Real News Network, SEPTEMBER 21, 2023

On the occasion of the republication of ‘Return to the Source’ by Monthly Review Press, a panel of long-serving Pan-Africanists reflect on the life of Amilcar Cabral and the relevance of his teachings to current liberation movements.

Amilcar Cabral (1924-1973), Bissau-Guinean and Cape Verdean political revolutionary, the founder and president of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, and leader in the war of independence in Guinea-Bissau. at P.A.I.G.C. headquarters, Algiers, February 1967

During his life, Bissau-Guinean revolutionary Amilcar Cabral co-founded the PAIGC and dedicated his life to the liberation of his native Guinea and Cape Verde from Portuguese colonialism and capitalism-imperialism. One of his most celebrated works, Return to the Source, has recently been republished by Monthly Review Press. To mark this occasion, Bill Fletcher Jr., a member of The Real News Board of Directors, hosts a panel on the life and teachings of Cabral and his relevance to political movements today.

Polly Gaster began to work for the Mozambique Liberation Front, FRELIMO, in Dar-es-Salaam in 1967. She organized and ran the Committee for Freedom in Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea from her home in the UK. Since Mozambique’s independence in 1975, she has lived and worked there in a variety of sectors

Craig Howard has more than 25 years of nonprofit experience, most of them in workforce and community economic development, designing and implementing replicable programs that create jobs and opportunities for disadvantaged people in the U.S. and abroad. Until his retirement, he served as a program director for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Rozell “Prexy” Nesbitt was born and raised on Chicago’s West Side. A lifetime activist and intellectual, Nesbitt has lectured both in the United States and abroad, and has written extensively, publishing a book and articles in more than twenty international journals. Over the course of his career, Nesbitt made more than seventy trips to Africa, including trips taken in secret to apartheid torn South Africa; his work has garnered him numerous awards throughout his career.

Stephanie Urdang was born in South Africa and immigrated to the United States at the end of the 1960s. She became active in the anti-apartheid and solidarity movements in the late 1960’s onwards. She is a journalist, author of several books, and the co-founder of the NGO Rwanda Gift for Life.

Post-Production: Cameron Granadino

The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Bill Fletcher Jr.:

Hey, I’m Bill Fletcher and welcome to the Real News Network. We have a wonderful panel here. A panel constituted to commemorate the republication of a major book Return to the Source, a book of selected writings of the late Amilcar Cabral. Before we get into that, the morning, early morning, October 15th, 1972, I and a guy named Steve Pitts jumped into a Volkswagen Bug in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We were both students at Harvard, and we had heard that Amilcar Cabral was going to be speaking at Lincoln University. There was actually a group of us that were going to go down, but one person after another dropped by the wayside. And so it was left to me and Steve to drive all night to see Cabral. Which we did that afternoon, when he addressed a very large audience in a very hot room, delivering his presentation where he was receiving an honorary doctorate. None of us could have conceived of the idea that we were going to be among the last people to see Cabral alive, because in early 1973 he was murdered.

Cabral had a very, very important significance throughout the world, throughout the global left, in the movements of people of African descent. And this book, Return to the Source, when it came out, was very, very important in helping a broad audience get an appreciation of Cabral’s significance. Well, we’re going to talk about that today, and we have an opportunity with four wonderful guests. So we have joining us, Stephanie Urdang, who’s a South African-American. She was active in the US anti-apartheid movement and has worked for over two decades as a gender specialist for the United Nations. As a freelance journalist, she has published three books with Monthly Review Press, which is the publisher of this new edition, the most recent of hers being a memoir, Mapping My Way Home: Activism, Nostalgia, and the Downfall of Apartheid South Africa.

Also, joining us is Craig Howard, recently retired as program director at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Earlier in his career, Craig was a member of the African Information Service in New York. Also, Prexy Nesbitt is a college professor and former union organizer. He was active in the anti-apartheid movement and African solidarity movement on several continents, and comes from Chicago.

