Author: Mawuna Koutonin
Looking back at the struggle to get rid of apartheid regime, Mr Koutonin wonders if South Africans have the moral right to take up arms against their African brothers and sisters, Nigerians among them.
In 1957, Miriam Makeba, the Grammy Award-winning musician from South Africa also called “Mama Africa,” recorded in the United States Pata Pata, the most recognizable African song in the world.
At the time, most of the African continent, except two or three countries, was still under European occupation.
Miriam Makeba used her newly-found popularity to speak out against the apartheid regime in her home country, South Africa. In retaliation, the apartheid regime suspended her passport in 1960, making her a stateless person.
Guinea and Ghana promptly issued her international passports, and nine other countries granted her traveling documents, too.
In 1968, after marrying a civil rights activist in the US, she was punished for engaging in the “black American” civil rights. Her record deals and tours were canceled by American companies. She suddenly found herself undesirable in the US, and her life under threat.
President Sekou Touré, from Guinea, immediately called her and offered her a home. She would spend fifteen years in Guinea, becoming a close friend of President Touré and his wife Andrée.
Touré went further to appoint her as Guinea’s official delegate to the United Nations in New York, in order to provide her a platform to carry on with her engagement to end the apartheid in South Africa.
On May 25, 1963, Makaeba was the only performer to be invited by the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie to perform in Addis Ababa at the inauguration of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
Until the year 1960, the African National Congress’ fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa was yielding very little result. The whole world was quite indifferent to the suffering of black South Africans, and the regime was still strongly supported by Western countries that provided technology transfer, intelligence and favourable trade agreements.
Things started to change dramatically with the independence of African countries in the 1960s. The first leader to ever provide financial support to the ANC was Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Nigerian prime minister — the only prime minister in Nigeria’s history.
He led a vocal protest against the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 and entered an alliance with Commonwealth ministers who wanted South Africa to leave the Commonwealth, in 1961.
From then till 1995, Nigeria alone spent over 61 billion dollars to support the end of apartheid — more than any other country in the world, according to the South African Institute of International Affairs.
Nigerian citizens were asked to make tax-deductible donations to support the ANC since the 1970s. Students across Nigerian universities and schools would sometimes forfeit their lunch to donate the money to the ANC.
Education for black South Africans was the most pressing need of the ANC. They insisted that they wanted their kids, the future leaders, to be educated up to, at least, a bachelor degree level in Africa.
Nigeria opened its elite secondary schools, federal government colleges, and universities like the Unilag, University of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello Zaria, University of Nigeria Nsukka, University of Ife and Benin, to South Africans.
Many of the ANC combatants arrived in Nigeria with body scars and diverse emotional traumas. Psychological help in terms of counselling was also available to a lot of kids who had not known anything except violence, harassment and humiliation by the apartheid police.
A lot of them were not prepared academically. They needed extra help that was provided. Additionally, Nigeria paid for hundreds of South Africans to graduate in Europe and North America.
On January 11, 1962, Nelson Mandela secretly left South Africa with the mission to meet as many African political leaders as possible and garner assistance for the ANC, including money and training for its military wing.
Mandela met with Emperor Haile Selassie I in Addis Ababa; the latter agreed to train Mandela and other ANC agents. In Egypt, Mandela met with President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and then went to Tunisia, where President Habib Bourguiba gave him £5000 for weaponry. He proceeded to Morocco, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, and Senegal, receiving funds from Liberian President William Tubman and Guinean President Ahmed Sékou Touré.
In fact, the 1962 tour idea was one of the best decisions the ANC ever took. Mandela succeeded to rally the whole continent behind the ANC.
The year 1963 would mark the tipping point in the fight against the apartheid regime. During that one year, the whole continent airspace was blocked to South African airlines, except the Angola transit point, because Angola was still occupied by the Portuguese.
