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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Front matter

Foreword by Nelson Mandela

An Unfinished Journey by William Minter

The 1950s: Africa Solidarity Rising by Lisa Brock

The 1960s: Making Connections by Mimi Edmunds

The 1970s: Expanding Networks by Joseph F. Jordan

The 1980s: The Anti-Apartheid Convergence by David Goodman

The 1990s: Seeking New Directions by Walter Turner


Back matter

Featured Text

The following text is excerpted from No Easy Victories for web presentation on allAfrica.com and noeasyvictories.org. This text may be freely reproduced if credit is given to No Easy Victories. Please mention that the book is available from http://www.noeasyvictories.org and http://www.africaworldpressbooks.com.

Durham, Durban, and AllAfrica: Reed Kramer and Tami Hultman

Africa News staff

The Africa News Service staff in Durham in 1985. Back row, from left: Jim Lee, Katherine Somerville, Debbie Jackson-Rickettes, Lise Uyanik, Pat Ford, Barbara Neely, Reed Kramer. Front row, from left: Mills Crossland, Charles Cobb Jr., Tami Hultman, Susan Anderson, William Minter, Charlie Ebel, Seth Kitange.
Photo courtesy of AllAfrica Global Media.

AllAfrica.com is the largest freeaccess source of African news on the World Wide Web. By 2007 it was posting some 1,000 stories daily from African newspapers and other sources. The predecessor to allAfrica. com, AfricaNewsOnline, was one of the first public Web sites. But few allAfrica.com readers are likely to know that its origins can be traced back to the 1970s, to Durban, South Africa and Durham, North Carolina. Reed Kramer, the CEO of AllAfrica Global Media, and Dr. Tamela (Tami) Hultman have guided these news services through more than 30 years. Kramer reflected on these experiences in a 2005 interview with William Minter. This brief recollection is adapted from the interview and also draws on a 2003 article by Hultman.

Reed Kramer

Tami and I had gone to Africa in late 1969 on the Frontier Internship program sponsored by the United Church of Christ (UCC), United Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. We were assigned to assist the Methodist Church of South Africa in launching a racially integrated youth leadership training program. Called " Give a Year of Your Life," it brought two dozen young people together in Durban for three months of intensive training, followed by nine months as youth leaders in their congregations. We weren't trained for the challenge of helping young South Africans - some older than we were - negotiate their first relationships across racial lines as equal partners. But there was lots of good will, as well as tears and agony. So the courses became a learning laboratory that prefigured the post-apartheid era in many ways.

Steve Biko, then a medical student, was one of the first people we met in Durban. He was kind enough to speak at the leadership course, where his charisma made an enormous impression. He and other founding activists of SASO, the South African Students Organization, drew us into their circle and gave us extraordinary insights into the emerging political culture of black consciousness. Most of them went on to become deeply engaged in their communities. For example, a woman student, Vuye Mashalaba, who was on the initial SASO executive committee, became a beloved doctor in one of the roughest townships outside Durban.

Tami and I had access to a minivan provided by the churches, and we would often load up a group of students and drive up the coast, north of Durban, where you could get beyond the apartheid signs and go to the beach. We were also privileged to be there at the time of an explosion of black cultural projects. The Theatre Council of Natal, founded in 1969, united African, Indian, and Coloured students across ethnic lines to produce workshops and drama and poetry events. We saw the first performance of Welcome Msomi's stirring play Umabatha in an outdoor amphitheater under a full moon. It's now a South African classic that has been performed all over the world.

Our other assignment, which was not public, was to document the role of U.S. companies in South Africa's economy, research we undertook on behalf of the Southern Africa Committee and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. While in South Africa we spent three months at a time in Durban and then three months on the road, gathering data on dozens of the largest U.S. companies.In Port Elizabeth, for example, we visited all the auto assembly plants, interviewing everybody from managing directors to shop floor workers.

