Wednesday, May 21, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

In recent times I have been to South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi, and met many nationals from Southern Africa. The story is the same. It is a nightmare to be a black African in South Africa today if you happen to come from neighboring African countries.

There is anger against political and economic refugees rushing to the rich Southern State. Impoverished Zambians, Malawians, Tanzanians and Zimbabweans are a hated lot. Now jobless South African blacks see them as the cause of their desperation. They are asking why these foreigners should occupy jobs that they rightly deserve.
This anger is no longer just anger. It has turned into a vicious morbid hate that is claiming the lives of hundreds of black foreigners in many cities in South Africa. They have resorted to killings with apparently no plans by the Mbeki government to stop these discriminatory and targeted crimes.

Writing in the daily edition of The African in Tanzania, Mr. Stephen Twembeho of Kigali argues that “It is increasingly becoming unacceptable to watch how South Africans mistreat their fellow Africans who happen to be in their country for various reasons.” Their deep seated resentment of fellow Africans has resulted in violent beatings and even deaths.

As an individual who grew up in Kenya during the apartheid period, I have clear and vivid memories of the sacrifices the nationals of the then frontline states made in order to free South Africans from the clutches the Boer regime. These sacrifices included bombings and regular air raids from the South African forces targeting what they considered ANC armed forces’ hide outs and training centers. The countries most hit by these raids included Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and to some extent Angola.

Living in a non-frontline state in up north Kenya, we were spared the sporadic and frequent air raids that our fellow Tanzanians were subjected to. Be that as it may, what was not lost on us via the most powerful media at the time was that the war of words, ideology and arms was real and in progress.

For some of our families that had the privilege of having a radio in our families, tuning to Radio RSA and Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam gave us an inkling of the battle of wits and propaganda that was waged between the two giant broadcasters of our time. Radio Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, especially the External Service that broadcast in English was targeted at the English speaking Africa and the rest of the world to counteract the apartheid propaganda that was beaming from RSA in Johannesburg.

At the height of this war, Zambia found itself economically being strangled by apartheid South Africa. The Botha regime cut off its seaport lifeline which for decades had been the South African sea ports. For this reason, a good friend in the form of Communist China offered to build a railway line to link Lusaka with Dar es Salaam as an alternative route. That railroad was nick-named TAZARA.

Several assassinations of prominent South African fighters were carried out inside the territories of front line states with numerous collateral damages to the host citizens of those countries. The murder of Samora Machel, the independence hero Mozambique who went on to become the founding father of modern Mozambique is still very fresh in our minds.

As it was, these countries were already poor enough but because of their pride and the African dignity, they never hesitated to stand up for their brothers in South Africa as Mandela was rotting in Robben Island while Mbeki was living comfortably in European capitals. When Steve Biko was murdered by the Botha regime, the grief in Dar es Salaam, Maputo, Harare, Lusaka and Luanda was a devastating as it was in Soweto.

When the Soweto school children’s uprising of the 1976 culminated in more deaths and riots, the frontline states, more than ever, resolved to continue with the struggle until the evil of apartheid was wiped from the face of the continent.
It was this unqualified moral support from frontline states that Winnie Mandela going and the spirit of Nelson Mandela alive.

Yes, South Africans may have gripe with black Africans in their country; but to beat, maim and kill is to go too far. There are better and more civilized ways of dealing with this grievance. They must remember who fought their war, wiped their wounds, clothed them and gave them shelter at their hour of need. The memory is too recent to be forgotten.