No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists over a Half Century, 1950-2000

Edited by William Minter,
Gail Hovey, and Charles Cobb Jr.
Published by Africa World Press.
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More Interviews

1. Bill Sutherland
2. George Houser
3. E. S. Reddy
4. Charlene Mitchell
5. Mary Jane Patterson
6. Ben Magubane
7. Robert Van Lierop
8. Prexy Nesbitt
9. Jennifer Davis
10. Geri Augusto
11. Sylvia Hill, 2003
12. Edgar Lockwood
13. Cherri Waters
14. Dumisani Kumalo
15. Frank Beeman
16. Sylvia Hill, 2004

interviews list page

Interviews for No Easy Victories

The following text is the transcript of one of the interviews that was part of the reseearch for the book No Easy Victories. With the assistance of Aluka (aluka.org), sixteen of the interviews were transcribed and prepared for presentation on the web. Each transcript was reviewed by the interviewee, and a short introduction prepared by one of the No Easy Victories editors.

Cherri Waters

" Another trend that was happening was that there were increased number of young black activist types who became congressional staffers. [They were] internationalists in some sense, whether they defined it as Pan Africanism [or] anti-imperialist, they had concern about U.S. foreign policy in Africa. They were not careerist in the traditional sense of the word. They wanted to influence U.S. foreign policy." —Sylvia Hill[1]

" If you think that the anti-apartheid movement was full of people who worked and played well together and who liked each other—no way. ... I would characterize it as a group of people who could cooperate sometimes, oftentimes grudgingly. There were just lots of individual and institutional issues. But when push came to shove ... their collective efforts had an impact [and] were able to contribute to one of the most important things that's happened in our lifetime." —Cherri Waters


Cherri Waters was one of the 1980s cohort of African Americans who brought both activist commitment and professional credentials to the Washington policy scene on Africa. Most had been conscious of civil rights issues and of Africa from early childhood. They were also exposed to the issue of apartheid in college, and formed part of the wave of students mobilized after the Soweto uprising of 1976 brought South African resistance to a new level of international prominence.

The presence of these activists among congressional staff was one of the key factors making it possible for anti-apartheid pressure to gain political weight by the late 1980s. The number of elected African American members of Congress increased from only six in 1967-68 to 24 in 1989-90. Key African American lawmakers such as veteran Charles Diggs from Michigan and '60s activist Ronald Dellums from California played central roles in focusing attention on Africa.[2] But their capacity to do so depended on complex networks linking them both to nongovernmental organizations in Washington and around the country. Congressional staff were key in making these connections.

Waters was well placed to observe these interconnections. In the 1980s she worked for the newly founded TransAfrica Forum, then taught at Howard University, and finally joined the staff of Representative George Crockett, who was deeply rooted in the progressive politics of Detroit.[3] Since the 1980s she has worked with the government-funded African Development Foundation, with TransAfrica Forum for a second time, at the NGO coalition Interaction, and at Lutheran World Relief. She was a close friend and advisor to Jean Sindab, her Yale graduate school colleague, during Sindab's time as director of the Washington Office on Africa.[4] Waters also served on the board of the Washington Office on Africa Educational Fund (later the Africa Policy Information Center) from 1984 through 2000.

In this interview Waters alludes to the complexity of networks behind the " anti-apartheid movement," both in Washington and around the country. These networks featured rivalries as well as collaboration toward common goals. In Washington in the 1980s, in addition to the locally focused Southern Africa Support Project (SASP),[5] the two principal lobbying groups focusing specifically on mobilization against apartheid were TransAfrica and the Washington Office on Africa. Each had a tax-exempt educational affiliate (TransAfrica Forum and Washington Office on Africa Educational Fund).

TransAfrica's Randall Robinson was the most visible figure in this arena in Washington in the 1980s. TransAfrica's role in solidifying elite African American opinion behind the anti-apartheid cause, as well as in dramatizing the struggle to the media, was essential to the movement's capacity to win victories, such as overturning President Reagan's victory against sanctions.[6] Yet just as the demonstrations at the South African Embassy depended on a local organizing base little noticed in the media (see interviews with Sylvia Hill), so the build-up of pressure in Congress depended on years of behind-the-scenes work, mobilizing diverse constituencies to change congressional opinion.

The Washington Office on Africa, a multiracial organization both in fact and by conviction, was directed in the 1980s by Waters's colleague Jean Sindab and then by Sindab's successor Damu Smith, both African Americans.[7] The organization played a bridging role among diverse constituencies, including African American groups and multiracial (but predominantly white) institutions such as the major church denominations and labor unions. WOA conceived itself as part of a much wider network of grassroots mobilization, with the strategic understanding that pressure from outside Washington was key to any influence on Congress inside Washington.

Race and perceptions of race were always salient factors in coalition building. But sustaining and expanding the anti-apartheid momentum also required attention to other complex organizational and personal networks and dynamics. As Waters notes in this interview, for example, church denominations that became involved varied in their institutional structures. In contrast to the locally focused Baptist church where she grew up, in the more centralized Protestant denominations, the dynamic for anti- apartheid activism often came from middle-level denominational personnel. The interview also cites the influence on U.S. churches of public figures such as Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu and Reformed Church anti-apartheid activists Beyers Naudé and Allan Boesak, all from South Africa, and of African American ecumenical officials such as Willis Logan of the National Council of Churches.

Most importantly, Waters notes toward the end of the interview, the unanswered question in applying the lessons of the anti-apartheid movement today is how to give local people something to do to keep them engaged, as the divestment focus did during the 1980s. " If we wait for the perfect movement, it's never going to happen," she said. But we have to " figure out how to move on."

The archives of the Washington Office on Africa from its founding through the 1980s are held at Yale University Library. There is an extensive finding aid available online through the library website at http://www.library.yale.edu/div/speccoll.html. One document that gives a glimpse of the networks involved in the 1980s, the program for the 1996 memorial service for Jean Sindab, is available in the No Easy Victories collection on aluka.org.

William Minter
February 2005



Interviewee: Cherri Waters
Interviewer: William Minter
Date: November 6, 2003
Location: Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Q: This interview is with Cherri Waters on November 6, 2003 at the Lutheran World Relief headquarters. I'm going to start with where you were born, grew up, what you parents did.

WATERS: I was born in Richmond, Virginia, when my father was in seminary at Virginia Union [University], with Wyatt Walker in his class. I think Doug Wilder was in his class, and my mother was in the same class with Walter Fauntroy.[8]

Q: And she was also at the seminary?

WATERS: No, she was undergrad. And we moved to where I spent most—

Q: What year was that?

WATERS: Okay, '54 was the year I was born and they were there in Richmond from something like early '50s. They left—we moved to where I grew up in '59, which was Portsmouth, Virginia, which is in the Tidewater area across from Norfolk.

Q: Your father was a minister.

WATERS: Yes, he was a minister—

Q: Baptist?

WATERS: Yeah, basically, yeah. He was a member of Progressive, National, and American [Baptist denominations], because in the Baptist Church the minister can do whatever he wants. Most of the members of my family were very active in civil rights-type politics.

Q: And what was that in Virginia at that time? Voter registration?

WATERS: Yes, yes, all of that. Yes, exactly. Exactly. Very much around the issues of school desegregation in my hometown. All kinds of issues around desegregation. It was a completely segregated town when I was growing up. In fact, I didn't go to integrated schools until the ninth grade. That set of issues was the center of political life, I should say. And I think that it was out of exposure to those kinds of issues that I ultimately became interested in the issues of apartheid in South Africa. Because they were very much my—particularly my father and my aunt who lived in New York, my father's sister who'd gone to school at around the same time he'd gone, had—for example, my father had an African roommate in college.

Q: At Virginia Union?

WATERS: At Virginia Union. And so we talked about those things. I can remember hearing stories about his roommate from being a small kid.

Q: Where was his roommate from?

WATERS: Nigeria. And in fact, the issue was that he was ultimately killed in the Biafran War.

Q: Was he Biafran, from the east, or was he from elsewhere?

WATERS: He was from the east. He was Biafran. He was a medical doctor and he was killed in the context of the war.

And the other thing is that it's interesting because our home church—[my father's] home church was the African Baptist Church. That was the name of the church —

Q: That he grew up in.

WATERS: Yes, that he grew up in, in Virginia on the Eastern Shore. Cape Charles. And my grandmother told me a story when I was in graduate school, in fact, about Marcus Garvey[9] coming to their community and trying to interest the people in that community, and that church in particular, into going back to Africa. What she talked most about was the way that the white community reacted to that and their very harsh response even to them talking with him about that.

Q: So when you were in high school, junior high, were you involved in some of these things or was basically your family?

WATERS: I was involved because it's what you talked about. It's what you thought about. I remember Raymond [Crowel, Cherri Waters' husband] joking about the fact that —I think it was probably the first time he went to a big family gathering and it was during the Clarence Thomas debates and you had to declare your position on Clarence Thomas before you could eat that day. And there was no division in that group in terms of opinion on that, but it was that kind of a family where politics was the thing that you spent most of your time talking about, particularly race politics.

Q: You have brothers or sisters?

WATERS: I have two sisters. Two younger sisters.

Q: In Portsmouth, what were the groups that were most active during the civil rights period?

WATERS: NAACP, SCLC, and I don't remember as much the—I don't know anybody who was part of SNCC at that point.[10]  I didn't know anybody at that point.

Q: So you finished off high school there in what year?

WATERS: I graduated in '72.

Q: And by that time were there any groups that you recall there specifically focusing on Africa?

WATERS: No, not that I was aware of. No.

Q: And then in college you went to—

WATERS: I went to Indiana University.

Q: Indiana. And studied political science?

WATERS: Political science and Spanish.

Q: And Guy Martin was one of your teaching assistants?[11]

WATERS: Yes. Yes, he was. My first semester in college I took Introduction. to Political Science and he was the teaching assistant for my section. And my very first paper that I wrote in college was on—we had to write a public policy paper for this poli sci course, and I wrote on why the U.S. should impose sanctions against South Africa.

And at that time Patrick O'Meara[12] was teaching and I can't remember whether or not it was Guy or my professor who sent me off to meet Patrick O'Meara, who sat me down in front of this mound of paper and said go through this paper. And it was newspaper clippings and articles and things like that and that was my formal introduction to South Africa.

Q: That was for your course or for the paper or—

WATERS: It was for my paper.

Q: Were there groups organizing there, or was it basically African studies people as individuals?

WATERS: Yeah, it was more African studies people. And there would have been some things [done by] the student activist types, but not very much in terms of organizing at the student level around Africa at that time, at that point. Not on the I. U. campus.

Q: I. U. is in—

WATERS: It's in Bloomington.

Q: Who else was there besides Patrick O'Meara?

WATERS: Gwendolyn Carter was there.[13]

Q: She had been at Smith.

WATERS: Right. No—no, she was at I.U. at that point. And it's also where I met Ed Keller because he came in, I think probably in my last year, as a professor of political science.[14] And I think at that point he was the only African or African American in that department.

Q: And then you went to graduate school?


Q: So you finished up there in—

WATERS: '75.

Q: And went on straight to Yale. Why Yale?

WATERS: You're going to think this—it was bizarre. I hadn't applied to Yale. I'd applied to Cornell, University of Chicago, and University of Michigan. And I really wanted to go to Michigan because there was a really good Argentine professor that I wanted to work with. His name is Guillermo O'Donnell. And he decided at the last minute that he was going to go back to Argentina. And so there I was, not knowing what I was going to do.

Q: And you were focused on Latin America.

WATERS: I was focused on Latin America, yes, yes. And I didn't know what I was going to do. It was the only time, I think, that I remember my father just being mind-boggled, because I called, crying, saying I have all these graduate schools and I don't know which one I want to go to. And he's like, you're crying because you have graduate schools to choose from? I guess that is kind of dumb, isn't it?

But when O'Donnell decided that he didn't want to go to Michigan, then I looked at Chicago and I talked to a couple of people and they told me that it would take me 10 years to finish Chicago because it was known for being a political science department that it took a lot of time to get out of. I didn't particularly like the guy who was there and I had met all these guys because throughout undergrad I worked really closely with one of my professors. I was his research assistant. David Collier. And I did a lot of research with him, and so I met all the big names in the Latin America field. And so I went to him and I said, what am I going to do? I don't want to go to Chicago. I don't want to go to Michigan now that O'Donnell's not going to be there. And I don't know —Cornell was always like my fall-back because it had much more of an agricultural bent than the political economy stuff that I was most interested in. And so he said, what about Yale? And I hadn't even applied, and I said well, I didn't even apply. And he was friends with the guy who was a Latin Americanist at Yale.

