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On Mandela’s 100th Birthday, Rev. Jesse Jackson Remembers His Vision of Anti-Racist Democracy

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Today marks the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela, perhaps the world’s most famous former political prisoner. He was imprisoned 27 years in South Africa before his release in 1990. He was elected the country’s first black president four years later. On Tuesday, former President Barack Obama spoke in Johannesburg at an event marking the centennial and used his first major address since stepping down as president to issue thinly veiled criticism of President Trump. We get response from Mandela’s close friend, Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader and the founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Jackson also responds to the recent U.S.-Russia summit and discusses his upcoming peace mission to South Korea.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: “Nelson Mandela” by Youssou N’Dour, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, today marks the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela, perhaps the world’s most famous former political prisoner. He was imprisoned 27 years in South Africa before his release in 1990. He was elected the country’s first black president four years later.

On Tuesday, former President Barack Obama spoke in Johannesburg at an event marking the centennial and used his first major address since stepping down as president to issue thinly veiled criticism of President Trump.

BARACK OBAMA: We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders, where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more. … You have to believe in facts. Without facts, there’s no basis for cooperation. If I say this is a podium and you say this is an elephant, it’s going to be hard for us to cooperate.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama speaking at a mass stadium packed with South Africans.

For more, we’re joined by someone who was very close to Nelson Mandela: Reverend Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader, founder and president of Rainbow/PUSH. This is president—this is—Reverend Jackson, I want to go back to 1984, when you gave your presidential campaign speech at the Democratic National Convention, speaking out against apartheid in South Africa.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: At its worst, our nation will have partnership with South Africa. That’s a moral disgrace! It’s a moral disgrace. It’s a moral disgrace.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Reverend Jackson in 1984, joining us now from Chicago.

Reverend Jackson, welcome back to Democracy Now!

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of this day, the centennial of Nelson Mandela’s birth, and the significance of President Obama being there and talking about strongmen, a veiled reference, clearly, to President Trump.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, the low point was the U.S. kinship with South Africa as its military and economic partner. And the movement arose here to fight that relationship between the U.S. and South Africa. I think the good news is Mandela represents a kind of a breath of fresh air going through South Africa and across the continent of Africa. He represented a vision of a multiracial, nondemocrat—nonracist democratic state. And he rejected strongman government. He could have been elected until he died. He chose instead to build a democracy, a political democracy, and lay the groundwork for an economic one. And so, he has gained his stature in the world of great leaders.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Reverend Jackson, South Africa today, obviously the ANC has—after Mandela, has had major problems in terms of dealing with corruption within its ranks. How do you see the state of the South African people today?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: It has gained its political freedom, not its economic justice. You have 90 percent of the population is black African, and yet the 10 percent control basically all the land and the resources. And so, now they are free but not equal. That’s the next stage of their development. They do not control, really, universities, nor agriculture, nor banks, nor media. Most of—if you imagine a black island—a black ocean with a white island, 10 percent, most of the investment goes into the 10 percent. But the 90 percent—I think Mercedes-Benz maybe has a car plant there. They have like 75 dealerships, all white, none of them are black. And so, I think the next phase of it—they’re better off than they were, let’s just say, real fast. But now that they’ve gained political freedom, they need economic justice. And that will happen. But I think the shackles of apartheid and its ugliness has been broken.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think Nelson Mandela would be saying about President Trump today? I was wondering if you could comment both on the summit, if you think it should have happened, and President Obama, not often heard on these issues, basically talking about authoritarianism?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, President Mandela was very clear as a Nobel Prize winner to speak to world issues on a current basis. Clearly, Mr. Trump has an affinity with Mr. Putin that’s inexplicable. And his attack on the leader of Canada and Mexico, and the EU and NATO. He only finds a kinship with Russia. Attacked the women leaders of Germany and Britain, but not the male leader, standing side by side, of Russia. We deserve explanations that we do not have, among other things, his tax return. What ties are there to Russia? We just do not know. And it’s created a very ugly climate in the country of distrust and racial polarization. And I hope that we are able to survive and make a statement in November that will regain our move toward positive relations.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Reverend Jackson, in the little time we have left, you’re off to Korea this weekend. Could you talk about that?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Even though we had this meltdown in Helsinki the other day, we must keep encouraging the North-South dialogue in Korea. We must hope that the DMZ will become a peace zone one day. We must keep discouraging the military buildup in the peninsula again and fight for family reunification. We must not go backwards. I think that Mr. Trump, when he met with the North Korean leader, it was a blow in the right direction. We must not let it go back, because there’s a certain cynical notion that says don’t trust Un. Well, you need trust and verification. But I do think that we must encourage the North-South reunification in Korea.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re speaking to us from Chicago. This week is the fifth anniversary of Black Lives Matter. Five years ago, George Zimmerman acquitted for the killing—for the killing of Trayvon Martin. And then, just this past week, the police killing in Chicago of Harith Augustus, a well-known and very popular barber, father of two. Your comments today?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, it seems there’s a kind of open season on shooting blacks. There’s two things need to happen. One, when people unarmed are killed, it should be a federal crime. Two, we must make lynching a federal crime, but it is not. We must make lynching a federal crime. And shooting unarmed people must be a federal crime. There’s too much of it. It’s Ferguson. It’s Trayvon Martin. It is jail in New York. And the idea of using blacks as objects of anger and venom is just too pervasive. And we certainly feel the impact of it. And I just hope that it will not explode in a way that distracts us from the agenda of fairness for all.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Reverend Jackson, we want to thank you for being with us. We’re going to break for 30 seconds.

When we come back, we’ll talk about Eric Garner, Eric Garner who was killed four years ago this week in a New York police chokehold as he gasped “I can’t breathe” 11 times.

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