The Presidential Years

The depth of those relationships and what they meant to Mandela, to the ANC and to democratic South Africa was expressed in his many visits to countries in the region in the decade that spanned the years between his release and the end of his presidency.

In Lesotho, he acknowledged geographic and filial contiguity.

We have fought the same enemies, mourned our losses together and celebrated each other's victories as our own.

The achievement of your forebears in holding colonial forces at bay was emulated, in our own time, [with the] apartheid regime encircling your land.

For that, for the succour you gave to our sons and daughters, for your solidarity and selfless commitment to our freedom, you paid a fearful price. The wrath of our oppressors respected no borders. It knew no distinction between fighter and civilian, between adult and child, between South African and Mosotho.

And so we thank the Basotho nation for the support and understanding of our struggle. We will not forget the sacrifices that your country had to endure during these years.

In the same way as we shared the vicissitudes of struggle, the challenge we now face is to work together to realise the possibilities of freedom.618

The same could be said of Botswana, a country he had visited as early as 1962, when the armed struggle for liberation was just beginning;

The people of Botswana and the people of South Africa have so much in common. We share a long history. …

The apartheid regime hoped that through kidnappings, bombings, armed raids and assassinations that violated the sovereignty and peace of your country, they would intimidate you. But they were wrong. They were deceiving themselves!

Today we can stand before you as the representative of a democratic country, and say, on behalf of the people of South Africa, ‘Thank you for what you did for our country during the long and lonely years of struggle.’

Despite the pressures from the apartheid regime, you stood defiantly on the side of freedom, peace and democracy. You made our struggle your struggle. Today we can celebrate our victory together.619

The Zimbabweans, in Mandela’s estimation, were:

... men and women who have fought for their freedom; allies who shared the trenches of struggle with us; and partners in rebuilding our societies.

South Africans are free today because the government and people of Zimbabwe considered their own freedom incomplete while their neighbours were still oppressed.

Though thanks are not needed between those as close as we are, we do thank you from the bottom of our hearts, knowing the cost inflicted upon you by the apartheid regime because you supported us. Despite the cost to yourselves, you gave us material and moral support; a home from home for our exiles; and a voice in the councils of the region, the continent and the world.620

The bond with the Mozambicans was further strengthened by the fact that their President Samora Machel had died in South Africa in 1987, when the plane in which he was travelling crashed in suspicious circumstances, Machel, Mandela said, was

... a universal hero, a son of Mozambique and indeed a son of Africa, who dedicated his life to the freedom of us all.

Ten years ago today, Samora Machel drenched the soil of our land with his blood. A tragedy had befallen Mozambique, South Africa, Africa and beyond.

Yet as we shed the tears of grief and disbelief, we knew that Samora had cemented a bond between our two peoples that no force could sever. He had made a final statement which fired us all with a new determination to free the sub-continent from the scourge of war and human suffering.

Certainty about the precise chain of events which robbed Africa of one of her greatest leaders, still eludes us.

We do know, though, that at that time savage wounds were being inflicted on our beloved Southern Africa by the apartheid war machine. No corner of the region was spared the cruelty and scorched earth barbarity of the defenders of this crime against humanity. No country that identified with the yearning of the South African people, no leader who expressed practical solidarity with them, was spared.

Today we recall Samora Machel's words that ‘solidarity is not charity, but mutual aid in pursuit of shared objectives’. Thus, in acknowledging the terrible sacrifice of Mozambicans in our long walk to freedom, we do so proud of the fact that today, South Africans and Mozambicans, as free peoples, can together build a prosperous future.621

The devastation that Angola had suffered in a civil war in which South Africa and its Western allies had chosen to support opponents of the new government, was worthy of profound acknowledgement:

Angola's solidarity with South Africans struggling for their liberation was of heroic proportions.