Egypt banned South African ships from entering its ports, and while they were still allowed to use the Suez Canal, they were denied all facilities there. Ivory Coast closed seaports and airports to South Africa and Portugal. Ethiopia closed its airspace to South African aircrafts. The government of India announced that it is cutting India’s last remaining links with South Africa by refusing landing and passage facilities to South African aircrafts. Hungary announced the breaking-off of trade relations with South Africa. Cameroon closed its sea and airports to both Portugal and South Africa. Guinea announced that she has broken off diplomatic, commercial and cultural relations with South Africa and Portugal, and banned the entry of their nationals into Guinea. Sudan closed its sea and airports to South Africa and Portugal. Mauritius closed its sea and airports to South Africa and Portugal. Libya closed her sea and airports to South Africa and Portugal and denied them over flying rights. Chad closed its airspace to South Africa and Portuguese aircrafts, as well as to all other planes carrying goods or passengers to or from the two countries.
In September 1963, South African Airways were excluded from flying over the African continent, except for over Portuguese territory. The same month in Geneva, at the World Health Organization’s Regional Conference for Africa, twenty-six African delegates left the opening session in protest against the presence of South African and Portuguese delegates. The Conference was left without a quorum and adjourned.
In 1960, when the ANC was banned, many African countries promptly offered money and facilities to the ANC agents to continue their operations. Tanzania, Algeria, Ethiopia, Morocco, Zambia, Egypt, Uganda, and many other locations around the continent welcome the different operational branches of the ANC.
South Africans were unconditionally welcome in all African countries. “South Africans in Zambia were considered Zambians and were given preferential treatment. Free housing … Did not live in camps and were allowed to do business … My parents were one of those in exile,” wrote Frank Jr Rusqoe, a South African.
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Botswana sheltered many ANC members, including Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Tanzania had a bevy of African liberation movements housed in the capital city, including the PAC and ANC. Lesotho gave UN passports to the Woods family after they escaped South Africa. Mozambique housed Ruth First and Pallo Jordan who worked at the university of Maputo. Nelson Mandela received military training in Algeria, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma worked in Swaziland.
Even the current Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, at the origin of the recent attack on African nationals, was provided with passport and financial aid to escape the apartheid regime and exiled to St Helena from 1968 to 1971.
The sacrifice of African nations for black South Africans was not limited to political and financial aid.
Hundreds of people were killed in Zambia, Mozambique and other places bombed by the apartheid regime in retaliation for their support to the ANC. African leaders attracted terrorist attacks and bombing from agents of apartheid.
Leaders like Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia put their countries’ progress on the line because they chose to oppose apartheid. Infiltration, sabotage was frequent in all neighbouring countries. The plane crash that killed Mozambique’s President Samora Machel was engineered by the apartheid regime.
In order to support frontline countries badly affected by the sabotage and retaliation from the apartheid regime, Nigeria and Libya provided substantial financial package to the Frontline States organization which was established to achieve democratic majority rule in South Africa. Former members included Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The East and Southern African frontline states paid the highest price for their commitment to South Africa, but the entire continent chipped in.
A continent-wide liberation committee was created by the OAU and headquartered in Tanzania to coordinate the efforts of countries across the continent to raise money and provide logistical supplies to the ANC.
Fela wrote Sorrow, Tears and Blood about Rhodesia and South Africa and used his celebrity status to charge against the apartheid regime. Another Nigerian, Sony Okosun, sang many anti-apartheid songs, including hits like A Fire in Soweto. Countless artists have used their voice to carry hope for black South Africans.
The recent events in South Africa brought up a very tricky topic. South Africans who support the actions against the African migrants called “foreigners” asked other Africans not to blackmail them because of their past support to end apartheid.
Some loudly proclaimed, “We liberated South Africa by ourselves,” and some asked for an account of what the Africans have really done for them to require a special treatment. Some went further to say, “We were not born at that time, so we are not liable”.
This abridged article is a quick response to that question.
Obviously, ignorance is killing our people.
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