The commemoration of this anniversary of the meeting between Senator Robert F Kennedy and the Chief provides opportunity to revisit our history as South Africa within context of renewed public discourse efforts aimed at filling all the historical gaps and broadening the scope of interpretation pertaining to our struggle for freedom from apartheid repression.
South Africa’s freedom from apartheid in 1994 was achieved through national and global efforts all merged in the quest and belief in the dignity of humanity; human freedom; and an equitable and just society.
The rippling effect of these efforts created and sustained change and brought hope for a better tomorrow. Robert F Kennedy’s 5 day visit to South Africa and his 70 minute meeting with Chief Albert Luthuli, insignificant as it might seem within the broader context of history, unquestionably had its own ripple effect.
His visit to South Africa at the behest of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), took place at the height of apartheid oppression when all political organisations were banned; activism restricted; freedom fighters imprisoned or exiled. The decade of the 1960’s was difficult one indeed, especially for those who believed in the universality of human rights; peace and social justice for all.
Chief Albert Luthuli, then President General of the ANC, a Nobel Peace Laureate; a man who fought for the betterment of his people; the coexistence of societies, irrespective of race; colour or creed was himself banned and placed under severe restrictions.
Back in the US, Robert F Kennedy was a leading candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in the 1968 election. As Attorney General he fought against organised crime and corruption; was an advocate for civil rights for African Americans, in all, he stood for a better America and a better world.
According to film producer, Prof Larry Shore, ‘Robert Kennedy’s visit gave opponents of apartheid – both black and white – hope and courage to challenge the apartheid system at a time when they felt isolated and few in the outside world knew what was happening in South Africa.
By the time Senator R Kennedy visited South Africa in 1966, Dr Martin Luther King Jnr. had publicly linked the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the struggle against apartheid repression in South Africa in his 1964 and 1965 speeches. Also in 1962 Chief Albert Luthuli and Dr Martin Luther King Jnr. issued a joint statement for sanctions against apartheid South Africa under the title, ‘Appeal for Action against Apartheid’.
This anniversary event, remembering and celebrating their lives, offers an opportunity for all of us to rekindle and reignite our commitment to fight and stand for what they believed and died for. And that is a better South Africa; a better America and a better world.
The plan to install statues here at the Museum of the two men will not only add value to the site’s built environment, but also serve as a physical and permanent reminder of the ripples of hope.
A reminder of those, like the Chief and the Senator, who walked the path before us.
A path that led us to our better today.
And we individually and collectively have a responsibility to walk the path to create a better tomorrow for those who will come after us.
A Ripple of Hope
Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you!