The data and photographs we collected were used by organizers of the first shareholder resolution against General Motors in 1971. After our return, the research formed the basis for a book, Church Investments, Corporations and Southern Africa (Corporate Information Center 1972). Our photos were used and reused in the divestment movement. I remember one ubiquitous photo of a General Motors police van carrying black prisoners. We were chased a few times while taking pictures of police or military facilities, but we always managed to get away.

It was an irony that when we were expelled from South Africa, in March 1971, it had nothing to do with our research. The government at that point hadn't realized the sensitivity of economic information. Our visas were revoked, along with those of other foreigners working with denominations belonging to the World Council of Churches, after the council gave humanitarian grants to Southern African liberation movements such as Mandela's ANC.

For six months after being expelled we visited groups working on Southern African issues in several African countries, discovering how little information was available and how hungry people were for it. In Nairobi we worked with the Africa region of the World Student Christian Federation. From José Chipenda, one of its regional secretaries, we got our first real training in photography, a skill we've made the most of ever since. In Lusaka we worked with a Zambian organization and discussed with the top leadership of the ANC what we had learned in South Africa, particularly about American companies, but also about the rise of the Black Consciousness Movement. In Dar es Salaam we began our journalism career, writing for the Tanzanian daily paper edited by Frene Ginwala, an exile who became speaker of the South African parliament after apartheid. We were in the fortunate position of knowing both the activists arising inside South Africa and a network of outside contacts who wanted to support them.

After two years investigating the role of U.S. companies in South Africa and a year in New York writing up our research, we returned to Durham, North Carolina, in 1972, initially working as a local branch of the New Yorkûbased Southern Africa Committee. The concept of a news agency focusing on Africa stemmed from frustration with the lack of news and information. Africa News Service was born through a small grant from the UCC Commission for Racial Justice, directed by the Reverend Charles Cobb Sr. and sustained by his colleague, UCC Africa secretary Larry Henderson. It subsequently received other church and individual contributions, as well as foundation grants.

The initial target audience for Africa News Service was the American public. Tami had visited 13 African countries on a Presbyterian student seminar in 1966, before I met her, and remembers meeting a small boy, about 10, in a village on the lower slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. He queried her group incessantly about civilian casualties in the war in Vietnam, U.S. support for apartheid, and whether the CIA had been involved in the assassination of Kennedy and the overthrow of Nkrumah in Ghana. The contrast between his knowledge of the outside world and most Americans' lack of familiarity with Africa made an indelible impression. But in 1973 we could see that many people in the United States were eager to know more about Africa, if given a chance.

We based ourselves in Durham because that's where we had gone to university and first became involved with community issues. In 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, I had helped organize a demonstration that began with a march to the Duke University president's house. All 300 of us were invited in and we spent two nights. The protest ended with 1,500 people - a significant percentage of the student body - staging a four-day silent vigil on the Duke quadrangle. Supported by many of the faculty, we stayed until the trustees agreed both to raise wages for nonacademic employees and to negotiate with the mostly black employees union. There were also continuing black student movement protests, and Tami and I had been lucky enough to have roommates who were leaders of that group. So when we went to South Africa, we'd had a bit more exposure to the racial issues in our own society than was the case for many white Americans our age.

We began Africa News Service by mailing out news scripts for radio stations to read on the air. In those days, news from Africa could be several days old and still seem fresh! Black radio networks, a commercial all-news network, and college stations were among the subscribers, along with public stations. We also began reporting for National Public Radio in its early years. As interest in Africa grew, stations wanted the news faster. In response, we converted a closet in the old house we were renting - it had large walk-in closets - into a recording studio. Somewhere we got a castoff reel-to-reel recorder and began taping our own reports, which we fed to stations over a telephone line.

