Though we had our modest share, Liberia was not among the African nations that hosted tens or hundreds of thousands of South African refugees fleeing apartheid.
From the 1970s-1990s there was a group of Independent African nations known as “the Frontline States.” These nations were the main backers of South African blacks and coloreds fighting for liberation from apartheid perpetrated against them by the white minority. The Frontline States were Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Their primary aim was to achieve majority rule in South Africa. These nations hosted millions of South African refugees. The Frontline States were, of course, backed by most other African nations, especially Nigeria, which contributed tremendous financial resources to help the cause.
Liberia had a modest share of South African refugees. They included Vuz Make (pronounced ma-kay), a South African political activist and member of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), who taught at the University of Liberia.
Years later, the leader of the Soweto Youth Uprising, Sietzi Machinini, following those momentous events in which many youths were brutally murdered by the racist apartheid police, found refuge in Liberia. Sietzi married a Liberian young lady, Wilma Campbell, who bore him children.
Liberia also played a major role in all the African Liberation Movements of Southern Africa. President W.V.S. Tubman, led by Secretary of State J. Rudolph Grimes and Ernest Eastman, then Director of the State Department’s Afro-Asian Bureau, began direct dealings with these Movements. They included those of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe—all victims of Portuguese colonial racist oppression. There were also the movements in racist Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, including Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).
President Tubman helped all of these movements with diplomacy and money. Many liberation leaders, including Nelson Mandela, traveled by Liberian diplomatic passports.
When in the early 1960s, around 1961, Nelson Mandela visited President Tubman, Ernest Eastman was assigned as Mandela’s main contact with Tubman. At one point, the President sent Mandela to meet President Modibo Keita of Mali. Again, it was Eastman who had to make that arrangement. He sent Mandela to Lafayette Diggs, who had been assigned to open the Liberian embassy in Bamako. Lafayette effectively executed that assignment and Mandela was able to see the Malian Foreign Minister and President Keita. (See Ambassador Diggs’ brief article on that assignment on page 5).
Ernest Eastman was on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s delegation in July 2008 when she participated in President Mandela’s 90th birthday celebration in South Africa.
How now, today, the South Africans have embarked on a xenophobic campaign to kick other Africans out of South Africa! Included among them, believe it or not, are the Zimbabweans and Nigerians!
How have South Africans so soon forgotten!
One Liberian political scientist told the Daily Observer that it is not the average South African engaged in this nefarious assault on foreign Africans. It is, he said, the Zulus, who have always had what he called “reactionary tendencies.” Remember, he told this newspaper, “they vigorously opposed the ANC during the anti-apartheid struggle because the apartheid regime gave them money and arms to do so. The Zulus, led by their military movement Inkatha, over the years killed many ANC supporters.
But when Nelson Mandela and the ANC emerged victorious in the 1994 Presidential elections, one of the first things he did was extend an olive branch to the powerful Inkatha leader, Gatsha Buthelezi, appointing him to the top position of Minister of Internal Affairs. In that one master stroke, Mandela sealed the harmony between the ANC and the Zulus. From that day forward the tension was eased and there was peace.
The xenophobic attacks against other Africans in South Africa commenced a few weeks ago when Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu announced that all African immigrants in South Africa “must leave the country now!”
Following that announcement, Africans of various nationalities—Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Ethiopians, Somalians, etc.—came under vicious attacks, many killed.
President Zuma belatedly intervened and condemned the attacks, followed by an announcement by King kaBhekuzulu that the media had “quoted him out of context.”
We call on the African Union, which is incidentally headed by a South African, to intervene and stop this madness in South Africa. They (South Africans) must do so NOW to honor their immortal Hero—and the world’s, too—Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela—whom they KNOW would NEVER have stood for such a thing.