The Presidential Years

The ANC in general, and Madiba in particular, because we are talking about him, have always been aware that South Africa cannot survive alone. No matter the appearance of being the strongest economy, and, as many people say, the oldest liberation movement, there has been always the acknowledgement that this country will not succeed without integration into the region.

That is one thing. The second is the acknowledgement that, whether it was because of geography or other reasons, among all the countries around here, there is not one single country in southern Africa which in different ways has not sacrificed, not only contributed, but sacrificed, for this country to be free. You can see it if you look at the detail.

With Namibia for example, it went to the extent that the ANC and the Namibians fought together as if they were the same organisation, they were SWAPO and ANC, but there were moments in which they would run operations together.

But without the possibility which Angola could give them to come through Namibia to South Africa for operations, you wouldn’t have had the impact of the war which ended with Cuito Canavale. Why Cuito Canavale? It was precisely because Angola was a strong, strong supporter of both SWAPO and the ANC. The biggest camps were in Angola. Look at Lesotho, it is a small country, but it did sacrifice.

Just ask how you many cadres of this country lived in Lesotho and operated from Lesotho. Botswana, it’s not by chance that at a certain point the regime raided Botswana and killed freedom fighters in that country.

Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique, even Swaziland. There was no major raid, but Swaziland played a very important role even in how people went to Lusaka: they would use Swaziland, then Mozambique, then Lusaka. King Sobhuza very quietly gave support. He seemed to be cooperating with the regime and not wanting to disturb them, because they would react. The person who can talk about Swaziland is JZ - most of the cadres who left South Africa would penetrate Swaziland and Mozambique to go to Lusaka directly or through Zimbabwe. He was there.

There is no single country in the region which has not played a major role in support of the liberation movement in this country, sometimes in common ways and sometimes in different ways.

And that’s why, when Madiba became president of the ANC, and even before, when he came out of jail, the first countries he visited, after he went overseas first to pay respect to Oliver in Sweden, it was the region. He could not start going around without meeting eye-to-eye with Oliver, particularly because Oliver was unwell. So the first thing he does is to go to Sweden to see him, and as soon as he comes back he visits every single one of the countries in the region. It was part of that acknowledgement, so then later when they faced some challenges, of course he spent a lot of time on the issues. He knew those countries had sacrificed enormously.

This is something which maybe the new generation are not aware of, and someone should really bring to the knowledge of the young generations what the region has sacrificed for liberation.

And then there are even those countries which were not neighbours that sacrificed enormously. I don’t know whether people are aware why Madiba was trained in Ethiopia, and in Algeria - why those countries?

And coming to the former Portuguese countries, there is the role which was played by Morocco: the first organisation called CONCP (the conference of all Portuguese speaking countries during the struggle, including Goa) was in Morocco at that time, that’s where Aquino de Braganca comes in. But young people do not know this - Morocco is now out of the African Union but in those days it did play a role. Of course there’s Nigeria: how many South Africans were trained in Nigeria, how many in Nigeria’s universities?

Young people are overwhelmed by the challenges they face today and they do not have this history to understand how, although South Africa might be special in some aspects, South Africa is what it is because of these other countries. South Africans should never overlook other countries as they sometimes do, when they say in South Africa that they are ‘going to Africa’, even though we are called South Africa, as if they are going to Africa because they are not African.

You are asking for the reason why he spent a lot of time thinking of the region and the continent. It is in my view a matter of looking at the very, very beginning and origins of these organisations which liberated Southern Africa and looking at the countries which gave us so much support, such as Egypt in the time of Nasser.

Madiba had a very good sense of history. He paid a lot of attention to history so he knew what these countries had done for the liberation of his own country and aware that at that time he was the leader who all Africans were looking up to. Nyerere is no longer there, he left us very soon, and the leadership began to let’s say lower its standards and Madiba was still there as a beacon, so he had a sort of moral responsibility to continue to support.