by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey
Now that we are in the last two years of the Obama dream, people are starting to wake up to the fact that it doesn’t matter what color the face of the president is in the U.S., a white supremacist capitalist mentality will always prevail – at least until there is a major shift in the mentality of the masses, of which Blacks constitute a very small minority nationally.
We owe it to ourselves and our ancestors to assess how far we have come and how far we need to go in this world to live a humane existence all around the world instead of the bottom-of-the-barrel existence that too many of our people endure around the world. When I met Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 as a part of Cynthia McKinney’s delegation, he spoke a lot about the brain drain that the continent has been experiencing for over a century and the need for Blacks from the Western world to return with our finances and skills to help.
I talked to a future repatriate, my comrade Dr. Chris Zamani, about his recent trip to South Africa in search of a homeland and a place for him to stick his flag. I talked to him about some of the factors that he has to consider in order to prepare to make that move.
He has a very interesting outlook on history and life that is driving his decision to want to leave the U.S., and I wanted to share this ongoing conversation that we have been having with each other for the last few years. Check out Dr. Zamani in his own words …
M.O.I. JR: What made you want to repatriate to Africa and start looking for places to live on the continent?
Dr. Chris Zamani: Moving to Africa has been a goal of mine for many years. The idea of leaving the United States and repatriating to Africa was the product of social observation and critique of the collective condition of Blacks in America and the progression of my own political perspectives over the years in working for solutions to the political problem of people of African descent in the U.S. and around the world.
Moving to Africa has been a goal of mine for many years.
When faced with a threat, traditional wisdom states that the options are fight or flight; we often forget that there is a third option: to beg for mercy from that which threatens us. The inability of the United States system, historically and presently, to fully recognize our equal humanity is that threat. Our response as Black people to this threat has exemplified the beg, fight or flight spectrum.
The response most publicized by the mainstream media has been the beg response as we are constantly fed images of protest marches, candlelight vigils and impassioned arguments for why Black lives matter. We hope and pray that they will listen to us and stop the campaign of state-sponsored violence and murder, stop the mass incarceration, stop criminalizing us, stop stereotyping us, educate us, hire us and promote us.
We vote, certain that if America sees that if a Black person can run the entire country, then we must be headed for equal respect and equal citizenship. We go to church and we pray for the soul of America.
When faced with a threat, traditional wisdom states that the options are fight or flight; we often forget that there is a third option: to beg for mercy from that which threatens us. The inability of the United States system, historically and presently, to fully recognize our equal humanity is that threat.
The fight response has always found expression in the Black American experience – from slave ship revolts to Nat Turner, the Deacons of Defense, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers to expressions of disorganized urban rebellion, gangs and riots. The fight response is left out of most mainstream discourse for obvious reasons; instead, we are fed looped clips of burning buildings and masked rioters with racist commentary narrating the action.
The problem lies in the demographic reality of Blacks in America: At less than 15 percent of the population, the choice to fight has historically been and will continue to be a choice for martyrdom.
Dying for a cause may immortalize you in the eyes of the people – we all know the cliché that it is better to die on your feet then to live on your knees – but dying on your feet does not feed any bellies or build any schools or clinics. Some may argue that a small group can defeat a larger group with appropriate tactics; while this is true, that small group must be supported by the vast majority of the population or they will be isolated, hunted and exterminated.
Some think that support would come from a coalition with poor whites, Latinos and Indigenous people. Demographically, the critical column would be poor whites, a group that ideologically leans to the right. If Blacks have generally been unsuccessful getting the larger society to accept our equal humanity while we are peaceful, prayerful and patient, then to assume that we will gain mass support by fighting is delusional.
Finally, the least publicized response to the threat: flight. The Underground Railroad, Marcus Garvey and the Black Star Line, W.E.B. Dubois, Stokely Carmichael, Pete and Charlene O’Neal are a few of those who have left the plantation literally and figuratively throughout our history in order to utilize our work, passions and skills and participate in a society that values our lives, is responsive to our needs and respectful of our contributions.
This happened domestically during Reconstruction as many Blacks formed independent municipalities and independent economies; but, like Black Wall Street, when we became too successful, they burned us down.
Africa, for obvious reasons, provides a significant advantage for those who are ready and willing to work to build their own destinies. Demographically, Black people being the overwhelming majority in Africa is what enabled African liberation movements in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s to fight and defeat the state power directed at them by European colonialists and minority white supremacist regimes.
We often forget in our thirst for empowerment as Blacks in the U.S. that there are over 50 nations on this planet that are run by us – societies in which as individuals we can be found at all levels and in all facets. We are not just the poor, just the criminals, just the athletes etc.
