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Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela closes 75th Nakba Commemoration Tour

By Kobi Guillory

Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela at Chicago Nakba commemoration.

Chicago, IL- “Let us all join hands in the inevitable march to freedom for Palestine and we dare to dream of a free Palestine where Muslims, Christians and Jews can live side by side in peace as they have done for centuries,” stated Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, South African member of parliament and grandson of revolutionary icon Nelson Mandela, to an audience of 400 at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters, on Saturday, May 20.

Chicago was the sixth and final city Mandela visited during the Nakba Commemoration Tour organized by the United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) and the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR).

Mandela was introduced by NAARPR Executive Director Frank Chapman, who spoke about the connection between the Palestinian liberation struggle and Black liberation movements in South Africa and the United States. “In 1973 we formed the National Alliance. Every year we took about 10,000 petitions to the UN saying 'Free Nelson Mandela and all political prisoners'. We're not new to this, we're true to it,” Chapman declared.

Chief Mandela paid his respects to the elders who had stood in solidarity with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Frank Chapman was one of many veterans of anti-apartheid solidarity in attendance, including Chapman's NAARPR comrades Lisa Brock, Willie Williamson and Mildred Williamson. Chapman said, “Our elders taught me: generation after generation, until total liberation. That's what we're here for today.”

Muhammad Sankari, a leading member of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), pointed out that some attendees had witnessed both the first intifada and the fall of apartheid in South Africa, while others were younger than 21. This showed the broad, intergenerational character of the fight against the occupation of Palestine.

The range of ages among the attendees also illustrated the resilience of the Palestinian liberation struggle. 75 years after the start of the Nakba, Palestinians of all ages are still fighting back and working and oppressed people in all nations of the world are standing in solidarity with them.

“Nakba means catastrophe – the violent, forced expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. It is a somber occasion, but one that also inspires us,” explained Hatem Abudayyeh, USPCN national chair.

“This Nakba is ongoing. Still our people remain steadfast,” said leading USPCN member Nesreen Hasan, as she delved into the history of the Palestinian resistance against colonialism, and how the struggle is being carried on today.

Throughout the Nakba 75 tour, Chief Mandela also addressed strategic and tactical questions of Palestinian liberation by referring to the experience of the South African freedom struggle. “As we come to the end of this Nakba 75 commemoration week, we ask the question: what is to be done? It is the same question my grandfather President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela faced when he was on the notorious Robben Island,” Chief Mandela said, adding, “He called for the unbanning of all political parties. He called for the right to return for all exiles. He called for the release of all political prisoners. These conditions precedent described the key pillars of struggle.”

Mandela spoke about how the anti-apartheid struggle used many different tactics, violent and nonviolent, legal and illegal, to resist repression and strike blows against the white supremacist system. He also explained the importance of international solidarity with examples such as when the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) staged a boycott of South African apartheid cargo in 1962. ILWU and other organizations have continued this tradition by refusing to unload products from apartheid Israel in the recent Block The Boat campaign.

“There is power within our struggle as long as there is unity,” said Jasmine Smith, member of the CAARPR executive committee, expressing a sentiment that was present throughout Chief Mandela's Nakba 75 Commemoration Tour.

In his addresses in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Santa Ana, San Francisco, and Chicago, Chief Mandela uplifted the various movements of working and oppressed people internationally. He addressed the particular demands of the Black and Chicano liberation movements, women's rights struggles, youth organizing, and many more, while linking all of them to Palestinian liberation.

In his closing remarks, Chief Mandela said, “We shall not stop until all of occupied Palestine is free.”

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