprisonment hardened me… I no longer have the emotion of fear… There is no longer anything I can fear.”

In the anti-apartheid movement, most of the leaders of the ANC were in prison (like Nelson Mandela) or in exile (like Oliver Tambo).  In that power vacuum, Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement arose in the late 1960s.  Winnie was inspired by this movement, supporting it at a time when few in the ANC did.

When the Soweto Uprising broke out in 1976, the students turned to her for guidance and support, with her being the most respected leader they had in the country.  The youth related to her, trusted her, and never questioned her leadership. As a result, she earned the title “Mother of the Nation.”

Winne was in a unique position as she had connections with the Old Guard, being married to Nelson and good friends with Walter and Albertina Sisulu, yet she also could connect with the anger and frustration of the youth in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Winnie was the only person who could act as the link between the Old Guard and the Young Turks,” according to du Preez Bezdrob.  “She understood and empathized with the anger of the youth, and they, in turn, trusted and looked up to her.”

“To the downtrodden masses, she had become a heroine, an African Joan of Arc: a leader to be reckoned with.”

“Winnie had become an icon, the visible face of the liberation struggle,” says du Preez Bezdrob.

According to Milton Nkosi of the BBC, “at a time when many other anti-apartheid leaders were languishing in jail or in exile, she not only represented the liberation movement. She was The Movement.”

From bombs to raids, arrests to banning orders, the state waged an all-out war on Winnie as they saw her as the clear leader of the liberation movement.  Nothing could stop her, though, in her determination to see the struggle victorious.

Even while she was banished to the Free State town of Brandfort for eight years, Winnie organized boycotts, started a health clinic, set up a soup kitchen, created a project to rescue and rehabilitate orphans and juvenile delinquents, and organized a daycare center in the rural town.

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Winnie outside of her home during her banishment to Brandfort (1977)

“She refused to be bowed by the imprisonment of her husband, the perpetual harassment of her family by security forces, detentions, bannings and banishment,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a statement after her death. “Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me, and to generations of activists.”

Her character, sheer strength and willpower could not be suppressed.

In January 1985, US Senator Edward Kennedy visited her in Brandfort, describing her as someone who was “very courageous”.  Winnie met with Sen. Kennedy as well as countless other international dignitaries to try to secure her husband’s release from prison.

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Sen. Kennedy with Winnie in Brandfort, 1985

It was a poignant moment – an African woman, removed from society as punishment for asking for basic human rights, getting a visit from one of the most powerful politicians in the US. This sent a clear message that she – and black people – were not alone in the struggle against apartheid.

Winnie played an essential role in keeping her husband’s name and memory alive.  While in imprison for 27 years, his picture was banned so few people had an idea of what he looked like in South Africa, and even his words were illegal to publish in the newspaper.  She had worked to publicly call for his release, and her efforts finally paid off, as in 1980, the “Free Mandela” campaign was launched internationally.  The United Nations Security Council joined the call, and the campaign quickly became an internal movement.

“She kept the memory of her imprisoned husband Nelson Mandela alive during his years on Robben Island and helped give the struggle for justice in South Africa one its most recognizable faces,” the family’s statement said in the wake of her passing.

However, by the 1980s, after decades of being apart and the country drastically changing, Nelson and Winnie slowly grew apart.  According to du Preez Bezdrob, “she was the overt revolutionary, angry, defiant and controversial; he was the statesman-in-the-making, steadily garnering respect and rising in international stature.”

While others in the ANC leadership advocated for diplomacy and negotiations by the end of the 1980s, especially after the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, Winnie was by no means ready to renounce the armed struggle.  She continued to wear her military uniform in public, and even controversially supported the practice of necklacing when she said in 1986, “together, hand in hand, with our boxes of matches and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country.”

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Winnie addressing an ANC rally in Soweto

In 1993 she was elected president of the ANC’s Women’s League. In 1994, was elected to the first democratically elected parliament in South African history, and her husband appointed her Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture.

Despite her marriage to Nelson falling apart by 1996, she remained committed to the nation.  She was still a member of parliament and an ANC member at the time of her death.

Winnie’s legacy was, in some people’s eyes, tainted by the seemingly endless controversies and court cases over the last several decades, centering around everything from murder and kidnapping to fraud, theft, tax evasion, and corruption.  However, she also led the struggle during its darkest years.  She valiantly stood up and continued to challenge the apartheid government, not being deterred by their relentless acts of intimidation and persecution.  It certainly cannot be argued that her leadership, courage, and determination helped bring about freedom and democracy in South Africa.

It is symbolic that when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in February 1990, it was not just Nelson that walked out, but Winnie was right there by his side, her fist held up as triumphantly as his.

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Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Feb. 1990

“Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against apartheid,” her family’s statement said. “She fought valiantly against the apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country.”

