The liberation of South Africa wasn’t a one man’s prowess, but a continental struggle

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A group of South African men with machetes and sticks attacking foreigners. The country has gappled with xenophobic attacks in the recent past. / Internet photo

‘Even revolution, which transforms a concrete situation of oppression by establishing the process of liberation, must confront this phenomenon. Many of the oppressed who directly or indirectly participate in revolution intend - conditioned by the myths of the old order - to make it their private revolution. The shadow of their former oppressor is still cast over them.’ - Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

The title of this article should be a full course in every history class in South African schools; a line in every speech of South African politicians, and a chorus in every song of South African singers. They need to be taught what Africans mean for them, what they are capable of when they are united behind a cause, because the best way to oppress a people is to turn them against each other; I should know; I am Rwandan.

African nations coalesced to liberate South Africa. After liberation though, the black people of South Africa were isolated from their African brethren by those who needed to oppress them. They were told that African migrants, whom had believed in the free South Africa and had gone to contribute to building a flourishing rainbow nation, ‘were the enemy’, ‘were selling themselves cheap to the whites’, that they ‘were stealing the jobs of the indigenous’.

Black South Africans were told by their very yesteryear oppressors that their comrades and brothers in arms were the enemy; and they believed them! They turned against their brethren and started killing, looting and burning the little belongings, the ramshackle houses and shops that they possessed, yet the assailants and the assaulted are both victims.

What really happens is that an employer would say to a South African employee; ‘you are fired. You people are lazy, you are good at nothing. I am going to hire a Zimbabwean, or a Mozambican instead, they are hardworking and I can trust them; unlike you.’ When the Zulu man goes home and his wife asks what happened; his answer is:  ‘A Zimbabwean stole my job’.

The truth is, no one group of people is lazy or more hardworking than the other.’ The notion of race, tribe or nationality superiority - or inferiority is scientifically flawed, legally untenable, historically disproven and morally wrong!

Many South African politicians, former freedom fighters, see no shame in milking xenophobia to their egotistic gains. Their failure to propose tangible answers to systemic poverty facing their people, reverts them to exploiting basic instincts; Men whom received military training in Zimbabwe, had a clandestine military base in Uganda, were armed by Nigeria, have no shame in stigmatizing nationals of those nations; publicly!

Who knew, that citizens of Frontline States would be harassed in liberated South Africa? FLS were created to liberate South Africa and Namibia. They includedAngola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, andZimbabwe, To these frontline states, we must add Uganda, Nigeria and Algeria.

As a Rwandan this resonates, oh too well with me. That the Belgians came and convinced us that we were different, that we were not meant to live together, that one’s peace depended on the other’s demise; sure enough: we believed it! It didn’t matter that we had lived together for hundreds of years; inter-married, shared everything from culture, cattle, land and God. A sermon, a gift, a religion, from a total alien; that sufficed to erase a long history of bondage and nationhood; we turned against each other and one group was cast away into exile for thirty years…

Now we are back in our motherland, thanks to our own sacrifices, but also to the precious, invaluable support from Zairians, Ugandans, Burundians, Tanzanians and Kenyans. It would be foolish of us to forget that. The last twenty-three years of our life here demonstrate that the oppressor was wrong; our condition today demonstrates that together we thrive. It is no accident that our borders have been opened to all Africans, all mankind; to quote President Robert Mugabe’ ‘if I come to your house, it is mine too. If you come to Zimbabwe it is your house too’. I cannot imagine Rwandans witch-hunting Ugandans and telling them to go home. Or Zairians - now Congolese; nor would I tolerate any politician, preacher or anyone else, explaining to us how our happiness lies in the casting away of other human beings, or that if other human beings came here, they would domineer upon us; In this day and age, wouldn’t that be an indictment of our own shortcomings?

Since the end of the Genocide against the Tutsi, Kenyans have been the biggest investors in Rwanda, and for many years, Congolese were the pillars of our education system; in other words our economy and education system rely heavily on Kenyans and Congolese, and that’s how it should be. Just like we have had to rely on regional countries to shelter us in our days of exile. It is a privilege for us to rely on our brethren. No distant settler should tell us otherwise, and most importantly it would be foolhardy of us to believe them!

To quote president Kagame, ‘We believe that a Rwandan is just an African from a particular place. The tissue of brotherhood and sisterhood cannot be amputated by lines drawn on a map in another century.” This message is as good for Rwandans, as it should be for South Africans.

Which is why South Africans should be taught the history of their struggle, they should listen to Sonny Okosun, a Nigerian musician who wrote the hit song ‘Fire in Soweto’ in 1977 to commemorate the 1976 Soweto uprising against apartheid in South Africa; they should be told that most generals now occupying senior positions in the South African defence forces received their military training in Uganda; I went to study in South Africa, because I had read somewhere that a Rwandan, Maj Gen. Fred Rwigema, had trained elements of the Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC military wing in Ngoma in Luwero district in Uganda, so I felt I had a stake.

South Africans must know, that Tanzanian President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere set up and  chaired the OAU Liberation Committee, and that the ANC government in exile was based in Zambia, or that General Obasanjo of Nigeria provided financial support and tertiary education to the government in waiting that was the ANC.

They must read about the battle of Cuito Cuanavale and understand the role of Angolans in the liberation of Namibia and in defeating the apartheid regime. Of Libians, Black South Africans must retain that Muammar Gaddafi offered the money that funded the ANC campaign which offered them their historical victory ; And to the rest of us, we should learn that in mankind’s activity, migration is the norm not the exception. Throughout history migration has been a major dimension of globalization and of growth and advancement of humanity.

Let me end with the famous ‘I am prepared to die’ speech: During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. Comrade Madiba must be turning in his grave...

Thierry Gatete is a Senior Research Fellow, Governance, at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR).