Note from BW of Brazil: Of course, by now, the world has received the news of the passing of the South African human rights, anti-Apartheid icon Nelson Mandela. As the world continues to mourn his death and celebrate his life, on the blog, as a tribute, BW of Brazil turns the clock back several years to remember Mandela’s two visits to Brazil, with an emphasis on his 1991 visit. In the piece below, you will learn about Mandela’s appreciation of Brazil’s support but also his disappointment in seeing elements of the very oppression and exclusion that he fought against in South Africa for so long (as briefly discussed here). Thank you and eternal peace, Madiba…A luta continua….
by Poliana Abritta, Oswaldo Faustino, Celso Fontana, Bruno Hoffmann, Hugo Ferreira Zambukaki,
In a statement, President Dilma Rousseff said that the example of Nelson Mandela will guide “all those who fight for social justice and peace in the world.” The South African leader visited Brazil twice.
Brazil’s protest against the policy of apartheid in South Africa came to Nelson Mandela when he was still in prison. In 1985, the José Sarney government enacted a series of trade sanctions against the country that violated the human rights of the black population. In his first visit to Brazil, one year after being released, the black leader sent a thank you. “Even when I was in jail, the voice of the government and people of Brazil strongly and clearly overtook the bars of the prison, saying we are against apartheid and we are very grateful.”
After his release in 1990, Mandela was elected president of the Congresso Nacional Africano (CAN or African National Congress or ANC), the party of the black majority of South Africa. In possession of that post and already campaigning for the presidency in elections that would take place in 1994, he landed in Rio de Janeiro , on August 1st, 1991, on a visit that lasted six days and included stints in São Paulo and Brasília. Mandela, who was always reference for the Movimento Negro (black movement) in Brazil, had been acclaimed by students at the University of Brasília. Mandela was 73 years when got off a plane and stepped upon Brazilian soil.
One of the most remarkable stories of his visit to Brazil occurred during his stay in São Paulo, when he attended a regular meeting at the highest floor of the Palácio 9 de Julho (which has the name of former president Juscelino Kubitschek), on August 2. The meeting attracted large audiences in the galleries: there were representatives of dozens of popular, union and black entities, from all regions of Brazil. Among the parliamentarians present at that session presided over by Carlos Apolinário, were Teodosina Ribeiro – first black woman to hold the office of State Representative, Luiza Erundina, the mayor of São Paulo at the time, also of highlight were then representative Jamil Murad, author of a project that created the SOS Racismo da Assembleia (SOS Racism of the Assembly), and São Paulo city councilman Vital Nolasco, author of the bill that granted the title of Cidadão Paulista (Citizen of São Paulo) to Nelson Mandela, both from the Partido Comunista do Brasil (Communist Party of Brazil or PC do B). “While Mandela was imprisoned, we did an act in São Paulo to support his release. Personalities like (singers) João do Vale, Beth Carvalho and Martinho da Vila participated in this demonstration, which was our way of showing solidarity with the African people. Later, when we learned he would come to Brazil, I decided to pay homage to him. The great statesman Mandela proved to be extremely simple, but with great conviction in his ideas. Moreover, the man exuded happiness,” recalls Nolasco, today finance secretary of the PCdoB.
“The great statesman Mandela proved to be extremely simple, but with great conviction in his ideas”
Deputy Célia Leão, of the PSDB, also made a notorious speech. Several parliamentarians wanted to take the floor, but Mandela was very tired because the day before, he had participated in several events and tributes in Rio de Janeiro, accompanied by Governor Brizola.
As reported by author Celso Fontana in his eBook E Mandela presidiu a Assembleia Paulista…(And Mandela presided over the Paulista Assembly) …, a work that describes the tributes to the great South African leader, “officials in various sectors of the Assembly , in particular involved in the reception and in the work of the plenary, were visibly moved.” The association and the union of employees of the Assembly, and Afalesp and Sinfalesp (now known as Sindalesp), supported the homage. The coordinator of Quilombhoje Literature (1), Esmeralda Ribeiro, received greetings on behalf of the artists who performed during the event. Finally, Mandela presided, symbolically, over the Paulista Assembly.
Video: Nelson Mandela in Brazil in 1991
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Images recorded by Enugbarijô and edited by Acervo Cultne during the visit of Nelson Mandela to Rio de Janeiro on August 2, 1991, in Praça da Apoteose (Apotheosis Square). On that occasion several artists performed including Tim Maia, Mombaça, Emílio Santiago and Martinho da Vila.
In August of 1991 on a six-day visit to Brazil with then wife Winnie, there was much talk about this visit and its impact on Brazilian society and the “movimento negros (black movements)”. Mandela, who had not yet been elected president, representing his ANC party, came asking for support (including financial) and for Brazil to maintain sanctions in the fight for the end of apartheid.. The trip, which took place near the beginning of the negotiation process that led to the first democratic elections in South Africa in April 1994 marked a steep learning curve for both sides. The ANC had no framework and the ability to adequately prepare for the visit, had little or no understanding of the subtleties of racial politics in Brazil, and seems to have seriously underestimated the expectation that the arrival of the Mandelas aroused among black Brazilians.