Q: Who was that?

WATERS: Alfred Stefan.[15]

Q: OK.

WATERS: And he picked up the phone, and he called Al Stefan and that's how I ended up going to Yale. Because I had my own money. I had a Danforth Fellowship and so I guess when you have your own money they don't have to figure out how to—

Q: How to take care of you.

WATERS: Yeah. So I went out there and I met with him and they admitted me to their program and that's where I ended up going.

Q: So you were at Yale from—

WATERS: '75 to—I actually got the degree in '81.

Q: Were you there for all that time?

WATERS: No, I left there in '79. I literally left New Haven physically in '79.

Q: And while there your focus was mainly on your academics or were you involved in some political stuff there?

WATERS: That's where I really got much more involved in political stuff. That's where I started hanging out with Jean [Sindab].

Q: So Jean was there at exactly the same time?

WATERS: She started the year before I did, so she was a second-year student when I started. And Aubrey was there at the time. Aubrey McCutcheon[16] was an undergraduate student there, and he was very active in things. And then this is probably somebody you don't know, Aubrey Williams. He was a graduate student at Yale at the time but he was two or three years ahead of me and I think my first couple of years there, he was in Zaire doing his dissertation research, and he came back and he did lots of things. Like he organized a conference on Namibia, and that's where I first met SWAPO [17]folks and things like that. And so I got really involved with the issues.

Q: What was happening at Yale in terms of African issues at that point? Was divestment already on the agenda?

WATERS: Divestment was on, yes. Yes. Yes. In fact I was telling people the story at the dinner the other night about Jean. We were picketing graduation when we were supposed to be at the library working on our prospectus, when our professors came up. Stan Greenberg was our professor and he was working on his book on—

Q: Israel and South Africa.[18]

WATERS: Exactly. In fact, I was his teaching assistant for the course that he taught on that book. And he came up to us and he's like, why are you out here wasting your time out here demonstrating? Because the situation in South Africa is not going to change for many, many, many, many, many years.

Q: Do you remember what year that was?

WATERS: That would have been in—I want to say '78, probably. He just said this is a lost cause. This is a hopeless cause. Why are you out here? And I think about that often, you know. And I think I remember—when did Kissinger write or talk about the tar baby thing?

Q: That was 1969.

WATERS: Okay, no.

Q: People wrote about it later, but the document, NSSM 39, was 1969.

WATERS: Okay, because I remember Greenberg actually quoting that and talking about Kissinger and so forth as we were standing out there on the corner debating this issue, while we were leafleting graduation. And I remember Aubrey [McCutcheon]was part of the group that planned that because—and this was fun, because we actually had an airplane that skywrote " Yale Out of South Africa" over graduation.

Q: And who did that?

WATERS: The student group that was planning these demonstrations.

Q: I know Yale students are rich, but did they really have private airplanes?

WATERS: No, no. They hired somebody to fly over. And we had all these banners, because I remember at this point we were in the building, we were in various buildings in the quad around the area where graduation was being held, and at a particular moment in the ceremony we had to roll these banners out from all the windows around and they were all talking about Yale out of South Africa. So this must have been '78.

Q: Were there faculty members who were supportive of that sort of thing? So Greenberg was sort of a cynic about it?

WATERS: He wasn't opposed to demonstrating, he just thought this was a particular lost cause. And it's funny because what we used to say was we were going to retire to a free South Africa. And that was our idea of, it's like as early as it might possibly be.

Q: Was the group basically grad-student-led, undergrads?

WATERS: It was more undergrads than grad students. Yeah, yeah. In fact I remember Jean [Sindab] and Aubrey Williams and I were the only grad students from our department who were involved in any of this. It was much more student-led, undergrad-student-led than—

Q: And was there an organized group?

WATERS: There was an organized group and I cannot remember the name of it. Aubrey would know. But, yes.

Q: Aubrey McCutcheon.

WATERS: McCutcheon would know. Yeah, yeah.

Q: And faculty members? They were just on the sidelines?

WATERS: Right. It was funny, because I ended up in political science because of an interest in politics, and I remember it was only when I got to graduate school that I realized that political scientists really didn't think about real politics, that they were two different worlds. And that's when I decided I didn't want to be a political scientist.

Q: But you finished your dissertation in that.

WATERS: Yes, yes.

Q: And that was on Latin America?

WATERS: It was, on the role of the state in economic development. Although it was on Latin America, my big fight was that it was actually comparative and there were a couple of African cases that I looked at as part of the dissertation as well. And the only reason I got away with it, because several of the professors were very much opposed to this, was that the brother-in-law of Al Stefan, my adviser, was Colin Leys.[19]

Q: And where was Colin at that point?

WATERS: He was in the U.K. But he came to New Haven often enough and I met him and talked to him. In fact, the Africanists at Yale were very conservative, much more conservative than the Latin Americanists, because it was Bill Foltz and—

Q: OK. He was the key person at that point.

WATERS: Yeah, yeah, who was working on Africa. David Apter had worked on Africa years ago but wasn't actively working on Africa when I was there. And in fact I worked with him on other things, because my teaching fields were supposed to be Latin American studies, secondly what they called in those days comparative communism, and the third was research, was methods.

In fact, when I was doing stuff with Apter and even most of the stuff that I did on Latin America, I did a lot of stuff on Cuba. I had actually wanted to do my dissertation on Cuba but after the Angola situation, it became clear that I wasn't going to get in. And in fact Stefan had been talking to Jimmy Carter about—Carter in fact, I remember this too, because Carter had said to him that he would work on ending the embargo second year of second term.

Q: Didn't happen.

WATERS: Right, exactly. Exactly. And so Stefan was talking to Cubans and things like that. In fact a group came to New Haven when I was there and I sat down and talked about the possibility of doing my dissertation down there. And it became clear that I wasn't going to be able to get in and that's when I started working on the other issues.

Q: So you came straight to DC after?


Q: And did Jean come at the same time?

WATERS: Jean came in fact a little bit before I did.

