Harlem Bids Farewell to Late Theo-Ben Gurirab, Namibian Revolutionary and Gentle Giant

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Left to right: Mansour; Gertze; Brath; Plummer; Austrian Ambassador Jan Kickert; Rosario; Ms. Mohammed; Algerian Ambassador Sabri Boukadoum; Mr. Barron; Ms. Barron; Mozambican Ambassador Filipe Chidumo. Photo: Cordell Cleare.

 
Harlem gave a fitting farewell Friday evening to Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, a beloved former prime minister, a former foreign minister, a former United Nations General Assembly President and a liberation war hero, who belonged to both Namibia and New York's Africans-in-America community.
 
Dr. Gurirab died at the age of 80 on July 14, in Windhoek, Namibia, after a long illness.
 
Gurirab Friday was hailed as a "great revolutionary" at the memorial and celebration event attended by diplomats, New York's Africans-in-America (a.k.a African Americans) elected officials, activists, and members of the Harlem community who were also given the time to share a few words about the departed freedom fighter. Dr. Gurirab lived in Harlem for many years; he fled what was then South African-occupied South West Africa in the early 1960s. He graduated from Temple University in Pennsylvania, with a degree in political science in 1964.
 
Gurirab and other young Namibians, including his friend and comrade Sam Nujoma --who was to become Namibia's first president after independence-- lived for many years in exile. They founded the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), which later gained prominence, observer status at the United Nations, and ultimately won the war of national liberation.
 
Namibia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Neville Gertze, said Harlem was a good training ground for the young Dr. Gurirab in the 1960s because during that period the U.S. was also going through political  tumult, with the struggle against racism, marginalization of the Africans-in-America community and police brutality. That was when the term "Black power" first resonated.
 
The setting for Friday's farewell was the iconic National Black Theater on 125th Street and 5th Avenue in Harlem. Speakers offered tributes and some recalled their interactions with the polished Namibian whom many recalled as a diplomat when he needed to be, but also a firm leader of resistance fighters when that was what conditions called for.
 
The Harlem audience offered a warm welcome to Cuba's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Humberto Rivero Rosario, who recalled his country's contribution to the liberation of Namibia and South Africa when it helped route the Apartheid regime's once vaunted army at the famous 1988 battle of Cuito Cuanavale, in Angola. After South Africa's army fled from Angola, the country's racist minority regime quickly unraveled. Namibia won it's independence on Feb. 11, 1990 and in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was released on March 21, 1990. Four years later, Mandela became the first president of independent post-apartheid South Africa. Ambassador Rosario noted Namibia's support in the continued fight against the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
 
Riyad H. Mansour, leader of Palestine's Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, recalled his many years of friendship with Dr. Gurirab. He noted that even though Palestine obtained Permanent Observer status at the U.N. a few years earlier, it was Namibia who went on to win its independence first, while Palestine remained occupied by Israel for over 50 years; 70 years, if the "Nakba," the 1948 expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians when Israel was created, is included, he said. The audience cheered when Mansour said Palestinians wanted to "acquire our sovereignty and to be able to be like Namibia, South Africa and all other African countries." 
 
New York's well-known political power couple, City Council member Inez Barron and Assemblyman Charles Barron presented a citation in honor of Dr. Gurirab, to Ambassador Gertze. Referring to the proclamation's citation, Ms. Barron called Dr. Gurirab an "extraordinary Pan-African" and "freedom fighter." She noted the work he did to ensure that the Diaspora was recognized as the Sixth Region and an integral part of the African Union (AU). Assemblyman Barron said: "The best way to honor him? Let's make revolution in America."
 
New York State Senator representing Harlem, Brian Benjamin, was accompanied by Cordell Cleare, Democratic District Leader for the 70th Assembly District, to present a citation by the Senate honoring Dr. Gurirab. 
 
Sister Viola Plummer, a founding member of the December 12 Movement, also praised Dr. Gurirab for ensuring the Diaspora's inclusion as the Sixth Region when the AU succeeded the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 2001.
 
The memorial event was organized by the December 12 Movement, the Patrice Lumumba Coalition, and the Elombe Brath Foundation, in collaboration with Namibia's Permanent Mission to the U.N.  Elombe Brath was one of the most well-known Pan-African in the U.S. Brath was instrumental in bringing prominent African leaders to the Harlem community, including Nelson Mandela, Thomas Sankara, and many others. The family was close to Dr. Gurirab and most of the Namibian leadership. Brath's son, Cinque Brath, president of the foundation named after his father,  together with Omowale Clay, a leader of the December 12 Movement, were co-emcees of the memorial and celebration.
 
Several speakers implored the youth who attended the event to emulate Dr. Gurirab's dedication and commitment to a cause. Fatima Kyari Mohammed, the leader of the African Union's Permanent Observer Mission to the U.N., and Jerry Mathews Matjila, South Africa's Permanent Representative to the U.N. spoke of Dr. Gurirab's legacy. Ambassador Mohammed asked the audience how each one of them would like to be remembered after they "leave this earth"? Legacies that others want to emulate are created through dedication, courage and sacrifice, the speakers said. 
 
Akbar Muhammad, the International Representative of Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, during the audience's comments period spoke of the need for a "return" to the land; land in Africa that Diaspora Africans can help develop. There was no more appropriate time that now during the Trump era, he said. 
 
Nana Camille Yarborough, human rights activist, cultural icon, and musician launched the event with her customary piercing rhythmic ululation and libations in honor of Dr. Gurirab and other illustrious African ancestors --including Nkrumah, Lumumba, Sankara, Nyerere, Amiri Baraka, and many others-- whose names were called by people in the audience as she poured libations.
 
The jazz musical tribute was by Brotha Donald Smith; drumming was by Jerome Jennings.
 
In closing the evening's event, Ambassador Gertze read a short tribute he wrote for Dr. Gurirab: 
 
The sun has set and the time to bid you farewell has dawned on us. 
For you comrade T.B.G., as we used to call him fondly, the journey into eternity has just begun. 
Farewell my dear, teacher, mentor, icon of Namibia's extraordinary diplomatic prowess.
Internationalist, distinguished and accomplished orator, and gentle giant.
Until we meet again, may your soul rest in perfect peace.
 

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