Old SA left Africa scarred

2004-04-22 16:00
Lusaka - South Africa's neighbours who formed an anti-apartheid alliance and sheltered black liberation groups bear deep scars from a backlash by the former white racist regime in Pretoria whose stint in power ended a decade ago.

Between 1975 and 1980 six nations - Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe - teamed up to form a body dubbed the Frontline States to aid the liberation movements in South Africa and Namibia.

The price they paid was dear - ranging from acts of aggression and destabilisation like simultaneous military raids in the Zambian, Zimbabwean and Botswanan capitals on May 19, 1986 - to covert support to rebel movements in Angola and Mozambique.

A casualty of apartheid outside the borders of South Africa who has lived to tell his experiences is Zimbabwe's former cabinet minister Kumbirai Kangai and a member of the ruling Zanu-PF party's supreme decision making body, the politburo.

"Taking the position which the Frontline States did, repeatedly condemning apartheid and warning the then South African government that it would not last long...was a dangerous game," said Kangai, whose house was bombed in 1980.

"The SA government was very vicious," he said.

Sanctions South Africa imposed on landlocked neighbours meant diversion to longer and more costly routes to the sea. The regional countries also spent billions of dollars in defence costs.

As a result of South Africa's systematic destabilisation, it is estimated that some two million people died, especially in Angola and Mozambique while about seven million were displaced due to rebel activities.

Big economic losses

The resulting economic losses came to more than $45bn in 10 years, almost three times their combined foreign debt at the time, according to a 1989 Commonwealth report.

Former president of Zambia and ex-chairperson of the Frontline States Kenneth Kaunda in a foreword to the Commonwealth report on the devastation of the grouping by South Africa, described apartheid as "a horrendous physical reality."

He said apartheid was responsible for "untold social and economic destruction and shattering hopes for rapid development in the region."

Citing UN statistics that one child under the age of five years was dying in the region every three-and-a-half minutes as a result of apartheid, Kaunda said the impact was "the same as one Jumbo jet filled with Frontline children crashing without survivors every day".

Hundreds of thousands of adults were mutilated or maimed as a result of South African acts of aggression through rebel and banditry sponsorship.

Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique were bombed several times. But probably the most prominent casualty was the former leader of Mozambique Samora Machel, killed in a 1986 plane crash largely blamed on Pretoria.

Former Zambian home minister Aaron Milner recently said the country's economic malaise was partly due to its support for regional liberation movements.

Sacrifice was "worth it"

"We had to divert our resources to finance the different liberation movements including the ANC," (South Africa's now ruling African National Congress party which is the continent's oldest liberation movement), he said.

But he said the "sacrifice was worth it.

"There was no way Zambia could have remained peaceful when other countries were still fighting white minority rule," he said.

Lusaka became the heart of the Frontline, housing the ANC's headquarters-in-exile in 1977.

The Zambian capital became a veritable centre stage in the fight against apartheid with a flurry of summits and informal meetings and the comings and goings of intellectuals, journalists and liberals seeking contact with ANC "terrorists," as they were termed by Pretoria.

But the hospitality came at a cost.

"The ANC members introduced the gun culture in Zambia, which brought about armed robberies," said veteran journalist Robby Makayi.

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