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Kennedy on Africa
Senator and Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy walked down the steps of Pan American Flight 111 (Rome to New York) on a rainy afternoon, smiled, waved to photographers ("Hey Mr. Kennedy! Wave again, will you? Wave over here!" Kennedy: "You wave to me and I'll wave back!"), crossed the field, and entered a small room, just past Customs, where the press was waiting to ask the Senator about his trip to Africa. Mrs. Kennedy stood against a wall – all the chairs were taken – and Kennedy, wearing a dark suit and tie, mounted a low platform and faced the hot television lights. "Everybody in Africa," he announced as the room quieted, "was very interested in Sam Silverman." There was a burst of laughter. Then, after denying that he intended to run for anything but reelection as Senator in 1970. ("I'm supporting President Johnson all the way"), he answered questions about Africa.
"I found in South Africa a substantial body of opinion concerned with equality, and, particularly among the young people, there was interest in having a dialogue," he said. "But among a large portion of the people there is alienation from society, alienation from the rule of law as we know it, alienation from government, and alienation from God – because the policies of the government have been portrayed as being supported by the Church, and they feel God doesn't have anything to do with them. All these policies cause alienation of South Africa from the rest of Africa, and from the world. Africa is an ignored continent. There has to be greater interest, not only because of our moral responsibility but from our self-interest. They look to us for leadership, for education, and for medical services they need so desperately. We should show greater concern."
Someone asked about United States activities in Africa. "I'm concerned about the effect of the 'Voice of America' there," Kennedy said. "I think we could do much better. The Peace Corps workers I met felt that the 'Voice of America' offered contrived propaganda rather than facts, and there was a lack of interesting matter. They told me they preferred to listen the Chinese radio."
Was that because the Red China news was more factual, a reporter asked. "No," Kennedy said, with a smile. "Better music. The Peace Corps is the most effective operation we have in Africa. What we stand for, basically, is the Peace Corps."
He was asked about his talk with Pope Paul. "We discussed the reports he'd received from Africa from the Catholic Church, and we discussed Vietnam for a considerable period," he said. He went on to say that in Africa the Anglican Church has made a major effort, and some Catholic bishops and priests have done much. "But there are others who have been less stalwart and less courageous," he added. "A substantial portion of other churches in South Africa support Apartheid."
What did the Africans think about Vietnam? "I was always asked about Vietnam; I would think they have serious reservations."
Did the trip come up to expectations? "Yes." He paused. "It is heart rendering on a massive scale. I saw a great potential, but I also saw human beings treated in a way one wouldn't want oneself to be treated. For knowledge and feeling, it was a more productive trip than I had imagined."
A reporter mentioned that Senator Morse had stated earlier in the day that he would support Kennedy for the Presidency in 1968. Kennedy again denied interest in anything except the Senate. "But I'm grateful for any kind words that were said about me by anyone while I was gone," he added, and everyone laughed.
When the press conference ended, Senator and Mrs. Kennedy left the room, and were quickly spotted by a number of people who were waiting near Customs. A crowd gathered, needing handshakes and autographs, and the Kennedys obliged. Breaking free at last, they went back out onto the field and boarded the family two-engine plane, the Caroline. It taxied out onto a distant runway, then sat and waited in line between nine other planes, of various sizes, and, after half an hour, took off – into a bleak, drizzling sky – for Washington.
Three days later, Senator Kennedy spoke again on Africa – this time before a gathering of the Committee at Large of the Liberal Party, in the Hotel Astor. When he walked into the Astor, at eight-forty-five, Kennedy, who was heavily engaged in the Silverman for Surrogate battle, had already spoken that day at a rally on Fourteenth Street (5:15), addressed a Uniformed Sanitation Men's Meeting of Shop Stewards at Cliff Street (6:30), met Puerto Rican leaders at Twenty-third Street and Lexington Avenue (7:15), and spoken at another rally, on Twenty-seventh Street (7:45). Two more meetings-a reception for the Lenox Hill Democrats and one for the Murray Hill Democratic Club-were scheduled for nine-thirty and nine-forty-five.
