National Press Club

RFK documentary on apartheid screened at Club

May 12, 2019 | By Pat Sherr |

Photo/Image: Aileen Roberta Schlef

A documentary screened Friday, May 10, at the National Press Club showed late Sen. Robert Kennedy defying apartheid in South Africa during a short visit in June 1966.

Kennedy spoke in and visited Cape Town, Durban and Soweto while the South African regime allowed only limited contact between whites and “non-whites.” An engaging speaker, he delivered in the film words of hope to mixed audiences.

He visited African National Congress leader Alfred Lutuli, a winner of the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize. The South African government restricted Lutuli’s contact with his followers, banishing him to the remote town of Soweto, where Kennedy visited him and others.

Kennedy visits were photographed in detail. The film demonstrates that his presence energized black, browns and other non-whites and increased global awareness of apartheid.

The National Party had enacted apartheid laws in 1948 to control their economic and social system and maintain white domination by institutionalizing racial separation. Starting in the '60s, territorial separation and police repression were standard procedures. The ruling party’s leadership wanted to create fear of the Communist Party taking over if non-whites were given freedom

In addition to separating whites and non-whites, non-whites were not allowed to congregate freely.

The film showed that newspapers were under heavy scrutiny, and photo journalists ostracized and unable to communicate with anyone. Newspapers often faced daily law changes and restrictions that lasted until 1994.

The film drew attention to the civil rights movement in the United States at the time.

At the end of the showing, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend took questions and accepted tributes to her father. The Club's International Correspondents Team sponsored the event.