South Africas, we are not the enemy…
– One of my old posts –
“The Ghost of ‘the Soweto Boys’ – Before they Airbrush History Again”
Those of us that attended Federal Government Colleges (Unity Schools) in the 70’s and 80’s will recall that a number of our classmates where from the then apartheid South Africa as well as Namibia, the former sheltering and studying in Nigeria (on full Nigerian Government Scholarships) as a result of the South African Border Wars / Liberation Struggle while the latter sought refuge from the same South African apartheid government’s spillover Border Wars / Namibian War of Independence.
When my father dropped me off on my first day at school in Federal Government College (FGC) Enugu in Eastern Nigeria, he handed me over to the Peace House Master, Mr. Okere (a.k.a Baba Kerai) who subsequently handed me over to my first school father, a Namibian, by the name Timothy Shikongo.
After the Soweto massacre of 1976, South Africa’s ANC and Namibia’s SWAPO decided to take some young black South Africans and Namibians out of their respective countries. The idea was to find a safe haven where they can be kept alive in the first instance, obtain a sound education to better prepare them for the struggle, and safely bring them back to their respective countries either to lead the struggle or to contribute in the building of the envisioned new and free Namibia and South Africa.
They came to be known as ‘The Soweto Boys’.
Timothy Shikongo of Peace House and his countryman Benjamin Shigenge of Liberty House where ‘Soweto Boys’ and Nigeria had a huge number of them educated in various educational institutions across Nigeria. Zanele Dlamini Mbeki, President Thabo Mbeki’s wife, was the Coordinator of this programme thus Thabo Mbeki was constantly in Nigeria, leading the ANC to appoint him its contact man with Nigeria.
Today I hear that most of those Soweto boys are University Professors and top Government and Party officials in South Africa and Namibia but the country that harboured and trained them seems to have lost the memory of their sojourn…they have become ghosts as most Nigerians don’t even know that they ever existed.
So this is to remind us of ‘the Soweto Boys’ and the role Nigeria played in the struggle to dismantle the minority led apartheid regimes of South Africa and Namibia;
• The Nigerian Government and every Nigerian was committed to the dismantling of the apartheid regime. The government of Nigeria created the South Africa Relief Fund (SARF) funded by Government and a 5% voluntary deduction from the salaries of every Nigerian worker irrespective of rank / office, both in the private and public sector. This included donations from ordinary Nigerians of all walks of life, students inclusive. This fund was placed at the disposal of the Liberation Struggle.
• Nigeria nationalized the local operations of Barclays Bank, after the bank went ahead to invest in a South African Government issued bond in violation of the economic / trade embargo on the apartheid regime.
• At the risk of political, economic and social reprisals, Nigeria nationalized British Petroleum (BP) for supplying oil to the apartheid South African Regime and kept away from our border all those who had dealings with the apartheid regime.
• Nigeria spearheaded the boycott of the 1978 Commonwealth Games, in protest against New Zealand’s sporting contacts with the apartheid South Africa because they were considered not to be in accordance with the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement.
• Nigeria again led 32 of 59 Commonwealth nations (from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean) in a boycott of the Commonwealth Games due to Prime Minister Thatcher’s government’s support for the apartheid regime of South Africa, significantly affecting the quality and profitability of the Games and thus thrusting apartheid into the international spotlight.
• According to Major General Daniel Mofokeng, head of South Africa Defence Force (SANDF) Foreign Relations, Nigeria was in the forefront of the struggle against apartheid and supported the then Frontline States, which was established to achieve democratic majority rule in South Africa. Former members included Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Hear him “I must say the relations between the two countries, most especially before 1994, has been extra ordinary in the sense that Nigeria has been in the forefront in the anti-apartheid struggle. It assisted and trained our cadre, our students and military students then. So I must say the cooperation between the two has been very great indeed”.
• It is further alleged that Nigeria provided secret military training to the ANC at the Kaduna first mechanized army division and provided other material, financial and diplomatic support to African National Congress guerrilla forces.
• Nigeria played a pivotal role in establishing and then Chaired the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid (UNSCAA) for most of its existence.
So flashback to Timothy Shikongo, Benjamin Shigenge and the rest of the Soweto Boys, do they still remember their days in Nigeria? Are they appreciative of the role Nigeria and Nigerian’s played? If they respond in the affirmative, is it not then ironic that today, the Government and people of South Africa will rather associate with countries that actively supported apartheid than the Federal Republic of Nigeria? A Nigeria that threw all its resources and might into destroying the menace of racism in South Africa and Namibia?
I remember the ghost of ‘the Soweto Boys’, my School father, Timothy Shikongo, I also remember Benjamin Shigenge. Just as I remember them, may those countries we supported remember our role and may our youth learn the real history of Nigeria and its role in the Anti-Apartheid struggle…Not the airbrushed and photo-shopped version currently being peddled by revisionists.