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Consciousness of freedom at war with xenophobia

THABO MASALILA
An African proverb says ‘if you leave the principles of the community system, you become an errant and a deviant”. Durban is once again thrown into the spotlight in yet another unsavoury episode of xenophobia.

Fellow Africans are being subjected to varying forms of violence for allegedly causing high unemployment rate. Can an African be a foreigner in Africa? Once again we see some South Africans deviating from the conscious of the roots of their freedom.

Delivering the independence speech on March 6, 1957 Kwame Nkurumah described Ghana’s independence as ‘meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of Africa’. The rise to independence grew steadily across Sub-Saharan African countries as pro-independence movements put pressure on colonial powers. 1960 saw 17 countries gain independence.

The next two decades would see more countries attain self-rule with ease. But for South Africa, liberation was held in abeyance for another three decades.

On February 2 1990, Frederik Willem de Klerk threw South Africa into a sense of anticipation as Nelson Mandela’s release grew imminent.

The last president of apartheid proponents in the National Party was enforcing sweeping changes to bring to an end the oppressive apartheid regime; release political prisoners; and unban all liberation movements. Liberation fervour hit its peak as the divergent races and ethnicities of South Africa, the continent and the world at large exploded in euphoria of the seismic changes.

Deliverance from years of suppression by white minority domination had arrived. No one cared where this would all lead. Mandela would be a free man to preside over a nation as belted by the girl from Langa in her epic song called Black President.

Whites feared an explosive backlash along racial lines. Africa rejoiced as its hopes and fears would be taken care of by Mandela.

Mandela disappeared in 1964 after his conviction and life sentence at the Rivonia Trial. But it wasn’t the first time he had disappeared. The banning of the ANC and the PAC in 1960 saw the first influx of key operatives of the liberations movements seeking refuge in British territories of the Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Geographic location would make Botswana a preferred travel route escaping the brutality of a regime hell-bent on promoting minority supremacy. Africa was in the thick of Mandela’s first ‘road to freedom’

When the armed struggle commenced in 1961, Fish Keitseng, fresh from being deported following the treason trial of 1959 – 1961 settled in Peleng, Lobatse. An encounter with Joe Modise would be the foundation of the pipeline to lead struggle icons to safer havens across the continent.

The arid terrain of a poor protectorate itching for independence served as a pipeline that transported the many of the liberation movements away from the snares of apartheid intelligence and barbaric security forces. Keitseng ferried the rank and file of the uMkhonto we Sizwe by train to Francistown and then by road to Livingstone, Zambia.

An aerial pipeline operated from Lobatse traversed African skies ferrying high ranking struggle stalwarts faster.

The small four seater plane refuelled in Zambia and then in Mbeya, southern Tanzania en route Dar es Salaam.

The Bechuanaland Air Services was operated

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by the protectorate and a partly funded by local cattle baron and millionaire Cyril Hurwitz.

There are suggestions that the British Intelligence Services benefitted from the surveillance of this charter service. It also served to move liberation struggle leaders to borders beyond in pursuit of any form of assistance to mount a challenge against the repressive regime of the then Hendrik Verwoed and later John Vorster.

In January 1962, Mandela met Keitseng in Lobatse on his way to Tanzania to find his plane delayed. Keitseng accommodated Mandela for just over a week before the national icon was airlifted by the air pipeline piloted by a Captain Bartuane.

A year later when retracing his steps back to South Africa, Julius Nyerere chartered a flight from Dar es Salaam to Mbeya where Mandela and Oliver Tambo met Keitseng. The trio flew to Kanye and onwards through Lobatse to South Africa.  A week later Mandela was captured.

The role of Botswana and other African countries to the north is acknowledged by Mandela’s successor Thabo Mbeki.

Speaking at the 2012 Sir Ketumile Masire Foundation dinner, Mbeki said, ‘Botswana was genuinely a Frontline State, and despite its vulnerability to possible punishing reprisals by the apartheid regime, played a critical role in the struggle to end the apartheid system’.

Confirming the role of other African countries in liberating South Africa, Mbeki further indicated that Oliver Tambo asked the founding President Sir Seretse Khama to allow the ANC to open offices in Gaborone similar to ones in Zambia, Tanzania and other countries.

For decades the forbears of present day South Africa emigrated en masse to escape political persecution.

Material misery, internal strife and economic subjugation sees previous hand holders of stricken South Africa turning to erstwhile tenants for reciprocation.

It does appear though societies at the forefront of xenophobic attacks do not have the consciousness of their historical journey.

Lack of exposure on moral approaches and political challenges of the influx of foreigners is unaided by reckless statement attributed to some political and traditional leaders. Dehumanising foreigners by leaders to further political and economic interests has had lethal consequences.

Xenophobia persuades one to believe all foreigners are enemies. With compassion withdrawn into overdraft vicious attacks are unleashed on unsuspecting foreigners sometimes with gruesome and fatal brutality. It is depressing that Africans can hold such cruel and irrational beliefs.

The concept of xenophobia in South Africa is further exacerbated by racism that community turns to because of the country’s history. The charged black-white dynamic and systematic exclusion all add to a toxic environment. The spirit of unity extended to South Africa in the 60s when in dire needs to be revisited and ushered to the forlorn scatterlings of Africa.

*Acknowledgment to Garth Benneyworth (2017): Bechuanaland’s Aerial Pipeline: Intelligence and Counter Intelligence Operations against the South African Liberation Movements, 1960–1965, South African Historical Journal


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