In 1986, a “panel of ordinary South Africans” addressed members of the US Congress. Their visit did not command as much attention as would the visit of (future president) Nelson Mandela in 1990 or as did (former prime minister) Jan Smuts in 1930. Yet, for an increasing number of Americans watching closely, it represented a momentous public rebuttal to apartheid. The visit responded to ongoing celebrity protests and built public support for sanctions. While many Americans instigating “designer arrests” believed that they spoke for South Africans, in 1986, physicians, activists, and children who had faced detention spoke for themselves on foreign soil, becoming embroiled in attendant tension and harassment on their way home. An examination of the records of the Southern Africa Project and the US Congress reveals that, while the embassy protests were catalytic, this panel of “ordinary South Africans” on the Hill—and, subsequently, on national and international television—provided public faces for anti-apartheid movements in ways that celebrities certainly could not. As such, it is necessary to examine the factors leading to the panel, its impact on US anti-apartheid politics, and places of connection with youth activism and celebrity protest generally.
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Myra Ann Houser, “'We Are Worried Mothers:' A Panel of 'Ordinary South Africans' on US Capitol Hill," Critical Arts, (2020) 34:1, 116-128, DOI: 10.1080/02560046.2019.1680719.