Lest We Forget… Africa’s Hospitality Liberated South Africa

Former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi flanked by two victims of xenophobic attack at the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg, South-Africa.

Former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi flanked by two victims of xenophobic attack at the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg, South-Africa.

THE recent xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa brought into focus the role African countries played in South Africa’s liberation. Some of the sentiments of our people got me worried and thinking just how little many South Africans know about the role the countries of these people we now have little regard for played in our liberation. It is sad when our generation seems to forget so quickly.

The story is not very complicated. In order to defeat apartheid, the liberation movement needed the help of other countries to put pressure on South Africa to change and be a place of refuge for many freedom fighters who chose to go and fight from outside. This meant that we were guests of many countries, the same way that foreigners have found a place of refuge in South Africa.

There is a need to always remind ourselves of this history. It is very disappointing to see our leaders skirting around this issue and attempting to be polite, instead of being forthright to our communities about it. Outrageous remarks came recently from the Minister of Small Business, Lindiwe Zulu, who spent a lot of time in exile as guest of many countries. She bizarrely stated that foreigners must “share their trade secrets” with the locals. This is most dangerous, to say the least, and shows a poor sense of judgment on the part of our leaders. In an article in Business Day, veteran journalist, Thami Mazwai, also blows hot and cold. While acknowledging that we were guests of these countries, he adds a rider that we, however, did not set up shop in those countries. And I’m still not sure what to make of the Zulu King Zwelithini’s remarks that foreigners must go back home, as many people still believe that he instigated the attacks. This is another dangerous path where we are finding reasons to justify the poor attitude that our generation has towards foreigners.

The reality is that the world is getting smaller and smaller and we all need to be globally competitive in what we do. Skills no longer know borders and we are competing with the rest of the world in business and other areas of life. Life is not the same as in the 60s, and I can’t imagine that we were barred while abroad from plying our trade. Look at the cultural exports that we had – imagine if the likes of Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba were barred by their hosts from excelling because the hosts felt threatened. It can’t be.

What African countries helped us in our journey of liberation? Nigeria was in the forefront in the anti apartheid struggle and played a pivotal role in establishing the United Nations special committee against apartheid in the 1960s. Ordinary Nigerians contributed financially to the anti-apartheid movement, especially in reaction to the 1976 Soweto uprisings. Nigeria also offered military training and support to assist the African National Congress (ANC). Botswana that gained independence from Britain on September 30, 1966 was very vocal about its opposition to apartheid.

A number of personalities in Botswana come to mind: Serest Khama had a moral imperative to support South Africa’s liberation from white minority rule. Fish Keitsing helped to establish the Botswana Route for the ANC. Mandela spent the night at his place when his flight to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania was cancelled. Jonas Dinoue Matlou was another figure connected with the ANC’s early contact in Botswana.

In 1966, after Lesotho gained independence, the government of Lebua initially allied itself with the apartheid government, to the extent that some members of the South African National Party took up positions in the newly elected government. The presence of ANC in Lesotho dates back to the early 1960s. Members included Esra Sigwela, Khalaki Sello and Robert Matji etc.

The South African government stepped up pressure on Lesotho’s government by conducting more raids into the country. In 1982, December 9, a total of 42 people, including 3 children, were killed by commandos from South Africa who raided flats and houses in Maseru. Thirty of them were South Africans. The outbreak of the students uprising in 1976 forced youths to flee into exile in Lesotho. Many of them joined the ANC and went for military training under the MK. Chris Hani worked with Lambert Moloi to build underground units, linking them to units based in Eastern Cape, particularly the Transkei, and the border regions. The Lesotho government made special provision for the education of all young South African refugees in schools within its borders. Furthermore, 25 per cent of scholarship from Lesotho government’s coffers was offered to South African refugees for university education.

Some of the key personalities in Lesotho worth remembering are Ntsu Mokhehle, leader of Basotho Congress Party also former member of the ANC Youth league. Joe Matthews, a member of the ANC and SACP, fled persecution in South Africa and went to Lesotho where he became involved in politics and supported Ntsu Mokhehle. Chief Jonathan Lebua, leader of Basotho National Party, repeatedly criticized the South African government’s policy of apartheid.

One of the most outstanding contributions to our liberation struggle was Tanzania. Tanzania provided military facilities for liberation movements such as ANC and PAC. The first military camps were founded by Tlou Theophilus Cholo (one of the commissars of MK and a deputy commander), and Joe Modise. In the aftermath of the Sharpville Massacre, the government banned the ANC and PAC, and Tanzania became an important point of contact and transit for the ANC in exile. In 1962, Nelson Mandela visited Tanzania to seek financial and military assistance to enable MK wage the armed struggle. Tanzania issued travel documents for Mandela to travel to other African countries.

Due to increasing repression in South Africa, Swaziland noted a significant amount of refugees arriving in the country in the mid-1970s and accommodated them. In December 1974, Thabo Mbeki and Maxwell Sisulu arrived in Swaziland and were tasked with improving relations with the Swazi monarchy and recruiting refugees for the movement.

Finally, another country to highlight is Zambia. In 1978, the Zambian government let the ANC and MK to expand their propaganda capabilities by allowing regular transmission from Lusaka, in addition to broadcasts from Tanzania. Other transmission areas including Angola, Madagascar and Ethiopia were added later. Pallo Jordan, Lindiwe Mabuza, Josiah Jele and Johannes Refiloe Mudimu were attached to Radio Freedom and were also co-ordinators of ANC Youth radio programmes.

A few years back, Major General Daniel Mofokeng, who was Head of SANDF Foreign Relations, said the “Nigerian government made huge sacrifices for the liberation of South Africa from minority rule.

Next time you think of making foreigners unwelcome, think of this tapestry of hospitality and realize that we are free because they opened their hearts their homes their countries and risked the lives of their citizens for our freedom.

I have to say, as a South African and an African child, I apologise to all those affected by Xenophobia attacks in South Africa…#IAMSORRY #NOTOXENOPHOBIA

Keswa is a South African Business Woman, Marketing Executive and Community Activist.



4 Comments
  • Luls

    It is important not to generalise about the sentiments of South Africans toward the violence perpetrated against fellow Africans. The thousands who marched in KwaZulu Natal, Johannesburg and Pretoria these past days/ week demonstrate that many South Africans do not support xenophobia and that they recognise our historical,economic and cultural inter-connectedness as Africans. importantly, South Africans want their government to deal decisively with the criminal elements who have alienated us from the rest of the continent. So please, not all South Africans are ignorant and blood thirsty.

  • Henri le Riche

    Apartheid protected us from these thugs. Now you see for yourselves what we had to put up with….

    You were just fooled outside of South Africa, but in actual fact the evil ones played you right where they wanted you. Your support to put them in power.

  • Tell Truth

    “Tanzania provided military facilities for liberation movements such as ANC….. the first military facility…” Are you sure about that?
    What happened to the history of Mandela getting military training and weapon from Ethiopia?

  • MLaw

    Thankyou. I am shocked and deeply saddened by what is happening. I really do think South Africans should not mistreat those that helped them. African nations fought for South Africa. Nigeria led the way and we all sheltered our South African brothers and sisters fleeing from the evil Apartheid regime. I marched, protested boycotted and I cannot express how deeply saddened and disappointed I am by the recent hate events that have transpired. They say “Seldom does a good deed go unpunished.”

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