Listen: South Africans linked to Lucille's

MPR’s John Rabe reports on local African American leaders from the Twin Cities talking with local black leaders in South Africa.

A dozen leaders of Minnesota's black community linked up by video with a dozen of their counterparts in South Africa. They were at Lucille's Kitchen, a restaurant and venerable black meeting place in North Minneapolis, and in Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg. Both countries have anti-racism campaigns underway, and panelists compared notes on how the fight is going. They found they have a lot in common ... including a lack of sure solutions.



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JOHN RABE: A dozen leaders of Minnesota's Black community linked up by video with a dozen of their counterparts in South Africa. They were at Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg and at Lucille's Kitchen, a restaurant and venerable Black meeting place in North Minneapolis.

SPEAKER 1: This is Henry.


Right. We're at Lucille's. We already introduced Lucille. We had to do her first long before--

SPEAKER 2: Long before you.

SPEAKER 1: Long before you.

JOHN RABE: Part of the plan was to talk about how the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is working. The TRC grants immunity from prosecution in exchange for honest testimony about crimes committed in the name of apartheid. To American ears that have mostly heard good things about the TRC, it was surprising to hear South African journalist and panelist Lulama Luti, who didn't mince words.

LULAMA LUTI: Personally, I feel the Truth Commission has been a farce, a total waste of money, and a total waste of our time. I mean, this money could have gone into helping the victims. It's a one-way street that's going the opposite direction. Like, people are the ones who are kneeling in front of these people who have wronged them in the past and who have not shown any remorse.

JOHN RABE: If you think Luti is being extreme, just last week, Archbishop Desmond Tutu who has been fighting apartheid for decades and has spent two years chairing the TRC said, white South Africans are pouting over lost privileges and are lucky Blacks aren't murdering them in their beds. More than one of the South African panelists said the laws of their country that address racism are toothless. Tyrone Terrill of the city of St. Paul's human rights department told the South Africans things aren't that much better here.

TYRONE TERRILL: Just like you have your Truth Commission, we have many human rights commissions here. And while ours may not be toothless, they are probably operating with pretty much not their own original teeth. And so--

JOHN RABE: But whether they're store-bought teeth or real teeth, aren't they teeth nevertheless? And is it valid to compare South Africa, where apartheid ended only a few years ago, with the US, where it's 133 years since the end of the Civil War? Yes, says panelist Josie Johnson.

JOSIE JOHNSON: The issues facing African-American people in America are very similar to those that our brothers and sisters face in South Africa. Denial, power, forgiveness, justice. I have hope because I think that people are constantly trying to find solutions. But what bothers me is that we think there are quick solutions to very old, deep, embedded problems.

JOHN RABE: And if people like Josie Johnson drew a little inspiration from the South African panelists despite their frustration, Macalester College Professor Mahmoud El-Kati did his best to inspire them, quoting Nelson Mandela and Frederick Douglass, and trying to fit it all in before the satellite link went down.

MAHMOUD EL-KATI: The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days. Your great statesman, the greatest statesman of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela. And the greatest statesman in this country of the 19th century was Frederick Douglass, who taught us that if there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plying the ground.

They want the rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of their mighty waters. The struggle may be a moral one or it may be a physical one, or it may be both moral and physical. But it must be a struggle, for power concedes nothing without a demand.


JOHN RABE: The forum from Lucille's Kitchen in South Africa was sponsored by KMOJ Radio, Insight News, the Star Tribune, KTCA, and MPR. It's part of an ongoing series. John Rabe, Minnesota Public Radio.


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