Monday, 14 December 2009

Q&A With Ekow Asante Aged 12

What is pan-Africanism? Pan-Africanism is a movement which seeks to unite all Africans in the world.

What was Ghana called before independence? Gold Coast.

Why did Kwame Nkrumah choose the name Ghana? He chose it because it used to be a great West African empire.

Name some African leaders and tell us why they are great.
Kofi Annan: He became the UN Secretary General and he helped to reduce poverty.
Nnamdi Azikiwe: he fought for Nigeria’s independence.
Nelson Mandela: he also fought for South African independence.

By Ekow Asante aged 12. Accra, Ghana

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Black S/Hero - South Africa: Hamilton Naki, the unsung hero

South Africa: Hamilton Naki, the unsung hero.

Did you know that a black man, Hamilton Naki, played a major role in the first human heart transplant heart transplant in 1967, but was forced by apartheid South Africa South Africa to pretend he was just a gardener? Yet, without Naki's surgical skills, that medical breakthrough might not have happened. Tom Mbakwe reports.

Hamilton Naki had no formal training in medicine, but he is one of Africa's best-kept medical secret. Thirty-seven years after the first human transplant that propelled the South African surgeon, Christiaan Barnard Christiaan into the limelight, the truth about Naki's role in that groundbreaking operation is finally coming to light and his achievements are now the centre of several accolades.

Last year, the British daily, The Guardian, interviewed Naki and aptly summed his amazing tale thus: "Two men transplanted the first human heart. One ended up rich and famous--the other had to pretend to be a gardener." Until now!

Today, as deserved praise and tribute pile up on this unpretentious 78-year-old pensioner, his reaction is as humble as the man himself:

"I want you to know that you have made me very happy, and may God bless you for that," he said in an acceptance speech to the London-based Black S/Heroes Award (BSA) committee, which recently honoured him for his services to medicine.

The BSA is an annual award set up in 2003 by the BTWSC, a London-based voluntary organisation that encourages the development of potential through the use of the creative arts. BTWSC stems from the initials of the organisation's first project, a writing competition called "Beyond The Will Smith Challenge" that encouraged young people to write poems, songs and articles with a positive theme.

The aim of the BSA award is to honour unsung contemporary men and women of African descent (both at home and in the Diaspora), who deserve recognition for acts that are inspirational to humankind. And no better candidate deserved the 2003 award than Hamilton Naki.

While most people associate Dr Christiaan Barnard, who died two years ago with the first successful human heart transplant in 1967, the role that Naki played at the Groote Schuur in Cape Town - on that momentous day and subsequent years--was kept secret. Those who attempted to reveal his crucial role were threatened with imprisonment.

As The Guardian put it: "With as photogenic a celebrity as Barnard, the journalists and photographers who crammed into Groote Schuur Hospital had little reason to notice a figure in a white coat lurking on the fringes. Had they asked, they would have been told that Hamilton Naki was a cleaner and gardener who washed floors and swept leaves (at the Hospital). What else, after all, would a black man be doing in a research institute in apartheid South Africa?

"Nobody thought to even ask the question and it is only now, almost four decades later, that the truth has emerged. Naki was not a gardener. The employment records (at Groote Schuur Hospital) which described him thus for 50 years were a lie, a fiction to fit the edicts of a racist state.

"Naki was a surgeon--a pioneering surgeon considered by colleagues to be the most technically gifted of the entire Hospital's medical team. Without him, the transplant might never have happened," The Guardian added for good measure.

Naki's story is one that exposes not only the worst ills and dehumanising schemes of the apartheid regime, but also proves how insecure members of the white-only government were towards embracing black people who were more intelligent and better skilled than them.

Naki was not only barred from training as a doctor, but in the whites-only operating theatre where he was considered an aberration, he was initially not allowed to slice white flesh. "Nobody was to say what I was doing," Naki revealed last year. "A black person was not supposed to be doing such things. That was the law of the land."

Although forced to be invisible at Groote Schuur Groote Schuur, Naki still proved his prowess as a natural surgeon by performing laboratory experiments on animals. He went on to teach white doctors and medical students lots of things about surgery - an unusual occurrence in the apartheid era.

