“It is often said that one can choose his/her friends but he/she cannot choose one’s neighbours. Let me assure you that had we had a say in the choice of a neighbour, we would have chosen you. We are one family because of geography, history, culture, blood, totems and marriage.”
— President Robert Mugabe.
ZIMBABWE and South Africa, besides being neighbours, have a shared history since before the coming of the whiteman in Africa.
For decades, their peoples fought against white colonial rule and injustices, side-by-side, with Zimbabwe attaining independence first on April 18 1980, while South Africa followed suit 14 years later (Freedom Day) on April 27 1994.
The two nations have enjoyed cordial relations ever since.
Recently, South African President Jacob Zuma, invited President Robert Mugabe for the Second Session of the Zimbabwe-South Africa Bi-National Commission held in Pretoria at Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guest House.
The First Session was held in Harare last year.
In Pretoria, and in the presence of their respective ministers, the two leaders, among other things, exchanged views on a wide range of bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest.
This culminated in the signing of agreements on co-operation in the fields of Information Communication Technology (ICT), Environment and Conservation, Sport and Recreation as well as Energy.
So far, there are more than 40 bilateral agreements and Memoranda of Understanding between the two countries.
Presidents Mugabe and Zuma also noted developments at Beitbridge border post and re-affirmed the strategic importance of the One Stop Border Post (OSBP) at Beitbridge.
It is now a fact that Beitbridge border post is the busiest in Africa and Presidents Mugabe and Zuma directed relevant ministers to fast-track the OSBP operationalisation.
Enter Oliver Tambo
Perhaps the major highlight of the visit was when both Presidents paid tribute to the late anti-apartheid and African National Congress (ANC) leader Oliver Tambo who was born on October 27 1917 and died on April 24 1993.
Tambo led ANC from 1967 to 1991.
The ANC itself was initially founded on January 8 1912 as the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) before it was renamed the ANC in 1923.
ZANU on the other hand was formed on August 8 1963.
Said President Zuma: “I personally know that you (President Mugabe) had various interactions with Cde Tambo during his lifetime.
Upon attainment of Zimbabwe’s independence, it was Cde Tambo himself who personally approached you to discuss the possibility of opening the ANC office in Harare, then Salisbury.
You were aware of the risks associated with accepting such a request, yet you concurred.”
Apartheid efforts to dismantle ANC in Zimbabwe
Indeed, when Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980, the South African intelligence began recruiting former members of the Rhodesian intelligence security services.
Their mission was to destabilise ANC activities by terrorising all ANC officials and members operating in Zimbabwe.
Take the case of former freedom fighter Tsitsi Chiliza, for example, a Zimbabwean citizen who was married to ANC member Vusumuzi Masondo.
Chiliza was on May 11 1987 killed when a bomb hidden inside a television set went off in the ceiling above her bedroom.
It is said the bomb was placed inside the television sent as a present to the then ANC chief representative in Zimbabwe, Reddy Mampane, aka Reddy Mazimba.
The Truth Commission — Special Report said back then: “The bomb went off at 6:25 last evening.
It blew out the roof and western wall of number 7 Earls Court.
The one unfortunate person was 24-year-old Tsitsi Chiliza, born Marechera, a mother of two and a stenographer in the Ministry of Justice.
When her body was recovered, it was so badly mutilated and burnt she was almost unrecognisable.”
The special report further says Chiliza’s husband, Masondo, aka Mhlophe Chiliza, was not at home at the time, but their two daughters aged one and five respectively survived the blast.
Less than a week after this incident, a rocket hit a house in Avondale, Harare, that was used as an office by the ANC.
It is said there were no injuries as the house was unoccupied at the time of the attack – 5:10am.
And then there was the notorious gang of Michael Smith, Philip Conjwayo and Kevin Woods (all former members of the Rhodesian intelligence and security forces) who were arrested in 1988 in Zimbabwe after being linked to a bomb that detonated while being transported.
The bomb killed the driver who was transporting it and injured several ANC members.
Smith, Conjwayo and Woods were first sentenced to death before the Supreme Court later commuted their sentence to life imprisonment.
They were eventually all released in 2006 – 12 years after South Africa gained freedom.
The above events highlight how Zimbabwe and South Africa have always stood side-by-side despite relentless onslaughts from former colonialists.
ANC-MK and ZAPU-ZIPRA joint operations
Of course, previous joint operations between the ANC-Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) and ZAPU’s ZIPRA from 1976-1979 cannot go unmentioned pertaining Zimbabwe-South Africa relations.
The late national hero Dr Felix Muchemwa highlights some of the operations in his book The Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe (1890 – 2010).
It is important to quote him at length.
“In July 1967, a joint force of 70 ZIPRA/ANC-MK guerillas crossed the Zambezi River between the Victoria Falls and Kazungula, entered Rhodesia through Wankie (Hwange) Game Reserve and penetrated south into Tsholotsho and Lupane in Matebeleland (Matabeleland) North.
Throughout August and September 1967, they engaged Rhodesia security forces in a daring series of running battles.
The ANC-MK involvement prompted South Africa’s intervention, resulting in the deployment of a large contingent of the so-called ‘paramilitary police force’ for counter-insurgency operations (Coin-OPS) in the Zambezi valley. (Cole, 1984: p.36)
The ‘paramilitary police force’ was drawn from the South African Airforce, Army and Police and, the initial contingent was made up of 2 000 men in 1968.