The main interests of the side of the ANC seems to have been putting pressure on the Brazilian government of President Fernando Collor de Mello to keep the sanctions – specifically on the sale of weapons – against the still white minority government of South Africa, and for support (including funding) in the struggle to end apartheid and gain power in South Africa. The original programming for the visit was punishing, but besides this, the marginalized black groups and political figures, in the end, for two reasons, several events have been cancelled and some changes had been made. Until the conclusion of the visit, significantly, Mandela changed his previous diplomatic view and publicly stated that he felt some bitterness among black Brazilians, and yes, racial discrimination, in fact, existed in Brazil [Folha de São Paulo, August 7, 1991].
Doing research, I found some very interesting material abroad, mainly from English born author Colin Darch, who worked as a researcher and librarian in Brazil during the years 1991 and 1992. In 1992 he settled in Cape Town and today is a South African citizen.
It’s important the look of the foreigner upon us and our society, so I transcribed the article by Colin Darch: Visita de Nelson Mandela ao Brasil, agosto 1991 (Nelson Mandela’s visit to Brazil, August 1991)
“When I see their faces I have the feeling of being at home, because the mixture of population is like ours. And we welcome this fact because a mixing enriches the country.” – Nelson Mandela speaking at a party in Rio de Janeiro on August 2, 1991.
The first few hours in the country impressed the symbol of the struggle against racial segregation. In Rio, 50,000 people received him in the Sambódromo to the sound of the sambas of Martinho da Vila. Marveling at the scene, he confessed: “I have the feeling of being at home.” Mandela also visited São Paulo and Brasília. In the capital (Brasília), shortly before his departure, he was awarded the Grã Cruz da Ordem do Rio Branco (Grand Cross of the Order of Rio Branco), the highest honor granted by the Federal Government.
In order to understand the impact of the visit on Brazilian domestic politics in the 90s, a little background is necessary. The ideology of “racial democracy”, which posited that Brazil had overcome racism found in other parts of the world, although discredited by writers like Carlos Hasenbalg, Thomas Skidmore and Nelson do Valle Silva, still persisted to some extent among white (Brazilian) politicians at this time.
In mid-1991, the Brazilian government was preparing for a census of the population, which had already been postponed. An alliance of black consciousness movements was campaigning around issues related to racial categories used in the classification. These are important because if several categories would be used or self declaration of non-white Brazilians, it would likely become a series of minorities (or definitions of color), however, if the categorization were binary (preto or black)/branco or white) then many blacks of lighter skin would register themselves as white. Moreover, the debates around racial issues were largely suppressed.
Mandela notes the bitterness of blacks
Newspaper clippings are small time capsules. They are good to assess the impact at the time, and feeling the events unfolding until the present day.
The coming of Mandela made an impact in Brazil. Mandela and the ANC came to seek support for his candidacy and guaranteed that if elected, he would assume power with international support. The African National Congress and Mandela knew little of the situation in Brazil. Internationally Brazil was known as a racial democracy. Mandela was shocked at the lack of blacks in political and business positions. It was the Brazilian racial democracy. Mandela changed his discourse…
Journal do Brasil, August 6, 1991
Transcript of the cutout below:
“Mandela notes strong bitterness among black Brazilians; although recognizing that Brazilian laws against racial discrimination are satisfactory. The President of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela, said yesterday that he had noticed strong bitterness among blacks he met in Brazil. Mandela’s comment was made to the President of the Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF or Federal Supreme Court), Sidney Sanches, who did not hide the practice of racism in society from the black leader.”
Oswaldo Faustino and Celso Fontana noted:
As acknowledged in Mandela’s speech, black Brazilian entities had strongly supported his release. They all placed slogans on their flyers and publicity materials: “Pela libertação imediata de Nelson Mandela (For the immediate release of Nelson Mandela),” “Pelo fim do apartheid (For the end of apartheid)” and “Pela ruptura das relações diplomáticas com o governo racista da África do Sul (For the rupture of diplomatic relations with the racist government of South Africa).”
The groups protested outside the embassy and consulates and participated in street demonstrations. Among the achievements of the Movimento Negro at that time, we have the memorable Carta Aberta a Mandela (Open Letter to Mandela), written by Hamilton Cardoso, one of the Movimento Negro’s founding members. The great poet Arnaldo Xavier wrote the speech that Flávio Jorge read at City Hall. The Subcommittee of the Negro of OAB wrote on its banners for the ecumenical event at the Catedral da Sé (Sé Cathedral): “We also have apartheid here.”
Mandela believed, initially, like many Africans, that there was a racial democracy in Brazil. But the movement, especially in Bahia, showed him that that was not the case, showing that it was much more of a discourse than a practice, because of the lack of implementation of remedial post-slavery measures. Racism renews itself and is present today in the behavior of millions of Brazilians. More seriously, there is institutional racism in the judiciary, parliament, the public ministry, law, the military and the business world.
At the invitation of then President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Mandela returned to Brazil for a second visit in July of 1998. The last meeting of Mandela with a Brazilian President was in 2008, when former President Lula was in Mozambique and visited him. At 90 years old, Madiba, as he was called by the people of South Africa, said he was happy with the visit.
1. Quilombhoje Literature, a group of São Paulo writers, was founded in 1980 by Cuti, Oswaldo de Camargo, Paulo Colina, Abelardo Rodrigues and others, in order to discuss and deepen Afro-Brazilian experience in the literature.