Before you own freedom was secure, and within the reach of our ruthless enemy, you dared to act upon the principle that freedom in Southern Africa was indivisible. Led by the founder of liberated Angola, that great African patriot and internationalist, Agostinho Neto, you insisted that all of Africa's children must be freed from bondage.622

Angola was also, as Mandela recalled during a visit to Cuba in 1991, a battlefield on which the South African Defence Force had, with the assistance of Cuba, been forced to retreat, destroying ‘the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor’.623

Namibia had like South Africa been oppressed by and fought against the apartheid state, at times in joint operations with ANC fighters.

Nor do we need to explain to you, as we might to others, that even in the time of rejoicing we do not forget those who suffered for freedom and justice. We do not need to explain, because your freedom fighters and ours were confined by the same prison walls and went defiantly to the same gallows. Our people and yours learnt to love freedom and universal justice in the same crucible of brutal repression and denial of our humanity. We shared the same trenches in armed struggle and trudged the world together in search of solidarity.624

In spite of its errant behavior in relation to the apartheid regime, relative to the other neighbours, Mandela had after his release established good rapport with Malawi’s President Kamuzu Banda, who volunteered support to ANC during the election campaign. But there was nuance to Mandela’s attitude to Banda. Responding in the National Working Committee to expression of opposition to his visit to Malawi in 1992, he said it was sometimes better to sit and reflect on such matters.

When we went to the tenth anniversary in Zimbabwe, one thing struck me, that the [leader who was] most popular to the Zimbabweans was Banda. I asked for an explanation. I was given information that changed the image of Banda. During their war Banda rendered invaluable assistance, allowing weapons to be moved through his territory, he financed the Patriotic Front and helped Frelimo by making sure that their soldiers could move through Portuguese lines. One cannot look purely at the superficial - not being aware of the underlying contributions to the revolutions, you may take a superficial line.’625

Also, among the things he cherished in the relationship between South Africans and Malawians were the bonds forged in workplaces across the length and breadth of South Africa:

The migrant labour system whose tentacles spread across the whole of Southern Africa, also linked the history of our peoples. In the annals of South Africa's working class the name of Clements Kadalie will forever stand as one of the giants of resistance.626

Tanzania, the seat of the African Liberation Committee; home to the venerated Julius Nyerere, whom Mandela profoundly respected; and host to the ANC’s Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College and ANC camps, held a special place in his heart:

For many years, freedom fighters from South Africa burrowed in the bosom of your hospitality. We have been raised from the depths of racial oppression, in great measure, on the pedestal of your sacrifice. It is therefore only fitting, that we should return, free men and women, to report to our Tanzanian brothers and sisters, that South Africa is at last unshackled; the dream of Africa's political liberation has been realised.627

Mandela recalled Julius Nyerere as

… the freedom fighter who heard Chief Luthuli's appeal and joined Trevor Huddleston in launching the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain in 1959; a leader whose decisive intervention at the Commonwealth Conference after the Sharpeville Massacre led to the exclusion of apartheid South Africa.

I had the personal privilege of meeting him many years ago, in 1962, when I visited Tanzania seeking help as we embarked on the armed struggle. Then, as now, I was struck by his lucid thoughts; his burning desire for justice everywhere; and his commitment to Africa's interests.

After the independence of Tanzania, Mwalimu, as its head of state, continued to play an important role in the struggle for justice and democracy not only in Africa, but throughout the world.628

The bond with Zambia, and Kenneth Kaunda was particularly close, dating from the time in 1961 when Mandela left South Africa to win support for the ANC’s armed struggle. The many years during which Zambia hosted the ANC headquarters and other facilities made the country a second home (see below).

Swaziland, a small country on South Africa’s border, had, though vulnerable to the operations of the apartheid police and military, also given asylum and a base from which ANC cadres could, under difficult conditions, move in and out of South Africa. The supportive relationship went back many years to the time of King Sobhuza, King Mswati’s father who from the 1920s gave active, though low profile, support to the ANC.