But despite this discrimination, Naki was Dr Barnard's obvious choice for assistant when he introduced his ambitious new open-heart surgery open-heart surgery

Any surgical procedure opening the heart and exposing one or more of its chambers, most often to repair valve disease or correct congenital heart malformations (see congenital heart disease). techniques in 1967. Yet, even Barnard would not publicly acknowledge Naki's role. It was only towards the end of his life that Barnard (who died on 2 September 2001) revealed his admiration for Naki's skill and dexterity: "He probably had more technical skill than I had," Barnard finally admitted publicly in the evening of his life.

But it was all a hush-hush affair on 3 December 1967, when Barnard performed that famous first heart transplant on the 55-year-old diabetic patient, Louis Washkansky. It was Naki who led Barnard's team of medics for the 48-hour operation that removed the accident-victim Denise Darvall's heart to be transplanted into Washkansky.

Recalls Naki: "Your hands got tired. We were exhausted." But that was not all. When the news of the transplant broke out, the world media was all over Barnard. But where was Naki? "I was called one of the backroom boys. They put the white people out front. If people published pictures of me, they would go to jail," he says.

Is he bitter? "Not at all. It was the way things were. They pretended I was a cleaner." But not any more.

Naki was born in 1926 in Ngcingane, a small village in the Eastern Cape. At the age of 14, he went to Cape Town Cape Town to look for work and was lucky to be hired by the University of Cape Town as a gardener.

In 1954, he was chosen to help Dr Robert Goetz with laboratory animals. Dr Goetz was a Jewish doctor who had left Germany for South Africa. Naki loved his work. Arriving at 6 am every morning, and no matter how far he had to travel, he almost never missed a day at work. By the early 1960s, he was slicing, stitching and using drips on the laboratory animals.

Recalling his days with Dr Goetz, Naki says: "Ooh yes. At that time there was no one else you can see, no one else willing to do that sort of work ... It was difficult work but I wanted to learn."

His colleagues admired his steady hand, and many of the surgeons who trained in Cape Town learned from him. One such surgeon was Rosemary Hickman, who told The Guardian: "Despite his limited conventional education, he had an amazing ability to learn anatomical names and recognise anomalies."

Before the BTWSC award, Naki had already received the Order of the Mapungubwe -one of the highest honours in South Africa. His exploits are now the subject of a yet-to-be made documentary (and perhaps a feature) film proposed by the South African film company, Ad Astera, under the apt title: "Hands of a forgotten Hero".

The film producer, Dirk de Villiers, who was a friend of Dr Barnard's, says Barnard tipped him off about his (Barnard's) collaboration with Naki, and his outstanding role in heart surgery. "A lot of stories have been told about Barnard, but this (Naki's) is one that has not been told," says De Villiers.

But despite his achievements, Naki now lives on the pension of a gardener.

"When I read about him and the fact that not only had official recognition been withheld from this inspirational figure, but also that he was living on a gardener's pension, I decided to do something more than commiserate,” said the BTWSC co-ordinator and co-founder of the Black S/Heroes Award (BSA), Ms Serwah. "This is why we are publicly recognising Naki."

The award and a cheque for [pounds sterling]1,000 were received on behalf of Naki by the South African acting deputy high commissioner in London, Sisa Ncwana, who said he was honoured by the award.

L-R: Asante, Wadsworth, Cllr Nana Asante-Twumasi,
Ms Serwah, Kwaku, Mrs Matilda Asante, Ncwan

"Naki is a man who participated in the great history-making event," Ncwana said. "It was a great feat indeed and we will remember him for his humility. It is with the same humility that I today receive this award--not for the South African High Commission in London, but for the people of South Africa as a whole."

Speaking at the same event, K. B. Asante, one time Ghanaian high commissioner in London, said what disadvantaged people needed was the restoration of self-confidence and hope. "It is therefore right that the BTWSC, which inspires individuals to develop their potential, should at its first annual general meeting highlight the exploits of an unsung hero."

Asante continued: "Hamilton Naki had no formal medical training. Yet, he played a leading role in the first successful human heart transplant. But apartheid South Africa did not give him any recognition because that would be contrary to the stereotyped disparaging character imposed on the African people.

In honouring him, Asante said, the BTWSC was reminding all people of African descent that they had a history in which great black men and women played heroic roles, and of which they should be proud.