We are the government, we are the police and the judges, we are the policy makers, we are the engineers, the entrepreneurs, the pilots, doctors, journalists, farmers and teachers. Children learn what they see, not what they are told, so think about what is more effective: telling your children they can be anything in society they want to be – or showing them.
Africa, for obvious reasons, provides a significant advantage for those who are ready and willing to work to build their own destinies.
Nothing compares to the immeasurable feeling that you get as a Black American stepping off the plane for the first time in Africa, looking around and seeing a modern society where everyone looks like different people in your family and neighborhood. You are impacted immediately by the contrast between the image you had in your head before, of lions pouncing on a zebra while skinny babies with flies on their cheeks looked on, to be replaced with the actual reality of skyscrapers, traffic jams, grocery store shelves and cell phones.
The power of simply being in that environment to melt away a lifetime of implicit biases that you carried against your own people about our abilities to succeed and thrive at all levels is encapsulated in the old cliché, a picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of Black Americans in Africa, an experience is worth a million words.
M.O.I. JR: Where have you been, and what inspired to research those places?
Dr. Chris Zamani: I have been to South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Tanzania over the years. Mostly these have been places that I had an opportunity to go for work and education related to my medical training.
M.O.I. JR: As a doctor, how much does being able to apply your profession weigh into your decision? Do you foresee there being a problem where your education and abilities will be questioned? Why or why not?
Dr. Chris Zamani: It weighs heavily. I think that the key to making the desire to move to Africa an actual reality are the details. It is imperative for anyone to do their due diligence when preparing to make such a life change. Not only employers, but we have to consider business opportunities, schools, infrastructure, healthcare facilities, economic and political stability and the social environment – nothing easy or fast.
Like every country, South Africa has rules and regulations around professional qualifications to make sure that an individual is properly trained and certified for their profession. The rules must be respected and proper steps taken to be permitted to work and reside legally in the country.
While I know that the steps to take to get all of this in line will be tedious, I would not foresee a problem with my education or abilities being questioned, nor that of any other professional, so long as the regulations were adhered to and all clearances properly obtained.
M.O.I. JR: What was special about South Africa that made you consider this country on your quest?
Dr. Chris Zamani: Well, South Africa does have a lot of what I just mentioned – good infrastructure, schools, job compensation that is fair compared to the cost of living. South Africa is a regional economic and military power. Southern Africa as a region is the most politically stable region on the African continent relative to West, North, Central and Eastern Africa.
The political stability of the Southern African region is contributed to by two main factors: The first is that most of the current governments in the region are run by the original liberation parties that freed their countries: ANC in South Africa, ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, MPLA in Angola, FRELIMO in Mozambique and SWAPO in Namibia. This means that, unlike other African regions plagued by coups, external interventions and other forms of unconstitutional political change, there has been greater continuity of policy in Southern Africa.
The second main reason for the relative regional stability of Southern Africa lies in the greater political solidarity between the governments, forged by similar socialist ideological underpinnings amongst governing parties and a very recent history of shared struggles against the last vestiges of white minority regimes. Literally all of these countries were fighting together for the last 45 years against a common enemy.
South Africa does have a lot of what I just mentioned – good infrastructure, schools, job compensation that is fair compared to the cost of living. South Africa is a regional economic and military power.
Mozambique was liberated by FRELIMO as recently as 1975. They in turn allowed fighters from ZANU to use their territory to liberate Zimbabwe in 1980, who in turn supported ANC fighters from South Africa in their campaign against apartheid, which helped SWAPO liberate Namibia in 1990 and the ANC to win electoral power and defeat political apartheid in South Africa in 1994.
This political solidarity continues in the post-liberation era and now serves to help insulate Southern Africa from the dictates of Western imperialism – a resilience to interference that unfortunately is less the case in North, West, Central and East African regions. This is exemplified by how South Africa angered Western countries most recently by refusing to honor the International Criminal Court warrant to arrest Sudanese president Omar al Bashir on South African territory.
A decade ago, Western nations were infuriated that South Africa refused to cut off the electricity supply to Zimbabwe to punish them for redistributing land from 4,500 white commercial farmers to landless Indigenous Zimbabweans.
M.O.I. JR: What did you find? What are the positives and negatives?
Dr. Chris Zamani: There is a great energy and dynamism there that is palpable due to a young population who were born after apartheid and are upwardly mobile. The political scene is more diverse than in the U.S. and embraces the full political spectrum from the white supremacist right to the Communist Party of South Africa, the Economic Freedom Fighters and everything in between.
In the U.S., far left politics is so limited in its exposure and collective impact. In South Africa, far left ideology frames every major political discourse.
On the negative end, South Africa is free from political apartheid only, geographical apartheid is getting better but still remains the norm, and economic apartheid has worsened as the disparity between rich and poor is getting wider. That being said, politically the country is on an inevitable march towards more economic justice through one means or another.
