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Chief Zwelivelile Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela, in Milwaukee to commemorate 75th Nakba anniversary

By Sam Charnon

Chief Zwelivelile Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela, speaking in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee, WI – May 15 marked the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. Over 250 community members and activists gathered in downtown Milwaukee to see Chief Zwelivelile Mandela, the grandson of the great anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, in commemoration of the tragedy in Palestine.

Zwelivelile Mandela is the tribal chief of the Mvezo Traditional Council and has served as a member of the South African parliament since 2009. Continuing in his grandfathers’ footsteps, Mandela is a staunch supporter of Palestinian liberation. The Nakba (“catastrophe” in English) began in 1948, the same year that apartheid was made law in South Africa. Shouts of “Free, free Palestine'' and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” echoed throughout Turner Hall as Palestinian and South African flags were waved by attendants.

The event, hosted by the US Palestinian Community Network and the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, was marked by powerful speeches. Ashley Hudson from Madison for Palestine spoke of the Zionism that impacts the government, institutions and society, and how they have struggled against it in their city.

Later, Brian Verdin from Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (MAARPR) spoke of his involvement in the rich history of Milwaukee activism in the 1980s against apartheid South Africa, as well as organizing against the settler-colonial state that is Israel today.

Rounding out the event was Zwelivelile himself, who illustrated the similarities and comradery between the South African anti-apartheid movement and the Palestinian liberation movement. He called for the right to return, echoed support for the Palestinian resistance, and talked about strategies that worked in fighting apartheid South Africa, and how these can be incorporated by local activists and community members in combating police brutality in the U.S. and the illegitimate state of Israel today.

At the end of the event, Zwelivelile was asked about his favorite memory with his grandfather. He spoke of meeting him when he was nine years old, when he visited him at the prison he was serving a life sentence in. When Nelson Mandela was finally released, many people – including Zwelivelile and the Mandela family – assumed this was a move by the South African government in preparation for the revolutionary to pass away shortly after. It was speculated that Mandela was unwell, and that the government feared him passing while incarcerated, which they believed would spark an uprising.

Unable to name a single favorite memory, Zwelivelile Mandela instead talked about cherishing the 23 years he was able to spend with his grandfather after his release from prison, saying he will remember every moment with him until his final days.

Milwaukee is the first of six stops on Mandela’s tour. Local community organizations, like Madison for Palestine, Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) WI, MAARPR, Milwaukee Anti-War Committee (MAC), Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition co-sponsored the event. Milwaukee organizations and activists hope that this will continue to spark support for the Palestinian people.

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