Recalling the Other Heroes of the Anti-Apartheid Struggle

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Mandela and Kenneth D. Kaunda, the former president of Zambia - Lusakavoice.com
Mandela and Kenneth D. Kaunda, the former president of Zambia

Far from the crowds pressing to offer a final farewell to Nelson Mandela, a lesser tribute yielded a reminder that he was not alone in the struggle for what he called the rainbow nation.

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In a damp corner of a small park here, someone had left two bunches of red and yellow roses on a bust of Oliver Tambo, Mr. Mandela’s partner, first in a law firm and then in the leadership of the African National Congress, the onetime liberation movement that now governs South Africa.

For many years, until his return to South Africa in 1990, Mr. Tambo and his wife, Adelaide, lived in a three-story home in this suburb of north London, leading the A.N.C.’s struggle from exile as Mr. Mandela languished in prison.

Last week, the days of celebration of Mr. Mandela’s life and the grief at his death tempted some to limit the accolades to Mr. Mandela’s towering personality and moral authority alone.

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Indeed, no one would question his achievement in turning a prison cell into the inspiration of a nation’s struggle for freedom or his remarkable sure-footedness in skirting the racial tripwires of its birth. The stark symbolism of Mr. Mandela’s incarceration offered anti-apartheid campaigners a simple image to marshal global opinion against his captors.

But, as the flowers left for Mr. Tambo showed, some had other memories to complement those that filled the newsreels and retrospectives.

As Mr. Mandela’s body was driven Saturday to his boyhood home, Qunu, for burial, for instance, it was hard to ignore many other burials that convulsed the land in the 1980s during the bloody unrest and emergency rule by the white authorities that defined the years leading to Mr. Mandela’s release in 1990.

Sometimes the funerals were those of the foot soldiers, the comrades as they called themselves, caught in the daily clashes with the police and the army. Sometimes the burial grounds resonated to the revolutionary anthems signifying the brutal assassinations of prominent activists like Matthew Goniwe and three others in 1985.

“They were the true heroes of the struggle,” Mr. Mandela remarked later.

From afar, it was difficult not to trace the alchemy of armed insurgency, diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions, homegrown revolt and sporting ostracism that transformed the iron will of the Afrikaner elite into a readiness for compromise as the end of the Cold War brought a different geopolitical calculus.

For this reporter, ordered by the white authorities to leave South Africa in 1987, the sometimes forgotten leaders paying their tributes at Mr. Mandela’s open coffin in Pretoria seemed like a procession of phantoms from earlier times when black-ruled southern Africa marshaled what strength it had against the still unshaken bastions of white supremacy.

Here, bowed and walking with a cane, was Kenneth D. Kaunda, the former president of Zambia. Here were Joaquim A. Chissano of Mozambique and Robert G. Mugabe, still in power, despotically so, in Zimbabwe.

Peter Hain, a lawmaker and prominent activist in Britain’s anti-apartheid movement, listed some of the contributions from outsiders in Europe and the United States. “Direct action demonstrations blocked all-white sports teams from touring, and international lobbying excluded South Africa from the Olympics and all major s…..

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