Q: And when Jean came it was to the Washington Office on Africa?

WATERS: Yes, yes.

Q: Okay, so she had had those ties already or it was advertised or—

WATERS: I learned the other night how Jean ended up at WOA. It was Tilden Lemelle.[20] He was her professor at Hunter College. And when she was just about done with her dissertation and she knew that she wanted to start looking for a job, she called him up and he called up—he was on the ACOA [American Committee on Africa] board I think at that point. He called up Ted Lockwood and said, I've got the right candidate for you. And that's how that happened.

Q: When you came to DC you already had a job?

WATERS: No. In fact I came and I was still working on my dissertation and looking for a job.

Q: And that was seventy—

WATERS: Nine. I moved to DC in January of '79 and I actually came down because one of our friends from graduate school was working for USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] and she was in that internship program that they had, and she was about to go to Abidjan. And so I literally moved into her apartment when she left.

Q: And when you came down, you started working for TransAfrica?

WATERS: No, no. My first two jobs were research jobs, were evaluation. I worked for HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] for a year doing research in the evaluation department, because that was one of the jobs I could get, and then I worked for this consulting firm that did work with HUD and I did evaluations, basically.

And so I left that second job to go to TransAfrica.

Q: So you started at TransAfrica in what year?

WATERS: After I finished my dissertation, so it would have been after May '81, and I don't actually remember what time of year. I remember that when I interviewed they were still in the office on Dupont Circle, and when I went to work, they were actually in the office in Southeast [Washington]. So right at the time that—and I was the second employee for TransAfrica Forum.

Q: Who was the first?

WATERS: Anne Forrester. Anne Holloway at that time. [21]

Q: And she was there—you replaced her or you were added to her?

WATERS: I was added to her. And then I replaced her when she left. Holloway was her married name, but she switched back to her maiden name years later. So it was the opposite journey. So she had just come back from being U.S. ambassador to Mali. She was in that group of ambassadors that Carter made. So she came back and Randall [Robinson] hired her and then she hired me.

Q: Can I get your general reflections on the scene in Washington in terms of Africa in—let's put it in the period up to sanctions, because there's a break after that.

WATERS: Right.

Q: But in terms of who you see as the significant players, groups, the dynamics, you were a part of it. You've analyzed it. In a sense, how would you lay it out if somebody was writing that history TransAfrica, WOA, SASP, CBC [Congressional Black Causus]— how would you lay that out?

WATERS: It's interesting. I remember going to a meeting—this was years later —with a group of moderate Cubans who were talking about their difficulty in cooperating with each other. The MacArthur Foundation had organized this meeting with moderate Cuban groups, and this was after sanctions. And they were talking about the difficulties in working together as a group and all the leadership problems and the fact that the head of this organization didn't like the head of the other organization, etc., etc. And they were whining about it.

I remember saying to them, look, if you think that the anti-apartheid movement was full of people who were worked and played well together and who liked each other— no way. Get over it. Move on. Do something. And that's what came to mind when you asked that question, because it was—I guess I would characterize [the anti-apartheid movement] as a group of people who could cooperate sometimes, oftentimes grudgingly. There were just lots of individual and institutional issues. But I guess I'd say when push came to shove, or perhaps because of the moment, their collective efforts— whether they intended them to be collective or not—had an impact. And they were able to contribute to one of the most important things that's happened in our lifetime.

Q: That's an overview.


Q: I'm not asking you to go into details about individuals, but how would you characterize which groups were doing what—not in terms of the personal fights and so on, but in terms of the political scene. Different groups did different things, had different emphases, worked for different sections of the community. When Jean came or when you came, what were the five or six most important groups or people? If somebody came to town and they wanted to know what was going on about Africa from a progressive solidarity point of view, who should they talk to? 1981 or 1982.

WATERS: Okay. All right. There were two things going on. There was the national stuff and there was the local stuff. At the local level it was the whole divestment campaign. I remember that's when I got introduced to who was it, Councilman Ray, who introduced the local divestment bill.[22] And I remember being involved in that group at that local level, and that was not " Africa-focused" groups but progressive groups that were interested in Africa, that were mostly involved. But you also had the leadership of people like Sandra Hill, who was very much—I remember Sandra as being one of the leaders of that local divestment campaign. Plus, I can't think of his name now, the guy from the trade unions—he was the head of the local civil service trade unions. You know who I'm talking about?

Q: I probably do, but the name doesn't come to my mind either.

WATERS: Josh—was it Josh Williams?

Q: Could be.

WATERS: Okay, I think it was Josh Williams.[23] And so those are the people who I think of as being most active, although my sense was that Ray got interested in it more [because] this was a politically astute thing to do, so he introduced the legislation. But what made it really happen was the actions of people like Sandra in particular and Josh Williams. On the national scene, the people who were not focused on DC local politics, of course you have WOA and TransAfrica and SASP [Southern Africa Support Project].

Q: You would characterize SASP as being at the national level rather than the local level, because really they saw themselves—

WATERS: As local. Yeah, it's interesting. I think they cut across. I think that, yes, they focused on the local level, but I think that they certainly had influence and were players within DC at the national level. And I guess the only other organization that comes to mind immediately to me would have been Jerry Herman [at the American Friends Service Committee]. I mean outside of DC, and the work that he did with [the Africa peace tours], and, of course, ACOA, and the Africa Fund.

Q: They had an impact on Washington but they were from really outside.

WATERS: Right. Exactly. They were primarily outside, so within Washington I think that there were other organizations that had broader agendas that had marginal interest in Africa like the NAACP. I remember Broadus Butler from the NAACP; it wasn't his primary focus, but yeah, Broadus would do the right thing. You had the denominational organizations. So Progressive National Baptists would do the right thing. Of course, it's interesting, because it was at that point that I met Willis Logan [of the National Council of Churches]. I really do think that Willis is in many respects an unsung hero in a lot of this, because he bailed out, I can't think of how many times he gave Jean the money to do the things—

Q: To survive.

WATERS: Yes. Yes, exactly. He was the go-to person when you had no one else to go to. And I also think back on the work—and this is probably a little later—the work that he did with, what was it called, Churches Emergency Committee for Southern Africa, where he had the heads of all of the mainline Protestant denominations working on South Africa. In fact that's one of the points at which I really saw the movement move beyond the faithful people who'd been working on this issue for many years to reach out more to the mainstream. So you got Bishop [Edmond] Browning being very active on the issues. And who was the head of the UCC [United Church of Christ]?

Q: Bishop Browning is—

WATERS: Episcopal. And then I can't think of the name of the person who was head of the UCC, but they were active on these issues in a way that they hadn't been up to that point, or at least not to my knowledge. I think that at this stage, Randall [Robinson] was still working more closely with the CBC [Congressional Black Caucus].

Q: You were at TransAfrica for which years, from—

WATERS: '81ish, '82 through—when did I leave? '84, maybe? I wasn't there that long.

Yeah, it was three years, maybe. Because then I started teaching at Howard, yeah, when I left there. But I guess I have to say that I saw a lot of this through Jean's eyes, because even when I was at TransAfrica, my real feel for things came more through the conversations with Jean.

Q: Rather than with Randall?

WATERS: Yeah, yeah. Definitely.

Q: Why don't you talk a bit about Jean then? I think I mentioned to you this dissertation I just read that talked about the period, with Jean [Sindab], Dumisani [Kumalo], Jennifer [Davis] hardly mentioned, and SASP, Sylvia [Hill], Sandra [Hill] not mentioned.And that's just not the reality.

WATERS: No. No, unfortunately it's the media that constructs reality, so it was only organizations that got national media attention that are thought of as, or are considered to be most active. And what people don't realize is that but for the work of these other people—who got those people at the demonstrations every day? Who organized and coordinated all of that stuff? It wasn't Randall. It wasn't TransAfrica. And it's interesting because in many respects, I saw Jean as playing almost a brokering role at that point. The person that everybody would talk to or would be more likely to talk to when people weren't talking to each other directly.

Q: Right. She was really able to do that.

WATERS: Yes. Absolutely, yes. And that was one of her gifts. I think that that was really important, because people didn't talk to each other necessarily. Randall didn't coordinate with anybody. Randall was Randall around this kind of stuff, and he was always very disdainful of other people and really felt like he was the man. But the other thing that got played out, and I think that this was a difficult issue for Jean, probably only in her first year, was the whole issue of black versus multiracial.

Q: You think only in the first year?

WATERS: I think it was more painful for her in the first year.

Q: What made the change, then? I know some of this, but we're talking for the record here, so explain this as if you were explaining it to somebody else. You're not just talking to me, you're talking to somebody who may not know. They know there are racial divisions, but what's the significance of this?

WATERS: I think there was this sense that TransAfrica was created to be the African American voice on these issues, because there was a feeling that there wasn't an African American voice on the issues and that one was needed. And so there was a lot of fear, almost, when Jean was named as the executive director of WOA, that TransAfrica would lose its—I guess its cachet, of being the African American voice on these things, because there was another black voice, a recognized black voice on these things. Since Jean was  able to work with people, ultimately, people who would have been skeptical about her, [came to trust her].

And I guess the other thing is, she also just wasn't prepared for Washington, emotionally, in terms of how mean it could be, even in these circles. People didn't just play hardball on the Hill [Capitol Hill]; everybody played hardball in Washington. I remember her first year telling the stories about being at places and people walking up to her and asking her who she was and if she didn't sound important enough, just walking away. And so I think that because Randall had the connection with the CBC, having come from the Hill, that he had the perception of having more status and more access. It's not insignificant that this was the time in which [Randall's brother] Max Robinson was also a celebrity of sorts and that helped him.[24]

Q: And so there was basically the feeling of always being overshadowed and having to deal with that.

WATERS: Right. Exactly.

Q: My impression is that Jean coped with it very well.

WATERS: Oh, well, she certainly did. And I just want to say it didn't bother her after the first year. I think that her feelings were hurt a lot in the first year, in part because people didn't know her and because you did have—and I think more hurt by the reaction that she got from African Americans who saw her as perhaps being the tool of [white organizations]—After a point everybody realized that she wasn't a tool of anybody and so they didn't need to be concerned about that, but that she had the ability to talk to everybody. I guess the difference was that—and this may have more to do with the way in which WOA was created or the personalities of the people —WOA always was much more collegial or cooperative in its style of work.

And you know, part of the reaction to WOA came from the fact that people were afraid that it would have an effect on funding more than anything else. And what people forget is that a lot of this competition is donor-driven. Here is an area where I really do blame the foundations in particular on how they deal with funding questions, in the sense that you're always pitted one against the other.

Q: Now, of course, WOA at that time, just wasn't even on the map—

WATERS: Exactly.

Q: —for foundations. Right.

WATERS: And there, it was more competition over church money. Because you did have people like an Ike Bivins at the United Methodists who was supporting both WOA and TransAfrica—because you remember Ike was on the TransAfrica board at one time —Wyatt [Tee Walker]was on the TransAfrica board at one point and on the ACOA board. Willis [Logan, at the National Council of Churches] was never on the TransAfrica board, but actually, Willis's predecessor [was]. I can remember this man. He's the guy that died suddenly of a heart attack. Episcopal. Bob Powell. He was one of those people —because the sense was that most of the money at this point came from either the trade unions and more from the mainline denominations.

Q: Right. So that's another question, but if one is looking at it structurally and in terms of where competition comes from, apart from the fact that competition is the nature of this society—[laughter].

WATERS: Right. And maybe the species—

Q: Maybe the species, but I think this society has a certain edge.

WATERS: We take it farther than other people do. Yes. Oh, absolutely. Without a doubt. And then you put people in Washington, where it's taken to a higher level than probably any place else in the U.S. other than Wall Street.

But funding was at the core of a lot of the competition. And so the fear, spoken or unspoken, was what is this going to do to my bottom line? Does this person pose a threat? Because ultimately, it became very clear that Jean was much better at talking to and working with what I lovingly refer to as the church bureaucrats than Randall was ever going to be.

Q: But Randall had the edge with rich donors and more prominent people and with foundations eventually? Or, no?

WATERS: He had the edge at the beginning with what I would call the celebrity donors. But WOA had the faithful—Carol Ferry,[25] and there were names that I remember from the era. And I think there the issue was they supported both ACOA and WOA. Yeah. And there's a list of three or four people, three or four names that I can think of, that fall into that category. At that point, I don't think that that was the primary source of TransAfrica's money.