Hugh Masekela (1939-2018)

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Legendary South African musician Hugh Masekela died on Tuesday after a long battle with cancer.

Known as the father of South African jazz, Masekela channeled the struggle against apartheid into soulful compositions that championed the experiences of ordinary South Africans.  Masekela was introduced to the trumpet by anti-apartheid activist Father Trevor Huddleston in the 1950s.

He left South Africa in the 1960s to perform in exile, raising awareness of the international community to the evils of apartheid through his music.  Much of his work was on exposing the brutality of apartheid, but also of inspiring hope to keep the struggle alive and to spread the beauty of South African culture around the world.  Some of his most well-known works include the score for the anti-apartheid musical Sarafina! in 1987, which he co-wrote.  His song, “Bring Him Back Home (Mandela)”, became an anthem for the movement to free Nelson Mandela in the 1980s.

“Hugh Masekela’s commitment to South African music and arts served as an immeasurable force in the fight against apartheid,” said Vivien Marcow Speiser, dean of Lesley University’s Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences, in 2010.

His career spanned 5 decades, during which time he released over 40 albums and worked with a range of artists including Nigeria’s Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, and his former wife, Miriam Makeba.

In 1990 Masekela returned home to South Africa, following the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Mandela.

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Hugh Maskela in concert in Bloemfontein, South Africa (May 5, 2012)

The long-awaited truth about Ahmed Timol’s death

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In a landmark ruling, a South African judge ruled that Ahmed Timol, an anti-apartheid activist who died in police custody in October 1971, did not kill himself as authorities have long claimed but was murdered by police officers.

Judge Billy Mothle ruled that he “was pushed” out of the window of the 10th floor building where he had been detained by the apartheid police.

Timol, a 29-year-old anti-apartheid activist who had been a member of the South African Communist Party, the ANC, and Umkhonto we Sizwe, died after falling from police headquarters in Johannesburg five days after his arrest.

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Officially, police records say he leapt to his death from the infamous John Vorster Square, now called Johannesburg Central police station – a verdict endorsed by an inquest in 1972.

His family, however, fought the ruling for decades and have campaigned hard to secure the legal review, which finally began in June 2017.

“Timol did not jump out of the window but was pushed out of the window or off the roof,” said Mothle. “Members of the security branch … murdered Timol.”

The judge called for the security branch officer Joao Rodrigues, who admitted helping to cover up the murder, to be prosecuted, but he acknowledged that the men actually responsible have since died.

“Most of the main perpetrators have since passed on [but] all security branch officers responsible for guarding and interrogating Timol are collectively responsible for his injuries,” Mothle said.

While the ruling was solely about Ahmed Timol, it paves the way for scores of similar cases, and a new examination of some of the darkest episodes of South Africa’s recent history.

The judge called for families who lost relatives in circumstances similar to Timol’s to be assisted in reopening their cases, particularly when suicide was recorded as the cause of death.

At least 73 political detainees are believed to have died while in the hands of the police between 1963 and 1990, but some believe that number to be much higher.  The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg lists 115 people that died in detention during that time span.  Official explanations for these deaths range from jumping out of windows and falling down stairs to suicide by hanging and slipping in the shower.

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No one has ever been held responsible for any of those deaths, campaigners say.

This was the first inquest in democratic South Africa to specifically look into apartheid deaths in police custody.

“After this ruling we are hoping to see large scale investigations,” says Lawson Naidoo, head of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution.

There have been attempts at unearthing the truth in democratic South Africa such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

However, in recent years the TRC’s failure to compel apartheid loyalists who testified at the commission to “tell all” has come in for increasing criticism, along with granting perpetrators amnesty for their testimony.

While the hearings were hailed as a necessary process to help move the country into a peaceful democracy, many said it denied justice to victims of apartheid.

In the minds of many, justice will only come if those behind the murders and torture are prosecuted and punished for their crimes.

“You cannot forgive what you do not know, what was never acknowledged. The people who killed our children must be made to tell the truth and face the consequences of their actions,” says Phillip Mabelane, whose 23-year-old son Matthews was said to have jumped to his death while in police custody.

Africa’s Great Civilizations on PBS

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On PBS this week, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. narrates a phenomenal and important documentary entitled “Africa’s Great Civilizations.”  In each of the three episodes for this miniseries, he takes a new look at the history of Africa, from the birth of humankind to the dawn of the 20th century. This is a historical journey through 200,000 years of history, from the origins, on the African continent, of art, writing and civilization itself, through the millennia in which Africa and Africans shaped not only their own rich civilizations, but also the wider world.

From the Great Zimbabwe to the Swahili coast, from the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela to the pyramids of the Kush in Meroe, and from the ancient libraries of Timbuktu to the grandeur of the Kongo Kingdom, this incredible series shows the rich history of the African continent and the important role it played in world history.

