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JAMAICA | Peter Tosh: Resistance Fighter Against Racism and Apartheid

Reggae legend and activist Peter Tosh. | Photo: Reuters Reggae legend and activist Peter Tosh. | Photo: Reuters
Whenever we commemorate the Sharpeville Massacre, we are politically obligated to highlight the valiant effort of the late reggae singer, Pan-Africanist, Rastaman, revolutionary, and human rights champion Peter Tosh in creating greater public awareness of the crimes of South Africa’s apartheid system.
Long before activists coined and popularized the slogan, “No Justice, No Peace,” Tosh captured that sentiment of the people and immortalized it in the song "Equal Rights."

Tosh was one of the original Wailers’ trio alongside Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer. He was a reggae superstar at the time of his assassination in Jamaica on Sept. 11, 1987. Tosh was known as a militant cultural worker and organic intellectual who did not mince words in condemning the powers-that-be.

March 21 was the 57th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre that was carried out by the South African apartheid regime against protesting Africans in 1960. This protest was organized by the liberation organization the Pan Africanist Congress. It targeted the pass laws of the settler-colonial regime that regulated the movement and residential pattern of the indigenous Africans. International opinion was so outraged by the murderous behavior of the apartheid system that the United Nations’ General Assembly was inspired to declare March 21 the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

According to Tosh’s former manager Herbie Miller in the book "Remembering Peter Tosh," Tosh loved to read about international affairs and politics in general, biographies of noted Pan-Africanists as well as “literature about the origins of the apartheid system.” Tosh’s 1977 album "Equal Rights" was an anthem against racial and economic oppression and Miller said that “it was this era of legal segregation and political unrest that inspired Peter’s recording of the album.”

 

On this album, Tosh demonstrates his function as an organic intellectual of the international African laboring classes with the anti-apartheid song "Apartheid" that exposed the economic motivation and action of the apartheid regimes in South Africa and Namibia. The first four lines in the song bear witness to the natural resources extraction activities of the capitalist, settler-colonial regime in southern Africa:

Inna me land, quite illegal
You 
inna me land, dig out me gold, yes
Inna me land, diggin' out me pearl
Inna me land, dig out me diamond

Tosh is not distracted by the ideological structure of white supremacy that was used in a vain attempt to mask the economic and financial imperatives behind the system of apartheid. It is not accidental and is quite instructive that this Rastafari prophetic voice went straight at the foundation of the system of apartheid in this song — the theft and occupation of Africans’ land and exploitation of its natural resources.

This militant reggae icon exposes and indicts before the court of international public opinion the vicious and murderous apartheid system for its neglect of the social needs of the oppressed. Since the apartheid regime lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the people, it was forced to invest heavily in the coercive arm of the state (the police, army, courts and prisons) in order to keep in check the people’s struggle for freedom:

You inna me land, you no build no schools for black children
You 
inna me land, no hospital for black people
You 
inna me land, you built your prison
You 
inna me land, you built your camp

Peter was quite aware of the threat of the apartheid regime in South Africa and Namibia to international peace and regional stability in southern Africa. The settler-colonial regime did not confine its vile and brutal actions to inside the territories under its control. It went after the liberation movements from Namibia and South Africa in other countries. South African apartheid brought death and destruction to the people of the frontline states that gave shelter to the freedom fighters and anti-colonial forces:

You cross the border, you shoot off the children
Cross the border, shoot down women
Cross the border, you take your might
Cross the border to beat the right

Tosh told the apartheid regime that it must expect a fight from the victimized Africans. He knew that the language of force is the one in which the forces of white supremacy and Babylon were most fluent. The oppressed had no option but to fight:

Now we have to fight, fight, fight
Fight 'gainst apartheid
Black man got to fight, fight, fight
Fight 'gainst apartheid

Come on and you fight, fight, fight
Fight 'gainst apartheid
We got to fight, fight, fight
Fight 'gainst apartheid

If the call to arms against the forces of exploitation and the disastrous consequences for them are not clear enough, Tosh outlines the desperate situation in which the oppressors will find themselves in the decisive and final moments of the triumph of the oppressed. In the song "Downpressor Man" from the "Equal Rights" album, he informs the exploiter of his fate:

Downpressor man
Where you gonna run to
Downpressor man
Where you gonna run to
Downpressor man
Where you gonna run to
All along that day

You gonna run to the sea
But the sea will be boiling
When you run to the sea
The sea will be boiling
The sea will be boiling
All along that day

You gonna run to the rocks
The rocks will be melting
When you run to the rocks
The rocks will be melting
The rocks will be melting
All that day

Long before activists coined and popularized the slogan, “No Justice, No Peace,” Tosh captured that sentiment of the people and immortalized it in the song "Equal Rights." He knew that the foundation of peace is justice and equality. The absence of peace and equal rights would ensure the continuation of predatory warfare by the oppressor and the necessity of revolutionary violence or armed self-defense by the oppressed:

Everyone is crying out for peace, yes
None is crying out for justice
Everyone is crying out for peace, yes
None is crying out for justice

I
don't want no peace
I need equal rights and justice
I need equal rights and justice
I need equal rights and justice
Got to get it, equal rights and justice

Tosh was an internationalist who linked the fight of Africans against racism, settler-colonialism and apartheid in southern Africa with the struggle of the Palestinians against zionism and Israeli apartheid. In the song "Equal Rights," he proclaims that “Palestinians are fighting for equal rights and justice.” This reggae and Rastafari revolutionary took the opportunity at the 1977 No Nukes concert in Madison Square Garden, New York, to demonstrate his solidarity with Palestinians and others from the Middle East against Israeli colonial and military aggression.

Tosh's expression of internationalist solidarity with the cause of Palestinians and others in the Middle East caused the withdrawal of his invitation to address the relevant United Nations’ committee on apartheid. He would have been the first reggae cultural worker to do so.

We should share Tosh’s legacy of principled resistance and solidarity against apartheid, racism and economic exploitation with young people. Tosh used his art to turn the people on to the struggle for justice, equal rights and world peace.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Ph.D., is a writer, organizer and educator. He is a lecturer in the Institute of Caribbean Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus in Jamaica.

Last modified onThursday, 23 March 2017 16:17
  • Countries: Jamaica