Because at this point, let's say in '80, '81, Harry Belafonte would have been an active supporter of TransAfrica. Well, ultimately, he and Randall fell out and Harry didn't support TransAfrica any more. There's a long list of people like that, that I could think of, both celebrities and non-celebrities, [who provided] a lot of support at the beginning that was ultimately lost. But you also had the faithful, who just believed in whatever Randall said and they supported him no matter how much—and toward the end, no matter how much trouble they did have with him as people. They continued to support the cause because I suspect that the concept of an African American foreign policy organization was more important to them ultimately than other things. You put up with Randall because this was an important thing.

Q: Now, we've been talking about Washington. One of the questions that you're aware of is that Congress reacts not just to Washington but to their districts. And the whole question of how what was happening in Washington, whatever the groups were, related to what was happening elsewhere. How would you see those networks?

WATERS: Well, it's interesting because—and this is a lesson that I learned, I think, with the anti-apartheid movement and it's like the cliché, " think global, act local." Well, the divestment campaign was, I think, the most important element of that " act local" because it gave everybody something to do. And movements need something for people to do, so it was key. I remember at one point—I don't know if I still have it, I probably got this when I was on the Hill—I had boxes where I had the divestment legislation from every single place in the U.S. that had adopted any kind of divestment, had taken any kind of action. I'm almost certain I gathered it when I worked on the Hill.

Q: Do you still have these?

WATERS: I do. They're up in my attic somewhere.

This was the, I think, the absolute number one technique in terms of solidifying people's involvement in the movement. And one of the problems that everybody has had since then is figuring out what the equivalent is for anything else. I know that we've been struggling with it around the Colombia issue. What can we get, what can you give —ask people to do? Because it's still the case that writing a letter to Congress, is not—

Q: It doesn't excite anybody.

WATERS: No. No. It really doesn't. Truly, truly doesn't. But the divestment campaign did excite people.

Q: What about the other side of that in terms of your experience? Because at least in the periods in which I was most involved in local stuff, divestment was one side of the picture, but direct support for liberation movements was the other side of the picture. And went beyond South Africa, of course.

WATERS: Exactly. No, that's true.

Q: And it's one of the reasons why the characterization of the movement as the " anti-apartheid" movement always sets my ears on edge, but it's also a natural because that's the one that became the biggest. Was liberation support significant?

WATERS: Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. And it's the same kind of thing. It's funny because this doesn't have anything to do with South Africa, but one of the things that we struggle with here at LWR [Lutheran World Relief] is that we have little old ladies who've been making quilts since 1946 and we don't have a substitute [activity] for a younger generation of people—something that would allow them to have that connection that these little old ladies feel through this process of making these quilts and sending them around the world. And I think we've all got to figure that out, to get people involved in campaigns in a way that people were as part of the anti-apartheid movement. So it was absolutely incredibly important.

And then the third piece—and this is what I most associate with AFSC—and that was the Peace Tours, they called it, I think it was. Because taking people around to speak, and particularly when you could take the voices of people who have lived under apartheid around, was again one of the best ways to get people fired up to do something. In political science terms, it increased the salience of the issue when they were confronted with these people. And so I see those three things as being the pillars of building activism around anti-apartheid issues and around any foreign policy issue, quite honestly.

Q: And thinking of the places that you have been—Indiana, Yale, Washington —are there particular groups or networks that you would point to [as significant], apart from the national ones that we all know?

WATERS: I think that—and I quite honestly don't know when this actually began —there are these little, what I would call, little Africa focus groups all over the United States that nobody outside that city and that group knows anything about.

Certainly, that was true in DC with SASP. Yeah. Exactly. And the divestment campaign also pulled together and recreated that. I guess the other source of continuous interest would have come out of the churches. Groups like that. And it was the action at what I would call the level of the people in the pews that ultimately got the people in the hierarchies to pay attention to these issues, not the other way around.

Q: But when you say the people in the pews—

WATERS: Not every pew and not every person.

Q: Right. There were obviously the key people in local churches. But there were also people in the church structures. I am thinking of people like Mary Jane Patterson.[26]

WATERS: Okay. So maybe it's the intermediaries who worked down and who then create enough pressure up that the bishop finally has to pay attention to these kinds of things. But so the middle layers—yes. Absolutely. Yeah. You're right. Mary Jane. Yeah. And there would have been people like that in all of the denominations. Exactly.

I'm thinking back to New Haven and I know that there were local congregations that were involved, but I'd be hard-pressed to say who. But that certainly would have been true. And it's interesting because the predominantly African American denominations, at least the Baptists, aren't hierarchical. And so it doesn't do any good. The fact that a national Baptist [group] takes a position on something has zero influence on what happens in a congregation. It's the actual people in that congregation who have to take an interest. Nine times out of ten, the pastor has to take an interest in order to get anything happening at that point. And you didn't have the Mary Jane Pattersons, since there's no real hierarchy. So it was a different situation. And that's what I would have been more familiar with at that point. I didn't know about the people like Mary Jane Patterson until I came to Washington.

Q: After TransAfrica, you were at Howard for how long?

WATERS: Yes. For about four or five years.

Q: OK. Yeah. '88?

WATERS: Until—no, actually, it would have been '87 because I went to the Hill in '87, right after I got married. Yeah.

Q: And you went to work for—

WATERS: Congressman George Crockett. And at the time that I went to work for him, he was the chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee and the ranking member on the AfricaSubcommittee. And so I did his Africa Subcommittee work.

Q: He's someone with a history that goes back in terms of all kinds of issues. And really, you have that Michigan connection, really, more specifically, Detroit, with both him and Diggs and—

WATERS: And the connection to the trade unions there is the most powerful one.

Q: And the Africa connection?

WATERS: Yes. Well, Detroit is a very Africa-focused town. They don't have little Africa-focused organizations. They have big Africa-focused organizations in Detroit that are Detroit-based organizations that aren't local affiliates of national organizations. They're pure Detroit.

Q: Are there names you can point to in terms of organization?