Gates wants to change the way people outside Africa think about the continent. Too often people conjure up images of poverty and disease because few know of its great empires, its powerful leaders, its art and the trade routes that shaped the continent and beyond.

According to Gates:

The story of Africa has been systematically denied to us for two reasons. The first is slavery. The second is colonialism. Europeans had to invent an Africa as a place of emptiness and barrenness and backwardness in order to justify the enslavement of 12.5 million human beings who were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean between 1501 and roughly 1866.

And then, after slavery finally was abolished – the slave trade – European colonial powers looked at a big empty map of Africa and carved it up like you carve up a pizza pie. And they just passed out slices. They’d say, OK, Germany, you want Tanganyika – here. Senegal, this is for you, France. And what I wanted to do was to tell the story of the great African people and their civilizations.

Watch the series on PBS, or watch each episode online.  Check out the trailer for the series below:

The assassination of Olof Palme resurfaces

While most of the violence connected with the South African apartheid regime occurred within South Africa, the apartheid regime went to great lengths to maintain apartheid for decades outside their borders, as well.  This included not just military invasions and assassinations in neighboring states, including Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Angola, but also bombings and assassinations in Europe, as well.

One of the most high profile of these targeted assassinations was possibly that of Sweden’s Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986.

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Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme (1969-1976, 1982-1986)

Palme is the only European head of state to have been assassinated since before World War II.

He was gunned down in Stockholm as he was walking with his wife on February 28, 1986.  He was shot twice in the back at close range.

Convicted murderer, petty thief and drug addict Christer Pettersson was initially convicted of Palme’s murder in 1988, but was later acquitted by an appeals court in 1989 due to insufficient evidence.

Despite eyewitness accounts and numerous leads over the last three decades, the identity of the killer remains a mystery.

Like the murder of US President John F. Kennedy, the killing of Palme has haunted Sweden ever since, and has attracted a legion of conspiracy theories.

Palme was outspoken on many issues, from speaking out against America’s involvement in Vietnam to supporting Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Organization.  He had befriended Fidel Castro, and dared to take a leading role in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

Palme was not alone as Sweden had a long history of being at the forefront of the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

In the aftermath of World War II, Sweden fully supported colonial self-determination so much that journalist Per Wastberg referred to it at such a level that “anti-colonialism was embedded in the Swedish consciousness.”  They were not simply taking a stance of neutrality, but supported the forceful advocacy of decolonization.

Starting in the 1960s, Sweden was providing material support for liberation movements in Africa. This took the form of equipment, food, educational materials, and transportation. The Swedish organization that was formed to engineer this aid was the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), formed in 1962.

Freedom fighters were also welcomed in Sweden, making it a haven for leaders of liberation movements. While Britain and the United States were terrified to be seen with the “wrong” terrorist or guerrilla fighter, Sweden openly welcomed these leaders.  Oliver Tambo, the president of the ANC, went to Sweden for the first time in 1962, starting a long relationship between the ANC and Sweden.

For many years, according to De Wet Potgieter in his book Total Onslaught, Sweden was the biggest funder and most loyal supporter of the ANC’s liberation struggle. More than 50% of the ANC’s finances for the military, propaganda, diplomatic, and economic struggles against the South African regime in the 1980s came from Sweden.

Sweden had even started funding the International University Exchange Fund (IUEF).  Based out of Geneva, the IUEF was a Swedish initiative run from Stockholm.  The purpose was to provide scholarships to victims of apartheid from South Africa, as well as students who had fled oppressive, right-wing regimes in Latin America, to study in Europe.

Sweden had also been the first country to adopt strict and unyielding sanctions against South Africa, having starting imposing these unilaterally in the 1970s.

The so-called Swedish People’s Parliament Against Apartheid, a collection of Swedish popular organizations opposed to apartheid, had also been formed and was also one of the world’s most powerful anti-apartheid movements.

Olof Palme, as prime minister of Sweden from 1969-1976 and 1982-1986, was the leader of Sweden’s anti-apartheid fight. He was an outspoken critic of South African apartheid, and he was proud of the leading role his country took in support of the ANC against the apartheid regime.

As a result, Sweden and Palme were at the forefront of European and worldwide action against apartheid South Africa. As a result, Sweden was fast becoming one of the biggest problems in South Africa’s war against the ANC.

One week before his death, Palme had made a speech condemning apartheid at a meeting of the Swedish People’s Parliament Against Apartheid in Stockholm, which was attended by ANC leaders Oliver Tambo and Thabo Mbeki.  While many people spoke at the meeting, including Tambo, Palme’s address was the most scathing.

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Oliver Tambo and Olof Palme in Stockholm in February 1986

In this speech, on February 21, 1986, Palme did not mince words in attacking apartheid.