He stepped up onto the dais of the Astor's Victorian Ballroom, greeted David Dubinsky, Alex Rose, Timothy Costello, and others, and began to speak. "What strikes one immediately in South Africa is that as your plane approaches the country, a little card is passed, and you have to identify yourself as 'Black,' 'White' or 'Other.' I didn't fill out the card, and while I was there I never saw any government officials. 'Other' really means seventy percent of the world's population; it includes Asians, Latin Americans. In South Africa there are three categories: Colored, White, and African. Neither the Colored nor the African can participate in any way. For an African, it means you must be in your house at night; you canít move from one job to another; your children can go to school but are permitted to learn English only as a second language. The government decides arbitrarily what tribe a man comes from – like Zulu – and that is the language the children speak in all their classes. The Africans are almost 70 percent of the population; thirteen percent of the land has been set aside for them. They are going to be taken from the cities and put in isolated places.
A man's family cannot live with him where he works. Women have to get special permission to stay with their husbands for seventy-two hours, and then must return to those places that have been set aside for them. By and large, in the Christian churches the black people cannot pray with White persons. They cannot participate in the political processes of the country; they cannot belong to any organization whatsoever. Anyone who speaks out in South Africa can be officially labeled a Communist, without any kind of hearing, and can be put under five years' detention. Ian Robertson, the student who invited me, was put under five years' detention just before I arrived. Now he can never meet more than one person at a time; he's followed wherever he goes; he canít even go to a movie. He's twenty years old, and his life is destroyed.
I met Chief Albert J. Luthuli. He lives in a small house on an African reserve in Natal Province. He has the most dignity, the most presence, of almost anyone I've met anywhere in the world. He still has tolerance and understanding, and compassion for the white man. Just before I left, his son-in-law was shipped off for a hundred and eighty days as a Communist. No trial. I saw so many people willing to stand up. Clergymen-some. Businessmen-some. But particularly students. I remember one student who spoke at a meeting. It was easy for me to go there and speak of principles, and then leave, but that young man was going to stay."
The Senator spoke of East Africa. "In Tanzania, when they gained independence five years ago, only five hundred people had graduated from high school. There is sixty percent illiteracy. They need our assistance and guidance. In Ethiopia, there is ninety-five percent illiteracy, and the average annual income is forty-five dollars. The gross national product of Africa as a whole is forty-two billion dollars; the United States' is Seven Hundred Billion. When we give seven million dollars to Tanzania, sixty percent of it is for milk. In Africa, six out of ten die before they are one. The life expectancy of surviving adults in Ethiopia is thirty years. People look at us, and I think we should help. Last year, we gave three hundred and twenty million dollars to Africa; thatís about one dollar per person. All of us have a responsibility; we must give moral leadership and financial leadership. We become complacent and self-satisfied, but these problems exist."
Kennedy asked for questions from the floor. A man asked, "Is there any hope that the government of South Africa will be moved to change?Ē Kennedy thought not. "But we should make an effort to keep a dialogue up, and to show there's no animosity toward the people. We must criticize apartheid, but we want to talk to them. It's not a bright future, but it's worthwhile to try to make the effort."
"How can we help them when we're spending all our money on armaments?" another man asked. Kennedy acknowledged the difficulty. "Vietnam is costing fifteen billion dollars a year," he said. "We spend about eight days of that amount in all Africa. In Kenya, we spend six hours of that. We gave Tanzania seven million; that's nine percent of their entire budget. Now, if that were increased by three or four million, it would be very helpful."
"Are you opposed to economic pressure on South Africa?" someone asked. "I wouldn't be in favor of cutting off all our relationships," Kennedy relied. 'No one I met felt that we should do that. It's not going to solve the problem. The people who would suffer most would be the black Africans." He said he had talked with labor officials – there are a hundred and eighty thousand labor-union members there, he said – and had been told that the unions are having a very difficult time. "Any kind of support they can receive would be very helpful," he said. "I met with the Ladies Garment Workers, and–" David Dubinsky interrupted from the far end of the dais. "They're all over, eh?" he called cheerfully, and the audience laughed.
"An African who shows any ability for organizing gets picked up and sent away," Kennedy continued. "We flew over Robbins Island on the way. Three thousand political prisoners are being held there." Kennedy was already late for his meeting with the Lenox Hill Democrats. A final question and answer followed, then a round of applause. Kennedy shook hands with everyone, and a moment later he was on his way.
(Note: Because it is not possible to get screen readable images of the original article, this is a reproduction of the original. Some accommodations had to be made to layout issues, but the text is 100% accurate.)