"Their history is not that of meaningless gyrations of the human torso as one former Oxford professor would have us believe," Asante said. "We have men and women from whom we can take inspiration and rise to great heights. It is necessary that, as we take pride in the achievements of our sung or unsung people, we should be inspired by their vision to attain heights of self-confidence and creativity."

Naki ended his acceptance note thus: "We, the people of South Africa, will never forget the day when we saw the moon, the sun and the stars all at the same time. That is the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990. But for him, maybe I wouldn't be receiving this award today. Because of that, I dedicate this award to him and all other freedom fighters around Africa. Forward with Black S/Heroes!"

COPYRIGHT 2004 IC Publications Ltd.

Photos courtesy of BTWSC (

RIP: Hamilton Naki (26 June 1926 – 29 May 2005)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Open Letter by The Equiano Society's Arthur Torrington To Anti-Slavery International


The Trustees & Directors
Anti-Slavery International
Thomas Clarkson House
The Stableyard
Broomgrove Road
LONDON, SW9 9TL 10 JUNE 2007

Dear Sir/Madam

I write about my concern that Anti-Slavery International’s (ASI) promotional material is causing misunderstanding among many people of the main issues and legacies of transatlantic enslavement. For example, one of your Fact Sheet ‘Slavery Past and Present’ has a picture showing white sailors taking black Africans below the deck of a slave ship. References to the enslavement of Africans, and British involvement are closely associated with your publicity. There is even a tendency for some White commentators to say or imply that we should not be bothering too much about the stories of the past that give details of African enslavement, but that we should be working to abolish modern slavery. I often hear this as organisations and individuals commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Abolition Act.

This is serious matter because very many African and African Caribbean youth today do not know the history and legacies of the enslavement of their ancestors. For decades the British education system has excluded such studies from the national curriculum. This year, the Government has taken action to address the issue.

I know that some Black organisations and individuals are not happy with some of Anti-Slavery International’s promotional and fundraising material, but are reluctant to write to you, because of the respect that others have for the good work that you do. But, this is done at the expenses of portraying negative images of Black people, and giving the wrong impression to British society. Your material closely associates African enslavement and modern slavery. Whereas, legacies like the consequences of colonialism, poverty in the Caribbean and Africa after 1838, racism, exclusion, racial discrimination, etc do not receive as many column inches in your publicity. You have ensured that your publicity material features more prominently throughout the bicentenary of the 1807 Abolition Act.

Slavery existed worldwide before Africans were enslaved and taken to the Caribbean and the Americas. That institution was maintained in different forms in many pre-15th century civilisations and cultures. In fact, it goes back thousands of years. But, we should not equate transatlantic enslavement conducted mainly by some Europeans with what is happening today. Your promotional and fundraising material tends to give the impression that modern slavery/trafficking has its history in transatlantic enslavement, whereas this is not really so, and may be misleading. It is evident that capitalism and human greed drive the actions of men and women who conduct slavery and trafficking today. Modern slavery, trafficking, etc are also present within Eastern European, Asian, Chinese and other nations, so why do African people almost always feature in your promotional material? Is it that the images of suffering black African people raise more money for your organisation?

I am asking Anti-Slavery International to reconsider how its promotional material is presented.

Yours faithfully

Arthur Torrington

Response To ‘Race chief may quit in row over Brown's all white Cabinet'

Dear Sir,

I read with interest the article entitled ‘Race chief may quit in row over Brown's all white Cabinet'* in the July 14th 2007 issue of the Mail newspaper.

Mr. Trevor Phillips, Chairman of the Committee for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), is alleged to have threatened to quit in protest against Prime Minister’s Gordon Brown’s over all white Cabinet. He is apparently concerned that too few ethnic minorities and women have been appointed to Mr. Brown’s Cabinet.

I am confident that Mr. Phillips is aware that although it is a positive step to have ethnic minorities represented in Cabinet, it is even more important that those appointed to Cabinet or Committees, work for, and not against the interests of any groups they might represent.

For example, the mere fact that a person of African descent is in Cabinet or on a committee, does not necessarily mean that he or she will represent the
interests of Africans. A case in point is the commemoration of the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade. According to information available, there were Africans including Mr. Phillips on the Advisory Group set up to oversee the 2007 commemoration events.

