The Guardian
February 12, 1986


By Paul DeRienzo

An unusual scene developed at the South African Airways terminal at New York's Kennedy Airport Feb. 1. As passengers checked their baggage to board the weekly flight to Johannesburg, they were handed leaflets with an anti-apartheid message and approached by people, each carrying a large box. The box was unwrapped to expose a cardboard coffin containing the "body" of a black victim of apartheid.

In the confusion that followed, dozens of waiting passengers gathered as bones and feathers were dumped on the floor in front of the ticketing area. Scores of' inflated beachballs scrawled with political messages were strewn throughout the waiting area.

The action was sponsored by a coalition of groups including Brook-lyinites Against Apartheid; South African Military Refugee Aid Fund, a group of white South African draft resisters and political dissidents; the New York City Greens; Red Balloon Collective; and independent activists and college students. In the words of one activist, a white political- exile from South Africa, "Apartheid as the monstrosity that it is because of white support. And then you try to pretend that everything’s just fine and you go about the world wanting to be treated like everyone else. Well, we'd like to send a message back, with you on this trip "

The demonstration provoked a variety of responses from passengers and terminal employees. One South African stated, ''Our blacks live better than you people."

However, a few while South Africans expressed support for the crowd of about 30 demonstrators who marched chanting through the terminal for 45 minutes. At one point several passengers stuck fingers in their ears, to block out the chanting while another group nearby cheered and stuck their fists into the air.

It took more than five minutes for Port Authority police to arrive. One witness blamed the delay on demonstrators who had chained gates shut blocking access to the terminal. Inside, police kept a cool distance from the demonstrators and made no arrests.