WATERS: Yeah. The one that comes to mind for me is the Church of the Black Madonna. That's probably one of the biggest ones. And they're not an Africa-focused organization, but they had tremendous interest in Africa-related issues. And, again, there was a connection to trade unions. So you had people active on African issues as part of the UAW [United Auto Workers] and things like that. And the congressman came out of UAW, at least, in terms of his Detroit years. And he was a UAW lawyer before he became a judge. Very active in Freedom Summer and all those sorts of things. Very active in a lot of the anti-McCarthyite era before that. A remarkable human being.

Q: Right. So you came on there, at least, essentially after the sanctions had been passed and—

WATERS: Exactly. That's right.

Q: And either for then, or for the preceding period, going from your memory, who would you characterize as the key Africa advocates in Congress?

WATERS: Oh, okay, that's easy, that's a short list.

Q: Right.

WATERS: Yeah. Within the CBC [Congressional Black Caucus], Diggs was the man. And he started all of this. And then came Dellums and then Crockett and the guy from California —Merv Dymally was interested in Africa. Bill Gray. And then much later, New Jersey.[27]

Q: Payne.[28]

WATERS: Payne. And then I don't know very many of the new guys.

Q: And outside the CBC? Wolpe?

WATERS: Wolpe.[29] Yes. Definitely, Wolpe. I was just talking with him earlier. Leach, from Iowa, was always good on Africa-related issues.[30]

Q: You have any idea why?

WATERS: None. In fact, I was asking my colleague earlier why Iowa is so much more progressive than anything else in the Midwest. And even the Republicans are more liberal than a lot of the Democrats. And he, the friend of mine, was talking about the universities and the fact that there's a higher level of awareness that comes through the good university systems, but—yeah. That other issue is the missionary influence—that's right. I haven't talked about that at all. Yeah. That's a good one, too.

Q: What particular things would you point to?

WATERS: Oh, I'd point to good and bad. When I think about Angola, I always think about what I would consider the negative impact of the dividing up of Angola along religious lines—the extent to which that also fed into, contributed to the conflict in the country. And it's the reason why you could get a UCC [United Church of Christ], which is progressive on almost every issue, being so torn over Savimbi.[31]

Q: Is there a missionary connection in your background at all?

WATERS: Yeah, that's true. It's interesting because in the black Baptist church, the first African American missionary went to Liberia and his name is Lot Carey. And so I was collecting my little pennies for Lot Carey [missions], and I was five or six years old. The mission society was called Lot Carey Foreign Missions.

That was one of the ongoing sources of connectedness to Africa. Also, sometimes, it didn't produce good results for African people. But yeah, that was definitely part of it. And the AME [African Methodist Episcopal Church] has been very active in Africa for a long time. Large AME congregations in places like South Africa and I'm sure Liberia. That's right, because there's an AME bishop now that's—there's always an AME bishop that's posted in South Africa, I think. And I just think of the AME and the Baptists as being more engaged on these kinds of things than some of the other predominantly African American denominations.

Q: How long were you on the Hill?

WATERS: For three, almost four years. I stayed until the congressman retired. And then I retired from the Hill. That's when I went to work for ADF [African Development Foundation].

Q: Okay. I can't keep things straight. ADF and then Interaction?

WATERS: ADF, TransAfrica, then InterAction.

Q: Oh, okay. All right. Well, we haven't exhausted this subject by any means, but I've run out of good questions for the moment. Are there any more points you can think of?

WATERS: I'd probably think about the whole issues of the lessons learned from the anti-apartheid movement, in terms of thinking about how we apply those lessons learned to the work that we're trying to do now. And how much harder it is on just about every front that you can imagine to think about how to organize people, how to get people engaged, keep them engaged, give them something to do. And so I think that one of the major values of this process would be to shed some more light on that.

I also think that the fact that, going back to the Cubans again, the fact that we didn't have to have the perfect movement with everybody cooperating and loving and coordinating with each other. It's unfortunate, but it's not an impediment, obviously —

Q: To having an effect?

WATERS: Yes. Yes. Exactly so. And that if we wait for the perfect movement, it's never going to happen and so we just need to figure out how to move on, on any and all of the issues. That it's important to move on.

Q: Actually, that does recall for me another question. At several points, you talked about the influence of your father's roommate and then the importance of the Africa Peace Tour. Can you point to names in terms of your experience, or your knowledge of African spokespeople, who had particular impact here?

WATERS: Yeah. Well, obviously Dumisani [Kumalo],[32] but also the SWAPO people.

Q: Is there one particular name in terms of SWAPO?

WATERS: Oh, I think the prime minister, Theo Ben Gurirab. Yes. I think a lot of people heard him speak and so forth. And then, of course, for South Africa, the " Holy Trinity" [laughter].

Q: [Desmond] Tutu, [Allen] Boesak, and who else? Who's the third?

WATERS: [Beyers] Naudé.

Q: Okay. I hadn't heard that term.

WATERS: Oh, probably from—we first heard that in the NCC [National Council of Churches] or someplace like that.

Q: In the '80s?

WATERS: Right. Exactly. Yeah. Because they were constantly coming and talking to people. And, in fact, it was one of my colleagues was going to South Africa today and he was saying that Tutu might speak. And I said, Tutu's one of the historic figures that I admire. Whatever he may be as a human being, and I'm sure I don't know all the good and bad of him, but he's a really important person. Boesak was fantastic before his fall from—yeah. And they were really capable of getting people in the U.S. really fired up over South Africa issues.

And, so, of course—Winnie [Mandela]. I remember the reaction of the crowd at the Convention Center in DC, when Mandela made his tour around the U.S. And the people in that room were chanting, Winnie, Winnie. More so than Nelson, because she kept his name alive for people for all the years. So, again, I'm very sad—saddened by what's happened.

Those are the bigger names. But I remember the people who didn't have the big names. I remember meeting Albertina Sisulu[33] and just hearing the story of her family and thinking about what an amazing family. I remember the first time I met Thabo's brother.

Q: Moeletsi [Mbeki]?

WATERS: Moeletsi. Yes. I went to a party at Gay McDougall's house one night.[34] And I didn't know who he was and he was sitting there in a chair, not saying anything. And you knew that there was something significant, with him just sitting there in a chair and not saying anything. I was like, who is that man? There was a presence. And so meeting people like that and again, hearing the story of the two of them—was it 12-, 13-, 14-year-old boys—taking that walk and escaping. It was compelling.[35] Whatever I think about these things now, at the time it was compelling.

[1] Interview, August 12, 2004.