Sadly, the commemoration appears to have been largely used as an opportunity to deify William Wilberforce. Worse still, the 2007 commemoration events and publicity have on the whole, wrongly portrayed Africans as a group of amorphous victims waiting to be freed by Europeans. The focus of the commemoration was not on Africans like Nana (Nanny) of the Maroons, Toussaint L'ouverture, Dessalines, Sam Sharp, Cugoana and Equiano, to name a few who fought for the freedom of enslaved Africans. The commemoration was largely focused on William Wilberforce, and gave the erroneous impression that he almost single-handedly abolished the Slave Trade, and the efforts of others, both in the UK and abroad have largely been overlooked.

The CRE had the opportunity to set the record straight, promote race equality, and empower young people of African descent during its own commemoration event, which featured Mr Philips, by focusing on the resilience of enslaved Africans who strategised and organised rebellions to free themselves and their fellow men from enslavement.

The CRE commemoration event could have focused on the likes of Queen Nzinga of Angola who fought to ensure that her people were not enslaved, relevant readings from books of African abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano, Ottobah Cugoano, or Phyllis Wheatley, would have shown how Africans used their writing to stir the conscience of the British public, and to demonstrate that Africans had intellect and were not merely passive onlookers during the Abolition process. Crucially, relevant readings from Equiano’s book would have demonstrated the difference between servitude in Africa, and chattel slavery under the slave trade, and helped dispel the myth that there was a similar kind of slavery in Africa. Sadly, the CRE missed
the opportunity.

I communicated with the CRE before their event to find out whether there would be readings from the books of African abolitionists, but I failed to get a definitive response. Nearly two months after the event, I still can not get a definitive answer as to whose readings were dramatised apart from William Wilberforce’s.

As the CRE Abolition commemoration event was put together under Mr Phillips’ watch, he could take inspiration from the adage “Charity begins at home”, and focus on ensuring that his new quango maximises its opportunities to promote race equality, which is not enhanced by failing to give prominence to the endeavours and achievements of African people.

Ms Serwah

*Read more:'

Open Letter: African (Black) History Month Aim Not Achieved/African History Is Wider Than Enslavement

Oct. 16 2009

Twenty-years ago visionaries like Akyaaba Addai Sebo, who worked at the now defunct Greater London Council (GLC) as a co-ordinator of Special Projects, initiated the Black History Month concept in Britain. Black History Month (BHM), or African History Month (AHM)* as some prefer to call it, has its genesis in Negro History Week, which was initiated in the US by American historian Dr Carter G Woodson in 1926.

The aim was to highlight the contributions of people of African descent to world civilisation and humanity, which is marginalised by mainstream education, and often undermined by the media, so that all, regardless of their ethnic background, would have a better understanding of the contributions of Africans. It was also to raise the self-esteem of African youths, and to empower them to reach their full potential with the knowledge of the achievements of their forefathers.

However the lofty aims of AHM are seldom realised because many AHM events either focus on culture and/or entertainment, the enslavement period, or regurgitate the same world history centred around personalities mostly from outside Britain. Important as they are, we need to focus on history, and one that incorporates a British context.

Many people can name the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King of the US, or Mandela in South Africa - but how many notable Africans, barring entertainers and sports personalities, can we name from Britain?

We all seem to know about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956, but how many of us know of Paul Stephenson and the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963? Or Learie (later Lord) Constantine and his landmark ‘Color Bar’ legal case of 1943, after he had been refused accommodation by a London hotel. Do we know about the work of Dame Jocelyn Barrow^ in multicultural education and the efforts which led to the enactment of Britain’s Race Relations Acts, or the entrepreneurial flair of Dyke & Dryden, and the then teenaged Alexander Amosu, who developed multi-million businesses in hair and beauty, and ringtones?

Less than a month ago, she was in the news, but how many know that the most senior Government legal advisor Baroness Scotland is African? Few people may know of Dr Mark Richards, either because he’s in academia or because he prefers to DJ on a community radio station. He happens to be a renowned scientist, who also indulges in his passion for music. And over in Scotland, there is another renowned (but now retired) scientist, Professor Geoff Palmer, who is a leading authority on grain science.

