Merrick Posnansky is Professor Emeritus in the Departments of History and Anthropology, where he has been a faculty member since 1977. After completing his PhD in Archaeology at Nottingham University, he taught in Africa for twenty years, where he worked as Curator of the Uganda Museum, Director of African Studies at the University of Makerere and Professor of Archaeology at the University of Ghana.
Merrick Posnanky remembers Nelson Mandela
I was director of the center when Mandela came out of prison. UCLA held a great party with several other sponsors in Ackerman and it was really one of the most joyous occasions ever. There were quite a lot of people from Hollywood and the media who came. South Africa had been a major concern of the Center for many years and we hosted numerous talks on South Africa including one by Bishop Tutu. Two of our most distinguished Emeriti Hilda and Leo Kuper were both from South Africa and they had known many of the key ANC people on a personal level. The front line in a struggle that seemed without end stretched from Tanzania to Angola. The whole of Southern and Central Africa was turned into a war zone difficult for our graduate students to visit and engage in research and yet South Africa was still a tourist mecca and so few people outside of those interested in Africa seemed to care.
For most of us it was a very emotional time. I had tried to visit South Africa in 1961 but was turned back at Beit Bridge frontier because my wife Eunice was a Ugandan African. I eventually visited South Africa on my own in 1979 and was horrified by the realities of Apartheid. It was such an effective and senseless way of excluding Africans from most aspects of life. We had known about Apartheid from our time in East Africa when African nations tried to cut off all contacts with South Africa but it was only when I visited that the realities were brought home in a ran effective way. I was reminded about how my relatives in Poland were excluded from normal life and the killed in the Holocaust. South Africa seemed so impregnable and the new countries of Africa were weak in comparison but opposition was buoyed up by the memory that Mandela was an enduring symbol. While he was alive the ANC had a spirit and boycott movements had someone who was greater than a mere symbol. It was a slow fight but history was on the side of freedom and slowly the selfless efforts of colleagues like Ned Alpers at UCLA and so many other places bore fruit.
President Obama is correct in regarding Mandela as someone for the ages, a name and memory of achievement and will in gaining African dignity and integrity.
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Published: Monday, December 09, 2013