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Randall Robinson

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

Randall Robinson Awarded for:
Being an integral part of the anti-apartheid movement for his exceptional contribution to the struggle against apartheid through the Free South Africa Movement and for the creation of a free, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.
Profile of Randall Robinson

Randall Robinson was born on 6 July 1941 in Richmond, Virginia, to Maxie Cleveland Robinson and Doris Robinson Griffin, both teachers.

A professor of Law at the Pennsylvania State University, he is an internationally recognised African-American lawyer, author and activist, noted as the founder of TransAfrica Forum, which he established in 1977. He is known particularly for his impassioned opposition to South African apartheid, and for his advocacy on behalf of Haitian refugees and the Haitian people’s right to democratically elect the elected officials that they – and not others – want. His 28-day hunger strike in 1994 caused President Bill Clinton to begin processing Haitian refugees in accordance with international law and resulted in the multilateral re-instatement of Haiti’s first democratically elected government under the leadership of the democratically elected, but militarily ousted, President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

He graduated from Virginia Union University, earned a Law Degree at Harvard Law School, and over the years gained visibility for his political activism, which included organising the historic sit-in and subsequent daily demonstrations at South Africa’s Washington Embassy to protest the apartheid era government’s policy of segregation and discrimination against black South Africans; testifying as an expert witness at Congressional hearings on United States (US) policy toward South Africa; and appearing on American television programmes to advocate a change in the USA’s policy on South Africa.

Through TransAfrica, Robinson launched the most potent symbol ever of the anti-apartheid struggle in the USA, the Free South Africa Movement. This movement began in November 1984, when Robinson, joined by US Civil Rights Commissioner Mary Francis Berry, Congressman Walter Fauntroy, and lawyer Eleanor Holmes Norton, went to the South African Embassy for a meeting with the ambassador to discuss the violation of human rights under the apartheid system. Then, to heighten international attention to apartheid, they stated that they would not leave the embassy until Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners had been freed.

As arranged, Robinson’s TransAfrica staff promptly alerted the international media as to what was taking place, and reporters from around the world quickly gathered outside the embassy. At the request of the South African Ambassador, the DC police arrested Robinson, Berry and Fauntroy and held them in a DC jail overnight. Supporters rallied to their cause and upon their release, Robinson, Fauntroy and Berry launched the Free South Africa Movement, with Robinson and his TransAfrica staff moving to organise daily demonstrations outside the embassy – throughout the broiling summer and freezing winter without exception – for more than one year. Within a week of the launch of the Free South Africa Movement, public demonstrations against South African consulates, Kruger rand coin dealers and corporations tied to South Africa had spread throughout the USA. Over the course of a year, more than 4 500 people were arrested at South Africa’s Washington Embassy alone, and grassroots campaigns developed in more than 40 American cities, with countless additional persons being arrested nationwide.

Rosa Parks, US Senator Lowell Weicker, Coretta Scott King and her children, Congressman John Conyers, Rev Jesse Jackson, Congressman Ben Cardin, tennis player Arthur Ashe, actor Tony Randall, Harry Belafonte, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, actor Paul Newman, Stevie Wonder, heavy-weight champion Larry Holmes, the children of the late Senator Robert Kennedy, and more than 20 additional members of the US House of Representatives were among the celebrities who joined the demonstrations at the South African Embassy, with Senator Weicker being the first and only US Senator – in the history of the nation – to be arrested for an act of civil disobedience.

Robinson and others called on Congress to enact strict economic sanctions against South Africa, which culminated in the passing of sweeping sanctions against South Africa, commonly known as the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986.

It was universally acknowledged that Robinson’s cool and calm competence helped rally black and white Americans against the apartheid regime, and during the early days of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democratic rule, he urged the US Government to work to ensure that this transition took place in an atmosphere of peace.

In 2001, Robinson authored the best-selling work, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, which presented an in-depth outline regarding his belief that reparations should be made to African-Americans as a means of addressing the far-reaching consequences of 246 years of American slavery, followed by 100 years of legally enshrined racial discrimination against black people. In 2007, his book, An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President, was published. In 2011, his novel, Makeda, was released. A multifaceted love story, Makeda celebrates the glories of ancient Africa, and powerfully demonstrates the importance of the intergenerational transmission of human values.

Robinson has been awarded 19 honorary doctorates, and his contributions to altering US foreign policy have been recognised by the United Nations, the Congressional Black Caucus, Harvard University and the Martin Luther King Centre for Non-Violent Change, to name just a few.