American civil rights leader, Reverend Jesse Jackson, last visited South Africa in 1979, so there was great curiosity among media circles and ordinary citizens about the purpose of his visit last week.
South Africans welcomed Reverend Jackson warmly, in large part because he is known to South Africa’s President Jacob G. Zuma as a personal friend. And I made it my mission to get a one-on-one interview with the Reverend. It was not easy as his agenda kept changing and his whereabouts were kept secret. Reverend Jackson is pictured here with South Africa talk show host Noeleen Maholwana-Sangqu and his public relations staffer, Gesh Conco.
But on day three of his visit, I finally managed to get a rather unusual encounter on the eve of his departure back to the United States of America. I patiently waited and managed to convince Reverend Jackson’s aides to let me ride along in his chauffeur driven convey as he travelled from a radio station to the Luthuli House for an investor relations meeting.
After informing him that I was reporting for Africa.com, Reverend Jackson was as accommodating and accessible as everyone says he is. I could not believe my luck. I could interview him without any interruptions from other media-hungry reporters.
I had several questions prepared and hoped that he would answer them in between the noise of police sirens racing to the Luthuli House.
When I asked about the purpose of his trip, the Reverend recalled how in 1979, he spent two weeks in South Africa as part of the delegation that wanted to inform the rest of the world about the darkness of apartheid. The Reverend said he was returning to honor Chief Albert Luthuli, who in 1960 was not allowed to leave South Africa to receive his Nobel Peace Prize.
The other purpose for his visit, Reverend Jackson said, was to address the Association for Black Securities and Investment Professionals (ABSIP), an organization that represents the interests of black professionals in the financial sector. Reverend Jackson referred directly to ABSIP’s mission: “To usher in an exciting agenda for the acceleration of transformation in the financial services sector as well as to foster greater alignment between the country’s economic growth and development goals, on the one hand, and ABSIP’s own vision to promote the development and advancement of black professionals in this sector, and indeed in the economy as a whole.”
The Reverend said although we are all free, we are all not equal, that we as black people need more black professionals in engineering and in the finance sector in order to build and capitalize on the opportunities that are given to us. Reverend Jackson said South Africa is an unfolding miracle filled with promise.
I told him of the perspective of a friend of mine, an engineer who is black. My friend feels that there are not yet enough opportunities for career advancement inside South Africa and as a result, many of the best educated black South Africans are leaving the country to pursue better opportunities elsewhere.
On the last leg if his visit, Reverend Jackson delivered a keynote address to the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI). His focus was his Bring Back Africa Initiative. Reverend Jackson hopes to identify and invite strategic business partners to do business in South Africa and form part of an annual business delegation starting in July 2011, as part of his RainbowPUSH Coalition.
Reverend Jackson then fulfilled the original purpose of his visit. He addressed the public at the Luthuli Museum in Chief Albert Luthuli’s home village of Groutville. He was joined by members of the Luthuli family to lay a wreath at Chief Luthuli’s grave.
His message in Groutville, in Durban and in his interview with me was the same. Based on what he witnessed during his visit to South Africa in 1979, Reverend Jackson feels compelled to be a part of South Africa’s growth and economic development. He wants to help build and invest in South Africa by forming alliances in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa. He said that South African black people and African Americans resemble each other. Since we are all cut from the same cloth, we should work and thrive together. and that we are a carbon from the same piece of cloth.
About the author: Ingrid Pearce is a freelance writer, who has a passion for Africa and writing about African culture. She hopes to write a book someday on Love, Life and Everything Else.