Posted by StreetWise in Magazine ArticlesIn 1990, Nelson Mandela was quoted in a speech entitled Our March to Freedom is Irreversible as saying: “There must be an end to white monopoly on political power, and a fundamental restructuring of our political and economic systems to ensure that the inequalities of apartheid are addressed and our society thoroughly democratized.”
While the first of these, the white monopoly on political power, ended in 1994 with multi-racial democratic elections, the second element he addressed, the “restructuring of economic systems to ensure that the inequalities of apartheid are addressed,” has yet to happen.
This was the primary message at a September 17 fundraiser for the non-profit 501(c)(3) Shared Interest at the home of Sandra, Tim and Deven Rand in Chicago. Headlining the fundraiser for Shared Interest’s work to support micro-lending, agricultural cooperatives and small businesses in South Africa by partially guaranteeing small and large commercial loans were executive director of Shared Interest, Donna Katzin, and actor Danny Glover.Katzin and Glover read excerpts from Katzin’s book, With These Hands, poetry that reveals glimpses of post-apartheid Africa and the struggle to find social and economic justice. Glover wrote the introduction and serves as co-chair of Shared Interest’s Next Generation Campaign.
Glover recounted in an interview with StreetWise early childhood memories that started his connection to Africa, which developed through its music and songs. Later in life he visited Africa and shared stories with people he met. Glover currently serves as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
He has lived the life of an activist with interests as diverse as his roles as an actor. Well-known for Lethal Weapon (1987) and its four sequels through 1998, he also had the leading role in films Oscar-nominated for Best Picture such as Places in the Heart (1984), Witness (1985) The Color Purple (1985) and the award-winning To Sleep With Anger, which he executive produced and for which he won an Independent Spirit Award as best actor.On television, Glover received Emmy nominations for his work in the miniseries Lonesome Dove and the film Freedom Song – and in the title role of the HBO movie, Mandela. In 2005 he co-founded Louverture Films, whose focus was historical relevance, social purpose, commercial value and artistic integrity, according to IMDB.com.
As a student of economics whose first career was in government, Glover followed his interest in economic development, specifically in African Socialism and self-sufficiency. He and Katzin make a great team for this effort, with both keeping conversations focused on a South Africa still very much in transition.
When asked what their main objective was, she responded by saying that they needed to let people know that “they can still be connected to making South Africa a model for justice and inspiration to the rest of the world.”
The question for everyone who worked in the movement to end apartheid is, “…what’s next?”
Glover and Katzin, who met in the 90’s while raising money for AIDS, both spent the better part of the evening discussing that question, laying out the argument that we in the United States know that real change takes time and is not defined in one particular moment, no matter how pivotal that moment may be in changing the direction of history. Just as Nelson Mandela is one of many people who helped end apartheid, the changes that will determine whether or not the South African model will succeed is based on many moments that extend beyond free elections.The United States has had 237 years to advance the cause of democracy (and only 150 years since it ended slavery, Katzin said). Despite developing a society with unparalleled freedom and equality, the United States still struggles with issues surrounding social equality and economic justice. South Africa has had less than 20 years since the end of apartheid and the start of democratic elections. Its society has only just begun to lay the foundations for economic justice and the processes that will lead to true social equality.
The two spoke about making the hard-won political gains in South Africa sustainable by addressing the inequities that still exist in social mobility and the availability of the financial resources necessary to become self-sufficient. The real strength, said Glover, is not in simple programs that ask for a donation, but rather in providing a mechanism to invest in improving other people’s lives, strengthening communities and investing in ideas, a better world, humanity and social justice. That is the opportunity that Shared Interest is committed to providing.
That issue of continued involvement is relevant here in Illinois, where some of the most notable apartheid protests in the United States occurred in the late 70’s and early 80’s at University of Illinois campuses in Champaign-Urbana and Chicago. The culmination was the creation of the Coalition for Illinois Divestment in South Africa in 1983.
The U of I had $21 million of its $131 million invested in companies with holdings in South Africa. After U of I trustees voted down divestment in June 1985, a student-led protest resulted in the arrest of 16 students. The next year, students held five-day protests where they built shantytowns from scrap metal and wood and staged mock riots between “police” and “oppressed.”
Glover spoke with StreetWise about his life as an activist and his views on the promotion of economic justice in South Africa:
STREETWISE: In 2010, Jim Garrett, one of the activists of the Black Student Union during the 1968 San Francisco State University protests, was quoted as saying: “Our thing was not simply to understand the world. Our duty was to change it.” You were part of that movement. Can you talk about ways those events shaped your life as an activist and how you see education playing a role today in the social changes that are needed today?
DGlover: I think Paul Robeson once said, ‘Each generation makes its own history, and each generation is judged and defined by the history it makes.’ I think my generation was an extraordinary generation. All generations are extraordinary. We came out of WWII and benefitted from that expansionism that happened. We benefitted from it and were the manifestation of the civil rights movement. We were the generation at that particular moment.
The dialectic at that particular moment is certainly different than the dialectic that we talk about now. Certainly, we weren’t talking about global warming or climate change. We were still in conversation with the last of the colonized countries: South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Zimbabwe and Angola. We were in the midst of all that, so it was a different discourse.
I think what’s also different about that discourse here is that we still have ideological challenges in this world. There still is a discourse between the ideals, and let me underline the word ‘ideals,’ that underline socialism and capitalism. Those are the kind of things, I think, that moved us. Whereas in my generation, the books we read were books by Kwame Nkrumah…or Julius Nyerere or Frantz Fanon. The work that we read, I think, had some fundamental questions about who we are in terms of human beings and our relationships to each other in a different kind of way. The struggles that occurred at that time had a commonality in that there was solidarity and struggle. It was a different kind of moment. I think that was the moment to talk about that. You know, it was the outgrowth of the civil rights movement, a re-imagining of Democracy…
STREETWISE: So that’s when it started to change, maybe?
DGlover: I’m not saying that. One of the things that were critical, I think, was the point that we used the campus. The campus was the place where we engaged the community.
STREETWISE: Do you see it happening today – the same way?
DGlover: It happens in other ways for every generation. You have the Occupy movement. It’s a different expression of that. But that’s 1968, 45 years ago. Let’s TALK about today…
STREETWISE: Is it because we don’t have the same economy today as we had then? We don’t have the same hope?
DGlover: Well, the thing is, in 1968 you still had an economy in its growing years. The difference that we’re talking about here is that, first of all…we have a crisis of consciousness about what’s going on globally. The question is, how do we go about addressing those issues, not only which are endemic to the U.S., but to the world. We have poverty now at higher levels than ever before. How do we talk about issues around land, resources, the dearth of water or lack of fresh water. THOSE are the things I think we need to talk about.
STREETWISE: That was a great segue into this. There’s an ongoing debate in many countries on the role of capitalism in society…
DGlover: This is a time for a conversation that’s translating an idea of apartheid, a system that existed for more than 50 years of subjugating people, and talking about what the next steps are. What are the next steps and how can we take these steps in South Africa? What happens in South Africa with the work that Donna does with Shared Interest? What happens with the work we all do in bringing people to the table? How can that establish a new paradigm: a new way of looking at building and development? There needs to be a new way of looking at growth and the distribution and redistribution of resources. What matters now is that what happened in the past DID happen. We can’t deny the past. But how do we reframe the future, particularly in such a dynamic possibility as South Africa? South Africa’s Unions, all of them born under this apartheid system are amazing. They have powerful unions, articulate and everything else. I think that’s the question you need to ask.
By John Kolesa