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Celebrating Marcus Garvey Day – 17th August

John Clarke
Acting High Commissioner of Jamaica

This year marks 100 years since Jamaica’s first named National Hero, the Rt. Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey, founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and African Communities League in Kingston, as an organizational vehicle for pan-African self-determination. In 2012, the Government of Jamaica declared August 17, Marcus Garvey Day. It was considered appropriate, that being the anniversary of the birth of Marcus Garvey, the day be set aside for the focusing of attention on his outstanding contribution to national advancement.  

At a time when European nations owned and controlled most of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, when racial discrimination was accepted as normal and black people globally were legally subjected to inferior conditions at every level, Marcus Garvey’s experiences led him to embark on a life-long and often lonely road of advocacy for racial equality and African advancement. He publicly confronted and questioned the injustices of colonial Jamaican society and went on to establish what was to become the largest and most successful pan-African movement – a project driven by a vision of upliftment and economic empowerment of Africans at home and in the Diaspora.

The UNIA was established on 20th July 1914 and by 1921 it had over 1,700 branches in over 40 countries and millions of followers. The UNIA’s newspaper, “Negro World”, reached an estimated 200,000 people. (All this, in the absence of modern conveniences such as the internet and social media).  In 1919 and 1920 respectively, Marcus Garvey incorporated the “Black Star Line” shipping company and the “Negro Factories Corporation” to facilitate economic activity as a basis for economic independence throughout the pan-African world.  Through the huge UNIA, Marcus Garvey brought hope and gave motivation to millions of people in colonized countries.

As we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between Jamaica and South Africa, we also recall that Marcus Garvey was a pioneer in collaboration and networking between the peoples of our two countries, long before the formal establishment of diplomatic ties. Branches of the UNIA were established in South Africa in the 1920s. Through the organization’s newspaper, Marcus Garvey sought to bring to the attention of the rest of the pan-African world the plight of black South Africans. In 1928, Garvey visited Britain and the League of Nations in Geneva where he delivered “The Case of the Negro for International Racial Adjustment”, considered a masterpiece of historical and political analysis, in which he attacked the South African colonial regime and other issues. The “Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey” subsequently influenced the thinking of leading Liberation activists.

Marcus Garvey stressed the value of education in its broadest sense, “to be learned in all that is worth knowing. Not to be crammed with the subject matter of the book or the philosophy of the classroom, but to store away in your head such facts as you need for the daily application of life, so that you may the better in all things understand your fellowmen, and interpret your relationship to your Creator.” He implored us to draw inspiration from positive aspects of our past not acknowledged by the prevailing hegemony of euro-centric education and media Establishments, pointing out that “honest students of history can recall the day when Egypt, Ethiopia and Timbuktu towered above Europe, towered above Asia. When Europe was inhabited by ….cannibals, savages…, Africa was peopled by cultured black men, who were masters in art, science and literature.”  He was an advocate of positive mental attitude, saying that, “Every man who fails contributes to his own failure”.

We have an obligation to honour the legacy of Marcus Garvey and to adapt and apply Garveyism to the challenges of the 21st century.

Jamaican High Commission, Pretoria
August 2014



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