Tag Archives: apartheid

Women’s History Month 2013: Miriam Makeba

4 Mar

MakebaToday we honor and celebrate the powerful singer and international social justice activist known to the world as Mama Africa. Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on this date in 1932. She began singing in a primary school choir. She married young and had her only child, Bongi Makeba, at the age of 18. Shortly after this, Miriam was diagnosed with breast cancer and her husband left her.

After her recovery, she began pursuing music professionally, working with the local jazz group the Manhattan Brothers. She left the band to form her own all-female group, the Skylarks, who merged native music with jazz stylings. It was with the Skylarks that she recorded the first version of her best known hit, Pata Pata. She composed it herself (with rock writer Jerry Ragovoy), mostly in the Xhosa language.

Her first major break also caused her major problems. She eagerly participated in the anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa. Audiences responded so well to her presence in the film that the director had her travel to festivals to help promote it. It was during this time that she met fellow South African performer and future husband Hugh Masakela. When she tried to return home for her mother’s funeral, she discovered that the South African government had cancelled her passport in retaliation for her anti-apartheid work. Guinea, Belgium, and Ghana issued her international passports in recognition of her situation.

Harry Belafonte helped introduce Makeba to U.S. audiences as part of the proto-World Beat movement of the mid-60s. She was very well received and began a promising career, including the U.S. release of Pata Pata which went to #12. After her marriage to Masakela ended, she met and married Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael. His status as a Black Panther concerned the more conservative power brokers in the American music industry, and she suddenly found herself without a record deal or a tour. She took advantage of her Guinean passport and moved there, where she lived happily for the next 15 years.

While in Guinea, Makeba served as a delegate to the United Nations, speaking on race relations in Africa. In addition to performing, she continued her activism, working on hunger in Africa and political unrest. She finally returned to South Africa in 1990 to celebrate the release of Nelson Mandela. She spent the 90s recording with other luminaries (like the great Nina Simone, a true kindred spirit). She was also appointed Goodwill Ambassador to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Ever irrepressible, she also collaborated with South African first lady Graça Machel-Mandela on combatting juvenile HIV and the use of children as soldiers.

Mama Africa was known for her passion and her infectious smile. She loved performing and never slowed down. During a fundraising concert in Italy in 2008, she suffered a heart attack. It is somehow fitting that she left this world doing the two things she loved best, singing and making it a better place. Happy Birthday, Miriam Makeba! You departed too young at 76, but your legacy is still felt by the millions whose lives you touched.

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Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela

18 Jul

Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Nelson Mandela and wish him a Happy Birthday. Mandela is chiefly known for his anti-apartheid activism and founding Umkhonto we Sizwe.  His activism to fight British Colonialism landed him in prison for 27 years.  Mandela had the wacky idea that the people of South Africa should have the right to govern themselves and to be represented in government without imperial interference.

After being released from prison, it was Mandela who was the chief architect for Democracy in South Africa.  Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.  Mandela’s legacy was to work toward reconciliation for South Africa and to combat poverty and the inequitable distribution of power–a true hero for TSM.  In 1993, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

TSM readers should know that South Africa has had full marriage equality since November of 2006. Mandela’s feelings about marriage equality for the LGBTQ community:

I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

The Constitutional Court of South Africa clearly stated that:

banning same-sex marriages represented a harsh if oblique statement by the law that same-sex couples are outsiders, and that their need for affirmation and protection of their intimate relations as human beings is somehow less than that of heterosexual couples.

Wow! Talk about progressive and standing up for social justice.  What an honor to celebrate such a hero as Nelson Mandela.

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