Human beings are first migrants. Then they become settlers, and settlers become citizens. In every clime, it is not so much your status, but your contributions. Kenneth Kaunda was synonymous with Zambia. He pronounced prophetically that Zambia shall be free! When colonial Britain tried to amalgamate present day Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi into a federation which the whites could control, Kaunda led the charge and won.
He came from colonial prison to lead Zambian into independence becoming its founding president. In his twenty seven years in power, he built the foundations of modern Zambia and supported the liberation movements, including the now ruling ANC in South Africa. There is no Zambian that has done more for the country than Kaunda. Yet, Kaunda’s father, Reverend David Kaunda was from Malawi. By the crazy criteria of those killing fellow Africans in South Africa, Kaunda will be a migrant in Zambia.
Ahmed Ben Bella was a Warrant Officer in the French military. He declined promotion to the officer corps in protest against the French massacre of Algerians in Setif. He became one of the founders of the Organisation Special, a militant group dedicated to the liberation of Algeria from French colonialism. The French captured him in 1951, sentenced him to eight years imprisonment. He escaped prison and went to settle in Egypt, becoming one of the nine leaders of the liberation movement, the FNL. In 1956, an aircraft carrying him was intercepted and forced to land in France where he was imprisoned until 1962. The following year, he was elected the President of Algeria. Yet, both parents of Ben Bella were Moroccans!
Apart from Ben Bella, the most famous Algerian to emerge from the liberation war, was Frantz Fanon. This medical doctor is famous for his books like Wretched of the Earth, Black Skin, White Masks and A Dying Colonialism. Fanon, in contributing to the anti-colonial war, documented the horrors the Algerian people faced. He became an inspiration for liberation movements in Africa, Latin America, Asia and African-Americans. But Fanon was not originally an Algerian, he was from Martinique, in the Caribbean!
The undisputed father of the liberation movement in South Africa who helped to revive the African National Congress (ANC) was a traditional chief, Albert Luthuli. He was the President General of the ANC from December 1952 until he was killed by a train in 1967. He brought future leaders of South Africa like Nelson Mandela, Oliver Thambo, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki under his tutelage. He was dismissed as a chief by the Apartheid regime and imprisoned. In laying part of the fundamental principles of a future non-racist South Africa, Luthuli issued a document in 1952 titled The Road to Freedom is via the Cross. In it he argued that the Apartheid system degraded and dehumanised not just the victims, but also the perpetrators. Mandela described Luthuli as “…one of the greatest leaders of the struggle: a colossus and yet a foot soldier of our people… he taught us the lesson that real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” Yet, Luthuli who in the mould of Moses, demanded of Apartheid “Let My People Go!” was a Zimbabwean!
Going by the logic of the minority who are perpetuating evil against fellow Africans in South Africa, if Luthuli were to walk down the streets of Durban today with a white apartheid bigot, the latter is likely to go unharmed while Luthuli, given his Zimbabwean origins, may need to fight for his life!
Without doubt, with his initial statement “We urge all foreigners to pack their bags and leave,” King Goodwill Zwelithini has no goodwill towards Africa, but that is not to say the populace do not. In fact, South Africans are some of the most informed and unapologetic Pan-Africanists I have met.
In the early 1980s, as an undergraduate in Nigeria, I came under the influence of an old South African trade unionist who did not seem to have much Western education. Mark Shope, the then ANC Representative in Nigeria, was a soft spoken, elderly man who had the knack for explaining social issues and the struggle in his country in a simple way. This was at a time when the Pan African Congress (PAC), with its catchy slogan of “One Settler, One Bullet” had a lot more appeal. Once Shope and others convinced us students on the non-racist ANC Freedom Charter, we became its foot soldiers across the country. The South African struggle moulded many of us into Pan-Africanists who realise that only in unity can we progress. That country also produced inspirational youths like Solomon Mahlangu who laid down their lives for a cause they believed in.
Today, the news from South Africa is doubtlessly tragic; the photographs, too horrific and the video footage, too gruesome for many to watch. But we must know and remember that for every Zwelithini, there is a Mandela, and for every Edward Zuma running his mouth and inciting violence, there is a Desmond Tutu in prayers.
Those who call on other Africans to boycott South Africa and its companies may have a point, but we will simply be playing into the hands of those who do not want a united Africa; who do not want an integrated Africa or an Africa on the rise. Rather than being ostracised, South Africa needs the rest of us to help get over its violent Apartheid past with its ‘neck lacing’ ‘black on black’ violence and unmet post-Apartheid expectations of lands, jobs and better living conditions.
Yes, there is a South African problem, but it is also an African problem and only in unity can we overcome. Like Peter Tosh sang:
“Don’t care where you come from;
As long as you’re a black man, you’re an African.
No mind your nationality;
You have got the identity of an African.”
Owei Lakemfa is Secretary General of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU).