Marcus Garvey was born on the 17 August 1887 in St Ann’ Bay, Jamaica and passed away on the 10th June 1940. He was a publisher, journalist, entrepreneur and orator who was a staunch proponent of African Nationalism and Pan Africanism movements, to which end, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in 1914. He believed that such a name would embrace the purpose of all black humanity. The motto of UNIA-ACL was ‘One God! One Aim! One Destiny!’
He founded the Black Star Line, part of the Back-to-Africa movement, which prompted the return of the African Diaspora to their ancestral lands.
As a young man he was apprenticed to his godfather who operated a printery. He went to Kingston in 1906 to continue work as a professional printer and it was not long before he was elected Vice President of the Kingston Typographical Union. His uncompromising position on the rights of workers attracted attention and in 1910 he was elected Assistant Secretary of the National Club, Jamaica’s first nationalist political organization.
The Club published a newspaper, Our Own. It provided Garvey with his first experience in newspaper publishing and campaigning for a political candidate. He soon published a paper of his own, The Watchman. The paper was short-lived but he saw, with great clarity, how crucial and effective the media was to influencing his people and gaining power to alter their condition. The Negro World was a publication of UNIA and those with retentive memories will remember that Sowetan’s forerunner was called The Bantu World which goes to show Garvey’s influence in South Africa’s political landscape.
Garvey went to the US in 1916 and toured thirty-eight states on a lecture tour. He eventually decided to lay down roots in Harlem and began to build a mass organization that embraced Africans all over the world. He developed a coherent and cohesive ideology around “Africa for the Africans: Those at Home and Abroad”. It became an organizing instrument for attracting millions. There had never been a mass movement more capable of unifying dispersed Africans.
The US government sent Garvey to jail on trumped-up charges. He was sentenced to five years but served less than three. His sentence was commuted by then US President Coolidge and he was deported from the US on 2 December 1927.
Garvey was influenced by leaders such as Pan Africanist pioneers Dr Edward Wilmot Blyden who authored the book Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, J.E. Casely-Hayford, Duse Mohammed Ali and Booker T. Washington among others. He also in turn influenced many leaders like Nmandi Azikiwe, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Robert Sobukwe and others. He hosted the first Secretary of the ANC Sol Tshekisho Plaatje in the early 1920’s. The colours of the flag of the ANC were copied from the Garveyite movement and were adopted in the 1920’s. However, the ANC excluded the red colour.
Garvey emphasised self-reliance and racial pride. We who lived in Botswana during the time of its first President, Sir Seretse Khama remember vividly how he emphasized on key development principles one of which was self-reliance.
On the other, in his book Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela describes Garvey as an extremist because he preached the gospel of racial pride. He also labels the Black Consciousness Movement and Pan Africanist Congress of Azania as immature for the same reason because he failed to grasp the dehumanising treatment of chattel slavery to which people of African descent were subjected. He also sold us out by secretly negotiating with representatives of the Apartheid government and their imperialist sponsors for a bad economic deal for the African people. Yet we are expected to celebrate his birthday every July. That’s asking for too much. It is the birthday of Marcus Garvey that must be celebrated every year on the 17 August.
By Sam Ditshego