A historic meeting: Film recounts Robert F. Kennedy’s visit to SA and the US’s opposition to apartheid

Chief Albert Luthuli and Robert Kennedy.

Chief Albert Luthuli and Robert Kennedy.

THE film RFK in the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope, which recounts Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s visit to South Africa in 1966, is proof that America was always supportive of the anti-apartheid movement. So says Mark P. Carr, public affairs officer at the Consulate-General of the United States in Durban, who spoke to me ahead of a screening of the film at the Catalina Theatre at Wilson’s Wharf recently.

“There is a lingering perception that the United States was on the wrong side of history in the apartheid era,” he added. “But there have always been Americans who spoke out against the situation.”

He cited as an example the Democrats and Republicans joining forces in September 1986 to override then President Ronald Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Apartheid Act, which levied economic sanctions against the Republic of South Africa. It was the first time since the enactment of the War Powers Resolution in 1973 that Congress had overridden a presidential foreign policy veto.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s visit to president of the ANC and Nobel Peace prize winner Luthuli at his home in Groutville on the North Coast.

Accompanied by his wife Ethel, the founder of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Kennedy witnessed first hand the harsh regime of apartheid and offered hope to opponents of the National Party government, both black and white, that their peaceful promotion of justice and democracy would one day win out.

During the trip he also delivered an address at the University of Cape Town, during which he said: “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

RFK in the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope was produced by Professor Larry Shore, who is originally from Gauteng but now teaches at a university in New York. Making it was, however, quite a challenge as archival footage of the historic meeting was not readily available due to the National Party restrictions.

Shore is working on a second project, which will focus on Senator Edward Kennedy’s visit to South Africa in 1986.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Kennedy and Luthuli’s meeting, the U.S. Consulate- General in Durban is joining forces with the Luthuli Museum in Groutville and Shore to make RFK in the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope available to new audiences and to increase awareness of American opposition to apartheid.

“We want to interest people in the greater Durban area to join us in celebrating this historic meeting,” said Carr. “The Luthuli Museum and chief Luthuli’s family also believe that this anniversary is important.

“Both our countries have been blessed with exceptional leaders but we believe that the younger generation, the born-frees, may not know this story and that this film will help share it.”

The film, which had its premiere at the Durban International Film Festival five years ago, can be accessed through the American Consulate in Durban. “We have a resource centre where we can show films, so people who are interested in seeing the RFK in the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope can get in touch with us to arrange a screening,” Carr said.

• For more information phone Skhumbuzo Majola at 031 305 7600.

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