WASHINGTON – Actor Danny Glover and former leaders of the anti-apartheid movement celebrated the 25th anniversary of the protests and arrests at the South African Embassy.
South African Ambassador to the United States Welile Nlapho met Glover,former D.C. congressional Delegate Walter Fauntroy and activists Mary Frances Berry and William Lucy at the embassy Tuesday to commemorate the anti-apartheid movement they sparked a quarter of a century ago.
“Twenty-five years ago,citizens of this country came knowing they were being courageous in the act of civil disobedience,” said Glover,chairman of the TransAfrica Forum,which organized the demonstrations.
On Nov. 21,1984,anti-apartheid activists gathered outside the embassy on Massachusetts Avenue to rally for the end of apartheid in South Africa and demand the release of all political prisoners in South African jails. When their pleas were denied,they refused to leave. Several of the protesters,including Fauntroy and Berry,were arrested that day.
“He made the great mistake of having us arrested,” Berry said of the then-South African ambassador.
Their arrests made headlines the next day,Thanksgiving,and incited anti-apartheid demonstrations across the country. Activists – well-known and not – continued to picket the embassy and force arrests for months.
Fauntroy said the 1984 protest was the “watershed moment” of the anti-apartheid movement in the United States.
“The consciousness of the nation and the world was pricked,” Fauntroy said.
South Africa's apartheid government finally collapsed in the early 1990s,and the country had its first democratic elections in 1994,when citizens elected activist Nelson Mandela as president.
Nlapho said Tuesday's meeting was significant because the atmosphere at the South African embassy was starkly different than it was on the day of the first arrests in 1984. He said it was appropriate to celebrate the anniversary of the protests to mark the progress in South Africa since the end of apartheid.
“The people of this country built the most formidable kind of movement,” he said.
That movement,Nlapho said,eventually ended apartheid in South Africa,liberating millions of black from persecution.
Glover called for activists to continue in the struggle for democracy and freedom throughout the world.
“We understand that in these difficult times we must continue the act of change,” Glover said.
Berry said it's time for another nonviolent movement to end human rights abuses in Africa,particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Darfur.