The question is not if there will be wealth redistribution; it’s when and how. The main debate is between the African National Congress and the Economic Freedom Fighters. The ANC, the party of Mandela, now favors a gradual, investment-oriented, neo-liberal, market-based approach to wealth redistribution. The EFF, a youthful political party quickly gaining in popularity and led by Julius Malema, favors land expropriation and redistribution without compensation, and nationalization of mines.
M.O.I. JR: How stable is the economy?
Dr. Chris Zamani: There is more than one economy – the formal economy, participated in largely by white South Africans and tourists, and the informal economy, which benefits the vast majority of Africans. South Africa officially is economically strong, but the health and vigor of the informal economy is harder to gauge.
South Africa is considered one of the world’s largest emerging markets. They are part of the alternative global financial bloc BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa. The BRICS group just inaugurated a development bank to be able to finance major projects between the countries without being dependent on the U.S. dollar as a transactional currency.
South African capital is making major investments across the African continent, but again this is economic opportunity for a minority of the people. The incredible success of certain sectors of the South African economy, be it farming, mining, telecommunications and others, is tempered by the fact that Black workers are not benefiting enough.
On the negative end, South Africa is free from political apartheid only, geographical apartheid is getting better but still remains the norm, and economic apartheid has worsened as the disparity between rich and poor is getting wider.
Work stoppages, strikes and protest have become more and more frequent as the masses demand their fair share. There has been violence – police violence towards striking workers and miners, and Black on Black violence in the townships and ghettos as some disempowered poor Africans chose to attack their neighbors to vent their frustration, a dynamic that we as Black Americans know all too well.
M.O.I. JR: How is the residue of apartheid still apparent in today’s South African society?
Dr. Chris Zamani: When apartheid ended, Nelson Mandela chose to adopt a reconciliation approach with the parties guilty of atrocities rather than a justice-oriented approach that would focus on prosecution of war crimes and swift wealth transfer from perpetrators to victims – as was the model when NATO wanted “justice” in Libya. The ANC told the previous perpetrators that if they admitted what they did honestly and said sorry, that they would not be prosecuted, but also that their wealth, land, investments and even the paltry wages they paid their workers could remain.
This has created the situation we find today, where the benefactors of yesterday’s political apartheid, the white minority community, are now the benefactors of today’s economic apartheid. In fact, they are richer than they ever were.
This is because by the end of apartheid, the South African economy was hampered by economic sanctions from the world in support of the ANC. When Mandela took over and global capital flooded back into South Africa, now guilt-free, the same set of hands that had historically received that capital were there to continue receiving it. Today, South Africa’s economy and land are still majority owned by white South Africans.
M.O.I. JR: How do the people look at the late Nelson Mandela? How do they look at Winnie Mandela on the ground?
Dr. Chris Zamani: Nelson is viewed with a lot of respect, even by those who are more critical of the direction he took the country into in 1994. He really is a father figure and there is a level of reverence for him that reminds you of the respect you may accord to a family patriarch, even if his ideas about the world don’t reflect your own.
That being said, politically most of the poor, and a growing number of the young urban professional class, are embracing politics closer to Winnie Mandela than Nelson Mandela, Winnie being more politically radical and uncompromising than her late ex-husband. The cry for economic justice is getting louder.
One thing I do appreciate about South African politics is that they refuse to let others define their heroes and sheroes. So in spite of powerful mass media campaigns that have worked wonders on shaping the opinions of Western liberals, the negativity of the Western and white South African private media towards figures like Winnie Mandela, Robert Mugabe, Muammar Qaddafi and Julius Malema have fallen on deaf ears amongst most Africans, as overwhelmingly the people still love and respect these leaders.
M.O.I. JR: How do people look at the Pan African Congress of Azania?
Dr. Chris Zamani: From my limited outside perspective I would say they do not seem to have the prominence they once had as the torchbearer for the left-of-ANC radical body politic. My sense is that the Economic Freedom Fighters have taken over as the tip of the spear, so to speak, the most prominent element in the movement for a more radical implementation of social and economic justice in the country.
M.O.I. JR: For people who do not know, what are some of the famous landmarks that you saw?
Dr. Chris Zamani: I saw the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, Dinokeng Game Reserve, Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto and explored different areas and neighborhoods in the Johannesburg area.
M.O.I. JR: Will you write about your recent experience in an extensive way?
Dr. Chris Zamani: I will in the future, but I also like using different forms of communication – video and graphic art – because a picture is worth a thousand words.
M.O.I. JR: How could people keep up with you online?
Dr. Chris Zamani: Check out my website, www.PanAfricanTees.com. You can help support by purchasing a shirt, of course celebrating pan African icons of the struggle. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @panafricantees. Or email email@example.com.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.