We gathered news by phone, often getting a more accurate story than reporters on the scene. One dramatic example was the 1976 Soweto uprising, when journalists were barred from the township. We called friends and contacts and recorded eyewitness accounts. In one call I particularly remember, a woman explained that the news stories about random destruction were wrong. " I can see the smoke from the pass office," she said. " It's where they keep the records that control our lives, and that's why it was torched." Protestors knowingly targeted places they regarded as instruments of oppression, but most coverage portrayed them as marauding mobs.

We also monitored shortwave radio broadcasts. With an array of antennas in the backyard and on the roof, we could pull in stations from Africa and Europe, along with the Africa services of the BBC and the Voice of America. The bloodless Portuguese revolution of April 25, 1974, which ended the dictatorship, was played out on Radio Portugal. We recorded the music and the announcements and used them in a radio show. We could listen to Radio South Africa and many other broadcasts in French and English. In addition, we inherited a bank of teletype machines that could decode radio signal transmissions and spit them out as wire copy. That was another cost-efficient way of getting news out of Africa.

At the time, major media basically worked one way. If you had a correspondent somewhere, you got a story. If you didn't, and you wanted a story, you'd pick up a wire story, if there was one; if there wasn't, the story probably wasn't newsworthy anyway. That was the thinking.

Over the years, the constituency for Africa grew incrementally, but significantly and visibly. Most dramatic was the growth of the anti-apartheid movement. When we started Africa News there was an active anti-apartheid movement, and we were very much aware of it and knew many of the people. All over the country, there was hard work going on, but it was completely below the radar of media coverage and invisible to most Americans. It managed to have episodic impact when it organized actions such as sit-ins at the South African embassy in Washington. But slowly the movement grew on campuses. It grew in the black community. It grew among churches and synagogues. It grew with involvement of the Congressional Black Caucus. And eventually the media responded.

Our use of technologies to gather news grew out of necessity. We wanted the news, and a growing number of people across the country wanted the news. We didn't have the budgets to fly in and out of places or to hire lots of correspondents, so we figured out a way. The telephone was a good, affordable, low-tech tool, though there were times the line got cut because we couldn't pay the bill. We were also early adopters of fax machines, which had the advantage of allowing us to avoid South African censors, who routinely intercepted our telephone conversations.

Around 1976, we started producing for broadcast through direct telephone feeds rather than printed news scripts. We immediately heard from our nonmedia subscribers - church agencies, libraries,government offices, anti-apartheid groups - who said, " Wait, we still want this news." That's when we started a print publication, which became a biweekly newspaper. We continued to produce, edit, and consult for radio and television. We still report occasionally for public radio or appear on CNN and other networks.

The newspaper continued until 1993, when issues of sustainability forced us to move more aggressively to become an online service. We had begun electronic publishing in late 1983 on the NewsNet bulletin board, almost a decade before the emergence of the World Wide Web, and in 1991 on LexisNexis. Around 1993 we were approached by the newly formed America Online (AOL) and had extensive discussions. They wanted us to create a closed channel for them, but in the end we thought it better to be on the open Internet. So we launched a Web site instead.

We began early on and continue to this day to work with African journalists, some very brave and dedicated people among them. They were always ready to work with us. These days it's common to hear reporters interviewing other reporters who are in some place of breaking news, but it wasn't a widely used technique at the time. The relationships we developed with African media professionals were an early form of what we do now in a more formal way, by working with 125 African news organizations at allAfrica.com. Through those ties, users of our Web site have easy access to news gathered by African journalists across the continent. Large information wholesalers also distribute the daily news feeds we provide, reaching an even larger global audience. The resulting revenues from advertising and from royalties are split between AllAfrica and the participating publishers. We hope it will continue to grow and become sustainable.

Throughout these years we have drawn on our early African experiences and on the skills we learned from and with our African colleagues. AllAfrica, which has pioneered several aspects of information technologies and won international prizes, was founded with mostly African funding and with prominent African media professionals as executives. It is built on the legacy of people from the United States traveling to Africa and learning from the people they came to know in the cauldron that was the struggle against apartheid.

This page is part of the No Easy Victories website.