Members of the New Black Panther Party at a rally in Trenton, New Jersey, US. (Photo by Bob Jagendorf via)
After being leaned on by his country’s constitutional courts, President Robert Mugabe has finally promised that he’ll hold elections in Zimbabwe by the end of July. Despite the fact that practically the whole world thinks of him as a genocidal dictator who will have to cheat his way to victory at the polls, Mugabe has received some unlikely first-hand support for his election campaign from a group based in America – the New Black Panther Party. Some members of the NBPP recently travelled to the country, ostensibly on a “fact-finding mission”, but, in reality, to support Mugabe, a man they consider to be a “legendary liberation hero of Zimbabwe”.
“Our mission to Zimbabwe was both political and spiritual in nature,” official NBPP spokesman Chawn Saddam Kweli tells me. “The New Black Panther Party is Pan-Africanist in ideology and scope. We believe that we are duty-bound to link up with our brothers and sisters in our motherland of Africa."
Based in Texas and led by Attorney Malik Zulu Shabazz, the NBPP preaches a doctrine of racial segregation, racism and violence. The group was founded in 1989 by breakaway members of the Nation of Islam. Although its recruits do follow a modified version of Huey Newton’s ten-point programme, the NBPP is in no way a successor to the original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which formed in 1966 to combat racial inequality in America.
To gauge how far removed the message of the NBPP is from that of the original Black Panther movement, the Huey Newton Foundation has offered an insight into these “neo-Panthers” in an open letter with the fairly emphatic title, "There Is No New Black Panther Party".
“As guardian of the true history of the Black Panther Party, the Foundation, which includes former leading members of the Party, denounces this group's exploitation of the party's name and history,” it reads. “They [the NBPP] denigrate the party's name by promoting concepts absolutely counter to the revolutionary principles on which the Black Panther Party was founded.”
Just in case the Huey Newton Foundation didn't express their disdain for the NBPP clearly enough, the letter goes on to compare the NBPP to the Ku Klux Klan.
Members of the original Black Panthers holding a demonstration in Washington. (Photo via)
So, in what way exactly will these detached “New Black Panthers” support Mugabe’s re-election?
“We regard his Excellency, the Honourable President Robert Mugabe, as the only remaining visible Pan-Africanist in power since the murder of Libyan President, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi,” says Kweli.
“Tens of thousands of young Zimbabweans have so far registered in order to vote for President Mugabe in the coming elections. Our goal is to inform the ignorant masses in America of the struggle of the Zimbabwean people, of the good work of President Mugabe and his cabinet towards the upward mobility and maintenance of Zimbabwe.”
Morgan Tsvangirai, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe and direct political opponent of Mugabe, of course disagrees with the claims that the dictator has helped Zimbabwe progress as a nation. He told the Zimbabwe Mail recently that Mugabe is the one person responsible for the country’s economic meltdown, due to his “financial mismanagement”.
Mugabe’s financial mismanagement includes the wanton printing of money in 2008, which caused massive hyperinflation – to the point where the country once had only $217 (£138) in its bank account. The agriculture industry was decimated when Mugabe ordered his troops to seize almost every commercial farm owned by a white person, and thousands of Zimbabweans were turned into internally displaced people when the slums they lived in were destroyed. The unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is now estimated to be higher than 70 percent. That means around 9 million of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people are out of work. Of course, in the long run, a lot of this is due to the ongoing effects of colonialism, and the economy in Zimbabwe is actually stabilising. Nevertheless, it's difficult to see how this tallies with the NBPP line that Mugabe has overseen a period of "upward mobility".
Quanell X, leader of the New Black Panther Party in Houston, Texas. (Photo via)
Despite all of this, Kweli goes on to say that the NBPP support Mugabe’s violent land reforms (which often involved torture) against “white criminal settlers”. I ask Kweli what the NBPP make of Mugabe’s other human rights atrocities, such as the politically-motivated mass murder that he instigated at Matabeleland in 1982. An estimated 20,000 innocent people were slaughtered under Mugabe’s command.
“We echo the sentiments of the Honourable Robert Mugabe, who said in 2000: ‘The killings and atrocities that took place in Matabeleland in the 1980s were reckless and unprincipled.' It was wrong and both sides were to blame,” says Kweli. “To his credit, at least he was man enough to admit where he was at fault and make public adjustments to correct the wrong. America today still benefits from the institution of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the loss of 600 million Africans over the past 6,000 years and 500-plus years of our black Holocaust in America.”
That America could do more to acknowledge the death and destruction it has caused by slavery, invading other peoples' land and committing its own acts of genocide, is a given. But to praise a man in the same breath who also murdered tens of thousands of his own people seems unfathomable to me.
The NBPP’s pro-Mugabe tour did have a brighter side to it, though. They apparently “adopted an orphanage full of black children” while in South Africa (or "Azania", as Kweli calls it – Azania being the ancient name for South Africa).
They also teamed up with the nationalist Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania. Together, they toured the slums of Zimbabwe, where the NBPP held talks and educated listeners about apartheid, the Sharpeville Massacre and colonialism. The fact that the New Black Panther Party is a far-right organisation that frequently spreads a message of racial hatred casts a shadow of doubt upon what exactly it was they were teaching. Kweli himself tells me, “We believe the white man is absolutely disagreeable to live with in peace when it comes to black people and the sharing of wealth and power.” A few hundred years ago, he’d have a point, but it's kind of unnerving that this ideology is being spouted in 2013, especially in a country like Zimbabwe, where people are still very much affected by genocide, racial segregation and colonialism.
King Samir Shabazz at a rally in Trenton, NJ. (Photo by Bob Jagendorf via)
Kweli tells me, however, that the NBPP only promote violence as self-defence. However, this seems to be in complete conflict with the sort of message the NBPP’s “National Field Marshal” King Samir Shabazz spreads on a regular basis.
“You’re going to have to go into the goddamn nursery and just throw a damn bomb in the damn nursery and just kill everything white in sight that ain’t right,” he was once heard to say during a media appearance. With his own personal brand of Nazism, King Samir Shabazz is the uglier side of the NBPP. He seems solely committed to spreading hate. “I would love nothing more than to come home with a cracker’s head in my book bag,” is another one of his many outbursts. This ridiculous rhetoric is the kind of thing that the right-wing white folk of America love to pounce upon and scream “Terrorist!” at, but surely Shabazz isn’t serious? After all, he’s yet to actually start lynching the people he hates so profoundly – unlike the KKK, who committed over 3,000 racially motivated murders in their day.
Kweli reassures me: “It’s not people like him [King Samir Shabazz] you devils got to worry about. It’s the ones who are less vocal who hate you the same, or worse, than him. All of us in the New Black Panther Party do, however, believe in peace when possible and violence when necessary.”
For someone who called me a devil and essentially said that violence against whites is inevitable, Kweli seems relatively friendly. “The NBPP have plans on making more positive outreach efforts a reality, to enhance the hope and joy of black people all over Azania, for a better future," he tells me. Which doesn't sound that bad at all, does it?
Part of this programme of positivity, he tells me, is a webcast the NBPP have arranged with Mugabe in June. He will deliver a keynote address, titled: “President Mugabe Speaks to the World On the Future of Africa and Land Ownership”.
One seemingly immediate problem here is that land ownership isn't a topic that Mugabe has traditionally spoken very positively about. Nevertheless, the blurb for the broadcast – which will take place on the NBPP website – assures us that it will provide Mugabe with “a platform in North America to speak to his supporters and also answer his critics”. I wonder how he will answer them? By simply not advocating the deaths of white landowners? I guess that would be some kind of improvement.
In the American media, some have failed to acknowledge the disparity between the NBPP and the original Black Panther Party when reporting on their antics. While it's true that the NBPP dress up in a similar black military uniform, don black berets and even use an almost identical logo as the original Black Panther Party, given the evidence, this is clearly a dumb mistake to make. For further clarification, I spoke to original Black Panther, Larry Pinkney, about the new party using their name while cavorting around Zimbabwe with Mugabe.
“The utter defamation, distortion and disfiguration of the people's history, and the name, legacy, objectives and the accomplishments, not only of the original Black Panther Party, but also of organisations with whom the original Black Panther Party worked – including the Peace and Freedom Party, the Brown Berets, the American Indian Movement, the Young Lords, the White Panther Party and Students for A Democratic Society – by the hate mongering, so-called New Black Panther is sickening beyond words,” he said. It may not surprise you to learn that Larry is now a political activist and writer.
“Why did the so-called NBPP go to Zimbabwe to sow their seeds of enmity, fear, division and distrust? Whose interests are really being served by their activities?" Larry continued. "Africa – be it in Zimbabwe or any other African nation – has its own very serious problems, which are only exacerbated by the visitation and insanity of the so-called NBPP. People cannot effectively fight racism and exploitation with more racism and exploitation!
"Surely, the so-called NBPP is very cognisant of this. It is disgusting that they are spreading their hatred to Zimbabwe and elsewhere on the African continent.”
While it’s evident that the NBPP have some backwards ideology, are they really that dangerous? While out patrolling the streets, are they really looking to shoot down innocent bystanders because of the colour of their skin? Kerry Patton – security, terrorism and intelligence expert, and author of Contracted: America's Secret Warriors – doesn’t think so.
“Do I see them as a threat? Not really,” he says. “But if I felt any threat existed from them, it would be on the micro scale related to the populace in which they operate, which is not nearly as large as some would like to believe.”
Patton was keeping surveillance on a single NBPP member who stood dressed in semi-military uniform outside of a polling station in Philadelphia last year. This incident resulted in a court case being brought against the NBPP for voter intimidation, which was later thrown out at the last minute by US Attorney General Eric Holder.
Patton tells me the NBPP recruit specifically stated that he was there to “ensure no violence exists around the polling station”.
“We actually chuckled at one another through some jovial remarks we made to break the ice,” says Patton. “His actions were not intimidating, at least to me.”
Jovial remarks and laughs outside the polling station – not quite the militant behaviour that King Samir Shabazz rants about. No bombs in nurseries, no NBPP uprisings in South Africa. The NBPP aren’t terrorists, despite talking like terrorists and being branded as such. Nevertheless, as Larry Pinkney says, Zimbabwe has some very serious issues to contend with – issues that the NBPP, or any other outside group, can’t fix. The people of Zimbabwe should of course feel empowered and have their voices heard and be entitled to what is inherently theirs, but if history is anything to go by, the New Black Panther Party’s lobbying for more hate, more racial segregation and more genocide is probably not the way to do it.
Follow Jake on Twitter: @OiJake