The victory over apartheid was a collective effort. Help from other
African countries was decisive in the struggle. From bases in Angola to military help in Zambia, and economic and political sanctions from Nigeria all played a role.
Apartheid, the Afrikaans name given by the white-ruled South Africa’s Nationalist Party in 1948 to the country’s harsh, institutionalized system of racial segregation, came to an end in the early 1990s in a series of steps that led to the formation of a democratic government in 1994.
Nigeria that geographically does not share boundary with South Africa 02volunteered to be classified as one of the Frontline States. Nigeria was the first country to provide direct financial aid to the now-ruling African National Congress from the 1960s, while in the 1970s, Nigeria supported the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) with an annual subvention of $5 million to help them in the struggle.
Nigeria set up a programme to cater specifically for their educational needs and general welfare through the Southern Africa Relief Fund (SAFR) to which then Head of State General Olusegun Obasanjo contributed $3.7 million. Obasanjo made a personal donation of $3 000, while every member of his cabinet made donations of $1 500 each to the South African cause. Civil servants gave two percent of their income to the fund, then known as the “Mandela Tax”. Students joyfully skipped their lunch at school just to be able to contribute to the fund. It was reported that in six months’ time, the fund had amassed $10.5 million sent to the South Africans. No fewer than 86 South African students were educated in Nigeria for free.
It is estimated that Nigeria spent well over $61 billion between 1960 and 1995 to help fight apartheid and bring about democracy in South Africa.
Just two weeks after he was released from prison, Nelson Mandela departed on an 18-day foreign tour to thank the countries that had helped the liberation movement to end apartheid because the late sage appreciated the role played by his fellow Africans to defeat apartheid.
It would be recalled that the Frontline States, as they were known, where countries close to South Africa and included its neighbours, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho as well as those further north: Angola, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania members helped to end the racist regime.
They played a vital role in supporting the African National Congress (ANC) when it was banned, as well as the many members and other political activists who were forced into exile.
Following the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960, an ANC official, Ginwala went to Tanzania to establish an office in Dar es Salaam. While there, she worked as a journalist and received ANC members as they came into the country. She helped party top brass, among them Oliver Tambo, Yusuf Dadoo and Nelson Mandela, who met the country’s President, Julius Nyerere. Ginwala recalled in an interview with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. “My instructions from Oliver Tambo had been
that when he did arrive I was to hide him.”
While it was banned at home, in 1969, Zambia became the ANC’s headquarters. “It was from Lusaka that the ANC operated and coordinated the activities of MK in various parts of Southern Africa. Recruits who left South Africa via Lesotho or Mozambique ended up in Lusaka before they were sent for military training,” South African History Online stated. The ANC’s underground radio station, Radio Freedom, was also eventually broadcast from Zambia, following stints in Madagascar, Tanzania and Ethiopia. The radio station helped to recruit members to the ANC and MK training camps. It also broadcast the news at a time when the airwaves in South Africa shared very limited information.
Soon after Angola gained independence from Portugal, its colonial ruler, the ANC started negotiations in 1976 to set up bases in that country for military training; by the end of that same year, the first base was established. “Mzwandile Piliso was appointed the person in charge of all the camps in Angola,” noted South African History Online. Along with the camps, the party also set up housing facilities for its leadership, cadres and a warehouse to store supplies such as food and clothes.
Because of its geographical location, Botswana became the preferred conduit for the ANC to get its members into and out of the country clandestinely. The Botswana route for the ANC was established with the efforts of Fish Keitsing, a citizen of Botswana who left his country to work in South Africa. There were a number of ANC safe houses and operational MK bases in the suburb of Matola in Maputo, Mozambique. As a result, it became a target for the SADF, which launched several raids in the country. A raid in January 1981 turned out to be one of the more devastating attacks and 16 South Africans were killed. On 14 February 14 of the same year, Tambo, in the company of Mozambican President Samora Machel, addressed mourners at the funeral of those who were killed and the day was declared the Day of Friendship between South African and Mozambique.
Lesotho and Swaziland are both almost wholly surrounded by South Africa; this geography ensured the small nations played a pivotal role in assisting the ANC. In the 1960s, the liberation movement had a small presence in Lesotho. According to South African History Online, relations between South Africa and Lesotho soured during the mid-1970s, allowing large numbers of ANC members to take refuge in the country. The new arrivals were trained in politics and guerrilla tactics. ANC members also crossed the border into Lesotho under the cover of night for meetings, returning to South Africa the next morning.
Zimbabwe shared more than a border with South Africa: it too struggled against white minority rule. In a case of parallels, the apartheid South African government supported the Rhodesian Front led by Ian Smith. Given that racial discrimination and the denial of political rights to the black majority were common elements in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia [as the country was initially known], the ANC and Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (Zapu) had a strong sense that they were fighting a common enemy. Zapu helped MK recruits to cross the border to reach their camps further north, in Tanzania and Zambia. Military co-operation between Zapu and the ANC became so enmeshed, a joint High Command was formed.
Today these countries’ nationals have become victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Human rights advocate Archbishop Desmond Tutu recognised the collective effort it took to end apartheid. “In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world,” he wrote on Huffington Post, the American news site, “who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime.”
After the end of apartheid, South Africa was embraced by all African countries and it did not take long before it became a dominant economic force in the continent dominating the telecom sector, shopping malls, banking, and pay television among others. While it dominated the continent economically it does not want to see economic migrants from other Africa countries searching for economic opportunities in South Africa. Over 150 Nigerians alone have been reportedly killed through xenophobic attacks in South Africa. This is certainly not the South Africa that Mandela went to prison for. The let freedom fighter must be turning in his grave.
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