Finally, in an unplanned way, Polly Gaster started to work with the Mozambique Liberation Front, FRELIMO, in Dar es Salaam in 1967. Back in the United Kingdom, she organized and ran the Committee for Freedom in Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea, during which time she met Amilcar Cabral. Since Mozambique’s independence in 1975, she has lived and worked there, mainly in various sectors of information and communication. And I want to welcome our guests and welcome you, the viewers. So I want to start with a question for all of you, and just think about this as a sort of living room discussion. Who was Amilcar Cabral, and why does he continue to have significance? And in answering this question, I’d like you to answer it as if you were speaking to someone who’s in their 20s or 30s, who may not be as well versed in the liberation struggles as we are. So who would like to start with this?

Polly Gaster:

Okay. Can I?

Bill Fletcher Jr.:


Polly Gaster:

Let’s see. Well, Amilcar Cabral described himself in the quote on the cover of the book, least if it’s still there, which is something to the effect of, “I am a simple African man doing my duty in the context of my time.” And I think that is a good starting point because from that starting point, he became a leader of the liberation movement for the country that he was born in and grew up in and studied in, mostly. Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. Cape Verde is an archipelago of islands, just off Guinea-Bissau on the West Coast of Africa. And he had a big advantage, I think, because he was an agronomist and he worked firstly in agronomy, he worked in a big colonial administration. And of course, both of those countries, both Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau were Portuguese colonies at the time, when he was a young man and beginning to work.

And from there he moved, through discussions and learning and enjoying and learning about resistance in Portugal and reading, he and some comrades established the Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde Liberation Movement, PAIGC, and developed it. I think maybe I have just said enough. And he became a very well known leader, and he was part of a staggeringly good generation of African independence leaders in the Portuguese colonies, in Ghana and in Tanzania and other countries. And it was a generation that Africa was very lucky to have.

Bill Fletcher Jr.:

Prexy, same question.

Stephanie Urdang:


Bill Fletcher Jr.:

No, Prexy.

Prexy Nesbitt:

If I jump into this, I was really lucky, because I’d seen and met Cabral, at the very sad occasion of Eduardo Mondlane’s funeral in Dar es Salaam. And I think that was in February of ’69. And I met him there, I then think I saw him after that, if my memory serves me correctly, at the big conference that was held in Rome to support the peoples of the Portuguese colonies. And I was there and working and volunteering. And much to my surprise, I arrived the same day he showed up. And as he walked into the room, he saw me and he said, “Hello, Prexy.” And I was just shocked, that this man would even remember me at all. So that was something that I learned was a very powerful aspect of him. And then finally, just to kick this off and show what a human being he was, maybe Craig remembers this too, we met him at the airport to drive him to the Lincoln speech in Lincoln, Pennsylvania.

And I remember his getting into the car, and he was sitting directly in front of me. I was in the back, Bob Van Lupe was driving. And he went to get a cigarette, and he didn’t have his seatbelt on and the alarm went off. And Cabral jumped and he said, “What? What’s happening? What’s happening?” And we said, “You have to have your seatbelt on.” He said, “You all are in slavery. In this country, every aspect of you is in some kind of slavery all the time.” But what I found just wonderful about him, and would later have this borne out when my sister goes to hear him speak in New York at Jennifer Davis’s house, and I asked her to follow him to every speech he gave, and he finally noticed her writing with this weird handwriting she had. And this wonderful characteristic he had, of noticing people and remembering details about them, I think was one of the sources of his greatness.

Bill Fletcher Jr.:

Thank you. Stephanie, same question.

Stephanie Urdang:

I mean, he was a great leader, as Polly said. For me, one of his strengths, or one of his number of strengths that I want to point to, was his ease in turning complex ideology and political analysis into simple words. So there wasn’t the sort of sense that you had to understand the great Marx’s analysis or something, you just really understood. And some of the things he would refer to was, “People are not fighting for ideas, they’re fighting for material benefit and we’ve got to be able to provide that, otherwise the revolution fails.” He also was not essentially a violent man. He did not think that violence was something that the revolution should follow, except that it had to, because of the violence of the Portuguese colonialism. I mean, as far as I know, there were no blowing ups of cafes or buses in Lisbon or Portugal. READ More

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