Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe was the first to be reconciliatory. (Source: Graaff-Reinet Publicity Association)

Nelson Mandela cannot be more important than the entire continent of Africa and its people at home and in the Diaspora. It is absurdity to try and elevate Mandela over and above the entire Africa and its people. He cannot be more important than the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) of 1912 and its founders.

The SANNC became the African National Congress in the 1920’s and its founding members were, among others, Sol Thekisho Plaatje and Pixley Seme. The former was invited by Marcus Garvey and UNIA to the US in the early 1920’s and the latter studied in the US . Mandela cannot be more important than the African Diaspora and its leaders like Frederick Douglass, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Martin Robison Delany, Edward Wilmot Blyden and Marcus Garvey to name but five.

Delany was called “the father of Black Nationalism”. It is Delany who coined the phrase ” Africa for the Africans”. He was born on May 12, 1812. He subsequently worked with Frederick Douglass on his weekly newspaper, the North Star. He was the first black students at Harvard Medical School .

Blyden was born on 3 August 1832 and inspired Garvey among other Diasporan leaders who came after him. Garvey was born on 17 August 1887. An African-American historian Runoko Rashidi wrote that among the most acclaimed of the early pioneer advocates of the rights of African people were Delany and Blyden. They were intellectuals and activists whose lives personified Kwame Nkrumah’s maxim of “Thought without practice is empty, action without thought is blind”.

Douglass said HE always thanked God for making him a man but Delany went further to say HE always thanks him (God) for making him a Black man. Dr Blyden often remarked that “I would rather be a member of this race (the Black race) than a Greek in the time of Alexander, a Roman in the Augustan period, or Anglo-Saxon in the nineteenth century. Garvey said of Blyden that if “You do not knw anything of your ancestry it will do you well to read the works of Blyden, one of our historians and chroniclers, who has done so much to retrieve the lost prestige of the race”.

Garvey was the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). Garvey’s movement inspired many Africans in Africa and the Diaspora. The colours of the ANC were influenced by the Garveyite movement.

After his correspondence with Booker T. Washington, Garvey went to the US in 1916 and continued his Pan Africanist work until trumped up charges were brought against him. By 1920, UNIA claimed to have had about 4 million members. So Garvey was a good organiser. These leaders surely did more than Mandela and preceded him. But why has he been elevated to a position higher than his continent and people?

There is talk that he is the personification of reconciliation. But if you read “How Can Man Die Better” by Benjamin Pogrund you will learn that the first person to be reconciliatory was the PAC founding President Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe. The amazing reconciliatory approach of Sobukwe was noted by people like former Truth and Reconciliation Commission deputy Chairperson Alex Borraine who went to visit Sobukwe in hospital in Cape Town in the 1970’s. So what is so important about Mandela?

Why can’t we make the birthdays of Douglouss, Delany, Blyden, Garvey, Nkrumah and Sobukwe public holidays or 25 May, the founding day of the Organisation of African Unity, a public holiday instead of the birthday of this one man who even entered into questionable agreements with his former jailers? Are we suckers? Suppressing information about these other leaders is a ploy to suppress their role as liberators of our minds like Frantz Fanon and Cheikh Anta Diop.

By Sam Ditshego