These are just some of the role models we’ll be highlighting to help bridge the knowledge gap regarding African British achievers at the In Search Of Achievers Close To Home event on Monday October 19 in the Council Chamber at Harrow Civic Centre.**

In a week in which I have had to listen to teachers excitedly talking about Martin Luther King and “African dancing” as the highlight of their school AHM programme, listen to a talk of the African presence in Britain from Roman times to the mid 20th century which over-focused on the enslavement period, I believe all is not lost judging by an excellent video shown at a north London school where I made an AHM presentation. The video was made by Year 9 students aged 13-14 and focused on African British personalities and history.

Which brings me to a campaign we’re launching called African History Is Wider Than Enslavement (AHIWTE). If we want to redress the balance of a Euro-centric education and media coverage, we must meaningfully engage with and learn about African history, as part of mainstream history, and not focus on enslavement (or “slavery history”). Although knowledge of the enslavement period is necessary, and enslavement had and still has devastating effects on Africans globally, it took place over a relatively short period within our rich history, which began long before enslavement.

Teaching “slavery history” inevitably put the focus on the likes of William Wilberforce, who is mistakenly put forward as having ended enslavement, when in fact the 1807 Abolition Bill did not aim to end enslavement, but aimed to put an end to the trafficking of enslaved Africans from Africa.

Teaching African history, on the other hand, should highlight Africa as the cradle of civilisation with seats of learning going back centuries, such as the University of Timbuktu; architectural feats, such as the Great Zimbabwe stone walls and the rock-hewn churches in Ethiopia; and freedom fighters like Queen Nzinga of Angola and Tousssaint L’Ouverture of Haiti.

This is the first of two reasons for the AHIWTE campaign – to push for an education in and outside mainstream education which focuses on the length and breadth of African history, as opposed to just enslavement, where the African is often portrayed as either submissive or complicit, and Europeans are lauded for ending enslavement.

The second reason is to push for August 23 to be recognised as International Day of African Resistance Against Enslavement, rather than the UNESCO phraseology - International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. UNESCO chose August 23 in recognition of the start of the Haitian Revolution. As the only successful African-led revolution in the so-called New World, the date must be used to focus on the resistance led by Africans, and not remembering a vile “trade” or trafficking of human beings.

You can feedback on the AHIWTE campaign by going to:



The reason why conscious people now prefer the term African History Month is because when Black History Month was launched in 1987 by the likes of Akyaaba Addai Sebo, it aimed to empower Africans, particularly the youth, through positive display of their history and contributions to mankind. Not only was it squarely located within a global African and historical context, the launch also marked the African Jubilee Year. However in recent years, the aim has been diluted by turning BHM into a “multicultural “event, where other cultures such as Asian, Irish, Eastern European, are shoe-horned under the BHM banner. Whilst multiculturalism has its place, so too does African History Month, where anyone irrespective of race, can participate and learn about African history.

2 The author is the programme designer and main tutor on BTWSC projects

3 BTWSC is a pan-London voluntary not-for-profit organisation which aims to develop potential, raise aspirations and promote social cohesion. Its projects are aimed primarily, but not exclusively, at people from socially disadvantaged or excluded backgrounds or areas. For more information: (About Us)

4 BTWSC has developed an accessible and OCN Level 2 accredited African history overview course. Overview Of African History: From Freedom To Enslavement To Physical Freedom can be completed over a few days or evenings, and qualification is upon submission of assignment. It covers empires, artifacts, griots, enslavement and the 1807 and 1833 Abolition Acts, African abolitionists and freedom fighters, diasporic issues, post-colonial Africa

5 **In Search Of Achievers Closer To Home
What: Free, family-friendly audio-visual event featuring African British achievers based on a) the NARM (Naming And Role Models) Project (, which highlights African British male role models spanning 1907-2007 and b) What They Said I Should Be: The Story Of African British Female Movers & Shakers video featuring an Attorney General, MP, community activist, business woman, classical composer, and PR guru, some conscious poetry and rap; plus fundraiser for Harrow Mayor Cllr Eric Silver's chosen charity Easyriders Wheelchairs Programme

When: Monday 19th October 2009, 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Refreshments & Registration from 6.15pm to 6.30pm

Where: Council Chamber, Harrow Civic Centre, Station Road, Middlesex HA1 2UL

For more information: 020 8450 5987

^ Dame Jocelyn Barrow is one of 7 women featured in the BTWSC produced DVD What They Said I Should Be: The Story Of African British Female Movers & Shakers.