Professor Dennie: Speech Writer for Sisulu and Mandela

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Associate Professor of History Garrey Dennie is a common face in the halls of Kent Hall, where he teaches mainly African and Caribbean history courses as well as other history classes.

What most people probably do not realize is that Professor Dennie spent a year, from October 1989 to the fall of 1990, in South Africa doing research for his Ph.D. in political funerals, and ended up becoming a speech writer for two prominent voices in the struggle for South African de-segregation and liberation.

Dennie stayed with another graduate student from Johns Hopkins at the time, Afrikaner Caroline Hamilton and her husband. Hamilton was a member of the then criminalized African National Congress (ANC).

The ANC had been banned from South African politics since 1960, around the time that they also developed an armed part of the ANC. Since it was illegal to operate there, those members of the ANC still in South Africa were either in hiding or imprisoned. Hamilton was an underground member and was enlisted to write a speech for the newly released activist Walter Sisulu. Sisulu was released around the time Dennie arrived in the country and had been imprisoned since 1963.

When Sisulu was released, the ANC’s leadership outside of the country asked Hamilton to write a speech for Sisulu and because Dennie happened to be nearby, they co-wrote the first speech Sisulu gave. The ANC informed Hamilton and Dennie that if the speech was successful, they would write for Nelson Mandela if he was released.

Before his imprisonment, Mandela was the commander-in-chief of the armed part of ANC and was not as involved in the hierarchical structure as Sisulu was at the time. Considering Sisulu picked Dennie and Hamilton’s speech over one by the ANC stands for itself. Soon after Mandela was released they were asked to write for him through an intermediary Michael Vali.

Due to Mandela’s death just last year, Dennie wrote an article about speech writing and in particular something he has said “none of the commemorations that were seen dealt with: the struggles of his effort to shape the ANC and win control.” Though Dennie came to South Africa to do research, he left having become a part of the same political and historical process that he teaches at St. Mary’s College.

This Barbados native went from studying history to becoming a prominent part of history in the making and the College is very lucky to have such a knowledgeable and interesting professor in its ranks.

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