Guest column/Lessons of South Africa have not been forgotten

The vast tapestry of African and African-American history forms an intricate design, weaving together good and evil, freedom and slavery, justice and repression. It is a history that has touched that of almost every major civilization since the beginning of recorded time.

Slavery began in 1619, and it spread rapidly, especially in the South. It eventually became legal throughout the American colonies. In general, the slave codes viewed slaves as property, not people, and the laws focused on the ownership rights of whites and the safety of the white community. The white owners of slaves, who bought and sold them, were, of course, called “masters.”

In South Africa, racism was prevalent among the people. The African National Congress was a political organization founded in 1912 to counter government mistreatment of blacks and other minorities. The ANC was established in accordance with the nonviolent principles advocated by Mohandas K. Ghandi and initially focused on mass meetings and petitions.

Most of its members are of the Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele or Sotho origin. As white oppression increased, the ANC began calling for strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience and launched the defiance campaign of the 1950s. The government responded by arresting more than 8,500 people.

In 1955, the ANC adopted its Freedom Charter, which called for a multiracial struggle against apartheid and equal rights for all South Africans. A split occurred in 1959, when a group called the Pan-Africanist Congress broke away to follow a more militant course. In 1960, a massacre occurred in Sharpeville near Johannesburg, when police opened fire on a crowd of unarmed blacks who were demonstrating against South Africa’s notorious pass laws, laws that required all black Africans to carry passes and have official permission to be in cities and other areas.

In the Sharpeville massacre, 69 people were killed and more than 400 were wounded, including many women and children. The government then banned the ANC and the PAC.

The ANC went underground, forming a military wing called Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) that targeted police and government agencies for attack. The government responded by arresting hundreds of ANC supporters, including Nelson Mandela in 1962.

The ANC then became less visible, but gained many new followers after the 1976 Soweto riots, in which possibly as many as 1,000 people were killed. The organization also increased its diplomatic efforts abroad, winning aid from numerous countries in Europe, Africa and the Soviet bloc.

For 10 decades, the ANC has led the struggle against racism and oppression, organizing mass resistance, mobilizing the international community and taking up the armed struggle against apartheid.

The ANC was banned from 1960 to 1990 by the white South African government. During these three decades, it operated under ground and outside South African territory.

The ban was lifted in 1990, and Nelson Mandela, the president of the ANC, was elected in 1994 to head South Africa’s first multiethnic government.

Our work is not over. We must continue in the struggle.

God of our weary years,

God of our silent tears,

Keep us forever in the path,

We pray.

(Wiggins, a resident of Steubenville, is the president of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus Inc.)