By 1969, the figure exceeded 2 700, which was only 1 000 short of the entire Rhodesian regular army. (Moorcraft and McLaughlin, 1982: p.32)
In early 1968, another force of 123 ZIPRA/MK guerillas crossed the Zambezi River near Chiwore River.
For three months, they set up guerilla base camps right in the middle of the Wankie Game Reserve, caching large amounts of medical supplies and equipment, food and munitions.
The hidden camps were accidentally discovered by a game ranger and, on March 18 1968, all six of them were destroyed by a combined Rhodesian and South African operation code-named ‘Operation Cauldron’.
In July 1968, another group of 91 ZIPRA/MK guerillas infiltrated into Rhodesia in three separate contingents and within a short period of their crossing the Zambezi River, fierce running battles erupted and casualties were sustained by both sides.
On January 3 1970 in a series of daring attacks on the southern banks of the Zambezi River, ZIPRA/MK guerillas raided the Victoria Falls town and airport, and a nearby South African military camp. (Moorcraft and McLaughlin, 1982: p.34)
This was followed by the laying of numerous land mines in the Zambezi Valley throughout the rest of 1970.
But, by the end of 1970, the ZIPRA/MK and ZANLA forays into Rhodesia had virtually ended.”
Back to Oliver Tambo
The man who, together with President Mugabe, ensured the establishment of ANC bases in Zimbabwe was in Harare in September 1986 during the 8th Conference of Heads of State and Government of non-aligned countries.
He spoke glowingly of President Mugabe when he said: “As Chairman, you have taken over as Chief-of-Staff of a movement that has transformed itself into a task force that will fight in both the forward and rear echelons, to complete the process of the total liberation of Africa to which the victory of the struggle in Zimbabwe made, and is making, such a historic contribution.
Under your courageous experience and farsighted leadership, we are certain to march to victory.”
And in his opening remarks at the Second Session of the Zimbabwe-South Africa Bi-National Commission, President Mugabe said Tambo was not only a great friend, but a vital cog in the fight against imperialism and an instrumental figure in the liberation of South Africa.
Tambo, however, never lived to see an ‘independent’ South Africa.
Said President Mugabe: “I will never forget Cde Tambo.
We shall always remember him together as a friend, a fighter who is a national hero as we call those of our own.
Tambo was a great friend, outspoken, quite critical when he thought that we needed criticism.
He was a friend and ally we had associated with in the struggle. Vibrant, outspoken, forward going and never going backwards.”
Message to President Zuma
President Mugabe’s message to President Zuma and the ANC was clear in Pretoria as the ANC heads for its much anticipated elective conference in December: “Do not be torn apart and rendered into nothingness.”
Recent ANC meetings have been rocked by violence, culminating in numerous deaths, court cases and to some extent divisions in the top leadership.
President Mugabe, who was in the ANC Youth League during his time at Fort Harare University, warned ANC – the continent’s oldest liberation movement — of being infiltrated and destroyed by elements bent on protecting white interests in the country.
“We wish the ANC every success at that congress so that it can continue into the future, renewed and strengthened,” he said.
“I don’t know what we will be if all that future, stemming from 1912 to the present, is rendered into nothingness, torn apart.”
Land issue in South Africa
There is no doubt the ANC, since 1912, like other African liberation movements, was formed to fight against white minority rule and injustices.
It was formed to fight for the rights of black people as custodians of the land.
In South Africa, back in 1913, a law was passed banning black people from buying land outside designated areas covering just 13 percent of the country.
And a 2016 Oxford Business Group Report on historical land imbalances in South Africa says, by the end of apartheid in 1994, more than 90 percent of land was owned by white South Africans who made up less than 10 percent of the population.
And according to one Edward Lahiff, due to many ‘factors’ like lack of adequate funding, less than seven percent of land has been redistributed since 1994.
But then, some South Africans are slowly becoming impatient.
In Pretoria, this writer met one Lizwe, at Pretoria Hotel, who maintained that the land issue was a ticking time bomb in South Africa.
“From 1994, all the leaders have failed to deal with this issue,” he said.
“It’s as if every President who tries is stopped somewhere, somehow, because whites are still in control of the land.
“Blacks remain marginalised and racism is still rife.
“Go to Khayelitsha, Hillbrow and Alexandra and see how blacks are living there.
“We are really nothing without land.”
The case of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe, on the other hand, is successfully implementing the Land Reform Programme since 2000.
The programme that infuriated the West saw over 400 000 black households getting the country’s prime land that was previously in the hands of an estimated 4 000 white farmers.
Illegal economic sanctions were then imposed on the country by the West and its allies with the hope of making the economy ‘scream’ and bring the country to its knees.
However, that was in vain.
However, the majority of the former white farmers who left the country and with assistance from their ‘sympathisers’ are to date still sponsoring quislings and agents of regime change in order to topple a constitutionally-elected Government in Zimbabwe.
Therefore, while Zimbabwe continues to fight to maintain its political and economic independence by shrugging off the same colonialists who are trying to use the back door, South Africa must be fighting to ensure economic independence for the black majority and to overthrow white supremacists hiding under the guise of a ‘rainbow nation’.
What makes South Africa a ‘rainbow nation’ when, for example, there is a ‘whites-only’ town called Orania in that country?
A town no black South African or any other person who is not an Afrikaner is allowed to live in, even if he/she speaks Afrikaans or is married to an Afrikaner.
In Zimbabwe, a whites-only town is unheard of, but certainly, the struggle for both the ANC and ZANU PF as liberation movements is still on.
Zimbabwe and South Africa are not fairweather friends, they are indeed all-weather friends and friends indeed.