By Brand South Africa Chairman Chichi Maponya
South Africans will commemorate 21 years of democracy in a few days. Our struggle for freedom and liberation became a collective struggle as the people of the continent and the wider international community joined us. When we attained our long yearned for freedom, we knew our success was due to the efforts of the citizens of our continent and the world.
Citizens of Africa – at all levels - spared no effort to fight for our liberation. Heads of countries took up our struggle at international fora, they joined the broader international community in calling for international sanctions against the apartheid government; they hosted South Africans who were escaping the horrors of our country; they provided our people, inside and outside the country with food and clothing. Citizens of the continent accepted and integrated our people into their communities. And some even lost their lives for supporting our struggle when they were targeted by the then South African Defence Force. Some countries even provided travel documents to our people so that they could garner more international support for our fight for liberation.
The words, “South Africa’s freedom was not free,” is more than just a slogan. Efforts and lives that contributed to our freedom cannot actually be quantified.
South Africa has always been cognisant of our debt to the continent and its people. We have since 1994 actively pursued a foreign policy that put Africa at the centre of our developmental agenda. It is for this reason that South Africa worked with other leaders on the continent to spearhead developmental policies like NEPAD while advocating on the global stage that Africa should no longer remain on the periphery of international relations. We took this position to the United Nations Security Council during both sittings as non-permanent members, we have taken this position to the G-20, BRICS and other such fora.
South Africa also provides material support to the continent in that we are amongst the largest investors on the continent and we actively support peace and security initiatives through dialogue, mediation, humanitarian and security contributions.
South Africa acts in this way cognisant that our fortunes are intrinsically linked to that of the continent. We are also committed to the vision of an Africa Rising – an Africa that is no longer on the periphery but a continent that can take its rightful place in the community of nations.
And driving this commitment to the growth and development of our continent is the need for us, as leaders in our respective spheres, to deliver a better quality of life for all the citizens of Africa. To us, as leaders, the citizens of the continent are not just a market for goods. Our people are at the heart of the spirit, the culture, the richness, the heritage of our continent. Our people make our continent amazing. Our people will carry the history of our continent in their bloodlines and pass it on to future generations. Our people will attest to our struggles to emerge as a dark and forgotten continent to a place of glory.
It is against this background that South Africa also believes that the free movement of people throughout the continent must be facilitated. South Africa’s rich culture and heritage is undoubtedly a result of the various waves of immigration that swept through our country. Such is the multi-hued collage of our citizens that many cannot even relate to the countries from which they have migrated.
And now we find ourselves, in the midst of Freedom Month and a few days away from Africa Month, where we are turning against each other – brother against brother, sister against sister. We cannot allow this to continue. And it is up to each of us that play our part to stop this. We must have respect and consideration for each other. We must appreciate that where the continent once hosted our citizens, it is time for South Africa to play her part for the continent. And this is what drives our views and policies with regard to foreign relations, trade and investment and immigration.
I urge each citizen of our country to not forget where we come from, to play our part in accepting all citizens to our country, to show our Ubuntu – now when it matters most. Where there are legitimate grievances, bring them to your elected officials, to your community leaders. Let us solve our problems in our time honoured way – through dialogue.
One of the founders of our premier liberation movement, Pixley ka Seme called for an end to racism, tribalism and other divisive tendencies in 1911 when he said: "The demon of racialism, the aberrations of the Xhosa-Fingo feud, the animosity that exists between the Zulus and the Tongas, between the Basuthos and every other Native must be buried and forgotten; it has shed among us sufficient blood! We are one people."
Let us not forget. Let us celebrate each other as citizens of one continent, as citizens with a common past and future. Let us stop the hatred and anger. We are African citizens!