Back to top

Edward M Kennedy (Posthumous)

The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in

Gold
Edward M Kennedy (Posthumous) Awarded for:
Being a fearless opponent of apartheid, an outspoken critic of apartheid, and a tireless campaigner for the introduction of sanctions against the apartheid regime and his exceptional contribution to the struggle for the attainment of a non-racial, non-sexist, free and democratic South Africa.
Profile of Edward M Kennedy

Edward M “Ted” Kennedy was born on 22 February 1932 in Boston, Massachutes. He obtained degrees from Harvard University and the University of Virginia Law School. He was the third-longest-serving member of the United States (US) Senate in American history. Voters of Massachusetts elected him to the Senate nine times – a record matched by only one other Senator.

President Barack Obama described his breathtaking span of accomplishment: “For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health, and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.”

At home, he fought for and won so many great battles – on voting rights; education; immigration reform; the minimum wage; national service; the nation’s first major legislation to combat AIDS; and equality for minorities, women, the disabled and gay Americans.

Calling healthcare “the cause of my life,” Kennedy succeeded in bringing quality and affordable healthcare for countless Americans, including children, seniors and people with disabilities.

However, it is Kennedy’s staunch support for the anti-apartheid struggle that South Africans will remember and honour for generations to come. At a time when many hesitated to speak out, Kennedy stated bluntly that apartheid was racist, unjust and morally wrong. He compared the apartheid system to the century-old system of slavery that had existed in the USA.

In 1985, at the urging of anti-apartheid activists, Kennedy travelled to South Africa to bear witness first-hand and lend his support to the struggle. The trip posed political risk as well as logistical challenges. In the USA, some commentators portrayed African National Congress (ANC) leader, Nelson Mandela, as a communist who had embraced terrorism. Kennedy called him a great freedom fighter and democrat.

Despite several warnings by the apartheid forces that his visit posed security risks, Kennedy spent a night in the home of Bishop Desmond Tutu and also visited Winnie Mandela, the then wife of Mandela who was banned by government and restricted to her home, and praised her for her courage amid persecution and her husband’s imprisonment.

While in South Africa, Kennedy organised an illegal protest outside Pollsmoor Prison. Defying orders from South African police, Kennedy walked to the prison gates and presented a letter urging for the immediate release of Nelson Mandela. Reflecting on the protest years later, Mandela himself said he knew that Kennedy was outside the gates. On his return to his native country, Kennedy campaigned tirelessly for economic sanctions against South Africa and helped to pass the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. President Ronald Reagan attempted to veto the legislation but was overridden by the US Congress.

The legislation established wide-ranging economic sanctions against the apartheid government of South Africa and set stringent criteria for the lifting of sanctions, including a timeline for Mandela’s release.

Kennedy became involved in politics as a member of the Democratic Party, and in 1958 managed the Senate election of his brother, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1959 and was appointed assistant district attorney in Suffolk County in 1961. He was elected in a special election on 6 November 1962, as a Democrat to the US Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the 1960 resignation of his brother, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, for the term ending 3 January 1965. Overcoming a history of family tragedy in his early life, including the assassinations of a brother who was president and another who sought the presidency, Kennedy dedicated his life’s work to enacting legislation that would support society’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, and devoted himself to the cause of justice around the world.

He died of brain cancer in Hyannisport, Massachusetts, in August 2009.

As we observe the centenary of the ANC, we recall that Ted Kennedy’s life’s work was to champion the noble cause of the poor. He lit an eternal flame to make real the dreams of the founding fathers of our struggle for freedom and democracy. Senator Ted Kennedy was an outstanding supporter of our struggle for liberation. His solidarity and commitment to our freedom were strong and positive, while peace and justice were always at the top of his agenda.

As a nation, we owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his dedication to the creation of a democratic, non-racist and a better society for all our people.