Sonny Ramphal’s Global Life

Ramphal3

Stuart Mole
Mr. Mole is a PhD Student at the University of Exeter. He was Special Assistant to the Secretary-General (1984-1990), Director of the Secretary-General’s Office (1990-2000), and Director General of the Royal Commonwealth Society (2000-2009).

Nowadays, Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal – lawyer and international diplomat – is well settled into retirement, though still a giant figure in his native Caribbean and still able to stir the memories of older generations who remember his boundless activism on the world stage.

From 1975 to 1990 he was the longest-serving Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, and for six of those years I was lucky enough to be his Special Assistant. It was an exhilarating time, now given new immediacy by the recent publication of his memoir Glimpses of a Global Life (2014).

This weighty and enthralling record demonstrates a contribution to international affairs which was multi-faceted and never less than exceptional. He served on a string of international commissions, including Brandt, on development and the North-South divide; Bruntland, pioneering the notion of sustainable development; and Palme, on peace and international security. There were other issues where his intellectual leadership and courage stood out. He was among the first to warn Africa and the world of HIV/AIDS – and among the first to speak of sea-level rise and climate change, many decades before such talk became common currency.

But perhaps he is best remembered for his titanic struggle against racism in Southern Africa – in the eventual vanquishing of white minority rule in Rhodesia and, more than a decade later, in helping bring to an end apartheid in South Africa. Continue reading “Sonny Ramphal’s Global Life”

5. The Black Hole of Apartheid History

Editor’s Note: It is hard to believe that the Imperial & Global Forum went live just a year ago. In the weeks leading up to the new year, please help us celebrate by checking out the year’s 10 most popular posts.

5. The Black Hole of Apartheid History

Jamie Miller
Einaudi Center, Cornell University

Why historians should study the regime, not just its opponents

Anti-Apartheid posterLast week’s death of Nelson Mandela prompted outpourings of both admiration and introspection across the globe. Public figures scrambled to portray themselves as long-time supporters of the anti-apartheid cause — even where the historical record of their organisation’s relationship with Mandela undercut the credibility of such posturing (the British Tories readily come to mind). Yet amid the panegyrics, there was plenty of consideration of Mandela’s complex legacy. When Tea Party favourite Ted Cruz declared common cause with Mandela, a supporter wrote on his Facebook page: “Tell the truth Ted!!! Who are you??!! Obama?? Don’t rewrite history to try to get people to like you!!! Educate them!! Mandela was a murderer, terrorist, and a Communist!!!! Can we even trust you to be honest now??!!” A more nuanced analysis appeared in an incisive piece in Foreign Affairs. Historian Ryan Irwin traced Mandela’s elusive legacy to his willingness to embody a pluralist and inclusive vision of the anti-apartheid movement, rather than imposing his own ideological litmus test for would-be allies—be they liberals, pan-Africans, union leaders, or communists.

And yet one thing was conspicuous for its absence over the last week. There has been no effort to describe with any similar specificity what Mandela had defined his life against: the apartheid regime itself. [1] [continue reading]

 

The Global Anti-Apartheid Movement, 1946-1994

Dr. Nicholas Grant
American Studies, University of East Anglia
Follow on Twitter @nicholasggrant

The Radical History Review Special Issue on ‘The Global Antiapartheid Movement’ No. 119 (Spring, 2014)
The Radical History Review Special Issue on ‘The Global Antiapartheid Movement’ No. 119 (Spring, 2014)

Last month saw the publication of the Radical History Review’s special issue on ‘The Global Anti-Apartheid Movement’. Appearing on the 20th anniversary of South African democracy, the issue contains articles, roundtables and review pieces that explore a range of transnational connections that shaped political opposition to white supremacy in South Africa. As editors Lisa Brock, Alex Lichtenstein and Van Gosse comment in their introduction, “in seeking contributions to this issue, we made a deliberate effort to give the truly global nature of the movements in solidarity with southern Africa their due.”[1]

Whilst activism in the US and Britain continues to dominate much of the scholarship on the international anti-apartheid movement, this special issue makes an important effort to move beyond this occasionally restricting narrative. Continue reading “The Global Anti-Apartheid Movement, 1946-1994”

The Black Hole of Apartheid History

Anti-Apartheid posterJamie Miller
Visiting Assistant Professor, Quinnipiac University

Why historians should study the regime, not just its opponents

Last week’s death of Nelson Mandela prompted outpourings of both admiration and introspection across the globe. Public figures scrambled to portray themselves as long-time supporters of the anti-apartheid cause — even where the historical record of their organisation’s relationship with Mandela undercut the credibility of such posturing (the British Tories readily come to mind). Yet amid the panegyrics, there was plenty of consideration of Mandela’s complex legacy. When Tea Party favourite Ted Cruz declared common cause with Mandela, a supporter wrote on his Facebook page: “Tell the truth Ted!!! Who are you??!! Obama?? Don’t rewrite history to try to get people to like you!!! Educate them!! Mandela was a murderer, terrorist, and a Communist!!!! Can we even trust you to be honest now??!!” A more nuanced analysis appeared in an incisive piece in Foreign Affairs. Historian Ryan Irwin traced Mandela’s elusive legacy to his willingness to embody a pluralist and inclusive vision of the anti-apartheid movement, rather than imposing his own ideological litmus test for would-be allies—be they liberals, pan-Africans, union leaders, or communists.

And yet one thing was conspicuous for its absence over the last week. There has been no effort to describe with any similar specificity what Mandela had defined his life against: the apartheid regime itself. [1] Continue reading “The Black Hole of Apartheid History”

How Should Historians Consider Nelson Mandela?

nelson-mandelaRichard Toye

The sad news of the death of Nelson Mandela has led many commentators to reflect on how he will be remembered. His reputation is now, and has been for many years, almost uniquely positive. So it should be, and let’s hope it will remain that way. Let this not, however, be at the expense of historical complexity. Here are some points which historians should bear in mind when reflecting on Mandela’s career and on his evolution from freedom fighter to world statesman. Continue reading “How Should Historians Consider Nelson Mandela?”