[2] Rep. Ronald V. Dellums represented an Oakland, California district in the House of Representatives from 1971 to 1999. Rep. Charles C. Diggs Jr. (1922-1998) represented a Detroit district in the House from 1955 to 1980. See Ronald V. Dellums and H. Lee Halterman, Lying Down with the Lions: A Public Life from the Streets of Oakland to the Halls of Power (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000). Despite his historical importance, there is as yet no biography or scholarly study of the career of Charles Diggs.

[3] Rep. George W. Crockett Jr. (1909-1997) represented a Detroit district in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1990.

[4] See interview with Edgar (Ted) Lockwood in this collection. The Washington Office on Africa, jointly sponsored by the American Committee on Africa, major church denominations, and a few trade unions, was founded in 1972 to coordinate lobbying efforts on Africa in Washington. Jean Sindab directed the organization from 1980 to 1986, followed by Damu Smith, 1987-1988, and Aubrey McCutcheon, 1989-1990.

[5] See interviews in this collection with Sylvia Hill.

[6] See the excerpts in this collection from Randall Robinson, Defending the Spirit (New York: Plume, 1998), and the special edition of CrossRoads magazine edited by Joseph Jordan, " That Covenant Was Kept: Lessons of the U.S. Anti-Apartheid Movement," April 1995.

[7] Dr. Jean Sindab (1944-1996), in addition to serving as executive director of the Washington Office on Africa from 1980 to 1986, directed the World Council of Churches (WCC) Programme to Combat Racism from 1986 to 1991. In 1988 she took a leave of absence from the WCC to serve as Africa adviser in the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. See, in this collection, " A Celebration of the Life of Dr. Nellie Jean Pitts Sindab." Damu Smith, who directed the Washington Office on Africa in 1987-88, has worked as a social justice advocate on many fronts, including environmental racism and peace. He founded Black Voices for Peace in 2002.

[8] The Rev. Wyatt T. Walker was executive secretary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) from 1960 to 1964, during a key period in the civil rights movement in the South. He has been the senior pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in New York City since 1967, and co-founded, along with Canon Frederick B. Williams, the Religious Action Network of the American Committee on Africa in 1988. Douglas Wilder, governor of the state of Virginia from 1990 to 1994, was the first elected African American state governor in U.S. history. The Rev. Walter Fauntroy represented the District of Columbia as a non-voting member of the House of Representatives from 1971 to 1990.

[9] Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), born in Jamaica, was the leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and one of the most prominent black nationalist leaders of the early 20th century with followers on both sides of the Atlantic.

[10] The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1909, is the oldest and largest U.S. civil rights organization. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was formed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his colleagues among southern black clergy in 1957 to coordinate their protests. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), founded in 1960, played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

[11] Dr. Guy Martin, a leading West African political scientist specializing in Francophone Africa, has taught at universities in West Africa, East Africa, and the United States.

[12] Dr. Patrick O'Meara is professor and dean of international programs at Indiana University, Bloomington.

[13] Dr. Gwendolen Carter (1906-1991) was one of the founders of post-World War II African studies in the United States. She taught at Indiana University from 1974 to 1984.

[14] Dr. Edmond Keller is professor of political science and African studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

[15] Dr. Alfred C. Stefan, professor of political science at Columbia University, was professor at Yale from 1976 to 1982.

[16] Aubrey McCutcheon directed the Washington Office on Africa in 1989-90. He later worked as a program officer for the Ford Foundation in South Africa and in India.

[17] SWAPO (South West African People's Organisation) was the principal liberation movement in South West Africa (Namibia), and became the ruling party after independence.

[18] Dr. Stanley Greenberg, later a prominent Democratic Party pollster, taught political science at Yale University in the 1970s.

[19] Colin Leys is a widely published and influential progressive British scholar of African studies.

[20] Dr. Tilden LeMelle, professor at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York, also served as chair of the board of The Africa Fund of the American Committee on Africa.

[21] Anne Forrester Holloway served as ambassador to Mali in 1980-81.

[22] John A. Ray served as an at-large member of the District of Columbia City Council for 18 years, from 1979 to 1997.

[23] Joslyn (Josh) Williams was elected president of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Labor Council in 1982, and was still serving in that post as of 2005.

[24] Max Robinson (1939-1998) became the first black television anchor in Washington, DC, in 1969. He was the first black co-host of a national news program at ABC World News Tonight, from 1978 to 1984.

[25] Carol Bernstein Ferry (1924-2001) was one of the leading philanthropists supporting progressive causes over many years, along with her first husband Daniel Bernstein, who died in 1970, and her second husband, W. H. Ferry, who died in 1995. She and her first husband were friends of Eduardo Mondlane, the first president of the Mozambican Liberation Front (Frelimo), and she was a consistent supporter of the Washington Office on Africa and other groups.

[26] Mary Jane Patterson, director of the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (USA) from 1975 to 1989, chaired the board of the Washington Office on Africa from 1978 to 1984. See the interview with her in this collection.

[27] William Gray, from Pennsylvania, served in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1993. Meryvn Dymally, from California, served in the House of Representatives from 1981 to 1992.

[28] Donald Payne, from New Jersey, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1989, and was still serving as of the 2005-2006 Congress.

[29] Howard Wolpe, a political scientist specializing in African studies, served in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1993, representing the third district of Michigan. He chaired the Subcommittee on Africa for 10 of his 14 years in Congress, from 1981 to 1990.

[30] James Leach, from Iowa, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1979, and was still serving as of the 2005-2006 Congress.

[31] United Church of Christ missionaries had a long history in the central plateau area of Angola that gave the greatest support to Jonas Savimbi and UNITA.

[32] See interview in this collection with Dumisani Kumalo, organizer for the American Committee on Africa in this period, and now South African Ambassador to the United Nations.

[33] Albertina Sisulu was one of the leading figures in the ANC Women's League. She was married to Walter Sisulu, who served as secretary general of the ANC from 1949 - 1955.

[34] Gay McDougall, executive director of Global Rights, directed the Southern Africa program of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law in the 1980s. She was a member of South Africa's Independent Electoral Commission in 1994.

[35] The sons of veteran ANC leader Govan Mbeki, Thabo and Moeletsi Mbeki escaped from South Africa into exile in 1962.

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