According to Palme in his address, “Apartheid cannot be reformed; it can only be abolished.”

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Palme also advocated for a global boycott of South Africa: “We are all responsible for apartheid. If the world wants to eradicate apartheid, it can do so tomorrow, by simply withdrawing support for the apartheid regime. …The system will survive as long as it receives external support. If that support is withdrawn and turned into resistance, apartheid cannot continue to exist. If the world decides to abolish apartheid, apartheid will disappear.”

These comments were infuriating to the South African government, and clearly it gave some cause for concern about the sort of international anti-apartheid movement that Palme was calling for.  According to De Wet Potgieter, “The South African government hated Palme… The economic and psychological toll that his anti-apartheid campaign took on South Africa was incalculable.”

In fact, as early as October 15, 1985, in a Military Intelligence secret report, concluded that Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was now an “enemy of the state” of South Africa. In this report, the most chilling section read: “Action proposed previously against Mr. Palme should now be given urgent attention.”

On February 28, 1986, Palme was assassinated.

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Plaque placed in the sidewalk in Stockholm where Palme was assassinated in 1986

In the early days of the police investigation into the assassination, according to James Sanders in his book Apartheid’s Friends: The Rise and Fall of South Africa’s Secret Service, journalist Per Wastberg reported that the murder had been the handiwork of three South African agents.  Wastberg received the information from one of her South African sources, yet her information was ignored by the Swedish police.

More than ten years after Palme’s assassination, Eugene de Kock, testifying in a Pretoria court, declared that he had notified the South African Attorney General of numerous apartheid crimes, notably the assassination of Palme.

De Kock had been the commander of C10, a counter-insurgency police force based just outside Pretoria, on a remote farm known as Vlakplaas.  This government hit squad became the number one death squad for killing anti-apartheid activists, both in and outside of South Africa.

The government denied the existence of a group devoted to exterminating insurgents, but Vlakplaas’ purpose was to do just this. According to Max du Preez in Pale Native, “The list of murders, tortures, assaults, and kidnappings was long.”

In A Human Being Died That Night, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela points out that, “The covert operations program did not “officially” exist but was clearly necessary for apartheid to survive.” And the government saw it as that important that they pumped millions in secret funds into de Kock’s unit for years, according to Gobodo-Madikizela.

With the start of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), de Kock applied for amnesty and appeared before the commission for the first time in 1997. Before the TRC, de Kock confessed to crimes against humanity. He specifically confessed to more than 100 acts of murder, torture and fraud, taking full responsibility for the activities of his undercover unit.

One of these murders was that of Palme, which he said was one of Craig Williamson’s projects.  Williamson was a South African Police major and an infamous apartheid spy responsible for a wealth of state-sponsored overseas bombings, burglaries, kidnappings, assassinations during the 1980s. From 1977, Williamson was a regular visitor to Stockholm.  He has successfully infiltrated the IUEF, using it as a front to spy on the ANC and diverting funds away from its treasury back to the apartheid regime. However, there is no evidence that Williamson was in Sweden at the time of the assassination.

Williamson was investigated but never charged with the assassination.

Another possible apartheid link was Nigel Barnett, a South African military intelligence agent and a spy for apartheid South Africa.  Barnett interestingly had been adopted as a child by a family with Swedish antecedents, had visited Sweden on numerous occasions, and could speak Swedish.  Barnett also had videotapes of television coverage of Palme’s assassination and an airline ticket stub from Johannesburg to Stockholm from 1986.  When investigated by Mozambique authorities about the murder of Palme, Barnett even failed a polygraph test when asked if he had murdered Palme.  However, there is no evidence that Barnett was in Sweden at the time of the assassination.

Barnett was investigated but never charged with the assassination.

Another possible apartheid link was Roy Allen, who worked with the South African Military Intelligence in the 1980s. He worked as a spy in Europe and was in Stockholm on the night of the murder – February 28, 1986.  He was questioned by South African investigators in 1996 about the Palme assassination but was never charged.

In fact, no South Africans have ever been charged with the Palme assassination.

Sweden has now named a new chief prosecutor to lead the inquiry into the 1986 unsolved murder of the Palme.  Krister Petersson, Stockholm’s chief prosecutor, has been brought in to oversee the case, which will start in February.  Only time will tell if the mystery of this assassination will now finally be solved.

Sam Nzima’s Soweto Uprising picture one of TIME’s 100 photos of all time

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TIME has put together their compilation of the 100 most influential photographs of all time and Sam Nzima’s infamous Soweto Uprising picture of Hector Pieterson is included in this list.

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Sam Nzima with his famous photo

According to TIME, suddenly the world could no longer ignore apartheid. The seeds of international opposition that would eventually topple the racist system had been planted by a photograph.

Check out the TIME website for more info on Nzima’s photo and a great video where Nzima describes the photo himself.