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Global Audience Gathers for 'Freedom Fighter'Photo by Michael Sun, Daily Bruin staff

Global Audience Gathers for 'Freedom Fighter'

African leader Jacob Zuma talks about apartheid, world race issues.

What has propelled us is the belief you can only have African freedom if there is peace and stability throughout the continent.

By Shauntel Lowe, Daily Bruin contributor

In a room lined with images from around the world, people from across the globe gathered Thursday to hear former deputy president of South Africa Jacob Zuma detail his struggles in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, stress the importance of unity, and speak on the issue of race in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

An extended delay of Zuma's flight arrival gave the crowd of about 40 people just over an hour to sit in Bunche Hall and chat among themselves. A professor seated near an image of the pyramids of Egypt told stories of his recent trip to South Africa to a circle of four around him. Across the room, a UCLA faculty member, who is a native of South Africa, discussed with an undergraduate student from Ghana the dangers of being outspoken with political views contrary to those of the South African government.

Conversations gave way to applause as Zuma, security in tow, entered the room and took a seat. An introduction by Allen Roberts, director of the African Studies Center, which put on the event, was the final delay before Zuma spoke.

"I have grown up yearning for South African freedom," Roberts said, just before Zuma took to the podium.

Only making time for a few thank-yous, Zuma delved right into the core subject of his talk: the need for freedom in South Africa and across the entire continent.

Zuma's story began in the 1950s, when he and members of the African National Congress, of which he is currently deputy president, were talking about the need for freedom and an end to apartheid, drafting a bill of rights and developing the 1955 Freedom Charter.

"We realized that it was not enough to just talk," Zuma said. "We had to struggle."

Zuma said the initial plan was to struggle for freedom peacefully and non-violently, even though the government fiercely opposed the liberation movement. However, when nine people were shot and killed at a 1960 demonstration, Zuma said there was "no choice but to declare the armed struggle."

The African National Congress was banned in 1960, but Zuma continued with his anti-apartheid activities. In 1963, because of these activities, he was sentenced to 10 years in jail at Robben Island. Upon his release in 1973, he continued with the struggle.

After going into exile in 1975, Zuma continued to fight for freedom in various countries across Africa, including Mozambique.

He was forced to leave Mozambique in 1987 due to pressure from the government.

Zuma returned to South Africa in 1990 after the African National Congress was reinstated, an event Zuma attributes in part to the government's realization that its military was not as strong as it had been after a defeat in a battle south of Angola.

"I flew into South Africa with two colleagues, not sure whether we'd come back or not," he said.

Back in South Africa, with apartheid gone, Zuma continued his struggle for not only freedom, but also to move forward.

"What has propelled us is the belief you can only have African freedom if there is peace and stability throughout the continent," he said.

Shifting from talks of African freedom to the issues of race, Zuma touched on Hurricane Katrina.

"You need to look at what is happening here. What has happened through Katrina has revealed even the United States still faces a lot of challenges," he said.

The presentation ended with a question from a student about how race relations in the United States can be mended.

"We don't want to pretend we have all the answers," Zuma said. "The problem cannot be an overnight issue."

Leaving just as he entered, amid applause and security, Zuma also left an impression on those who heard his story.

Baylee Decastro, a fifth-year international development studies student who recently returned from spending eight months in South Africa doing research, said she was fascinated by the methods used by the African National Congress.

"We here at UCLA are so blessed and so privileged," she said.


This story was first published in the Daily Bruin.

UCLA International Institute