Treat our neighbours with respect they deserve

The ANC and Frelimo share a long and deep history as liberation movements in the struggle for freedom, writes Imraan Buccus.

File photo: Mike Hutchings. Credit: REUTERS

Today I write from Frelimo’s party school, the ruling party’s institute for political education, in Mozambique. In South Africa some of us tend to think of Mozambique as a holiday destination – with peri peri chicken, a vibrant night life, the romance of the Arab dhow in the harbour and all those glorious beaches.

At others times we tend to think of our neighbour as a place where desperately poor people come from and hijacked cars go to.

We don’t think often enough of the history that binds us together.

The ANC and Frelimo, both ruling parties in South Africa and Mozambique respectively, share a long and deep history as liberation movements in the struggle for freedom.

The apartheid state was always threatened by this relationship and carried out many raids against Frelimo and the ANC.

After Mozambique’s independence in 1975, the relationship between Frelimo and the ANC reached a critical stage for South Africa as Umkhonto we Sizwe, (the ANC’s military wing) could then operate freely on South Africa’s doorstep. Feeling vulnerable, the apartheid SADF carried out a number of operations against the ANC and Frelimo. They included:

Today if you take a walk along the Marginal, the road that winds around the beautiful bay in Maputo, you can still see some of the damage left by the bomb that cost Albie Sachs his arm and an eye.

But today while both countries have serious problems, they are both free. The sacrifices that were required for liberation were not for nothing.

We have just celebrated Africa Day but while a lot of lip service is paid to Pan-African unity, the truth is that many South Africans see countries like Mozambique and Zimbabwe as little more than places from which poor people migrate to our country looking for work.

Xenophobia runs through our country from top to bottom and from poor people attacking a Mozambican in the xenophobic pogroms in 2008, to the police murdering a Mozambican by dragging him behind their van last year; to the rich calling for stricter border control, we all carry the burden of a national shame.

We are not alone in our narrow-minded chauvinism. Voters across Europe have recently chosen the most right-wing and anti-immigrant parties to represent them in Brussels.

From the US to Australia and India fear of the other is increasingly bringing a toxic presence to national politics.

But the fact that xenophobic attitudes are becoming so widespread is no excuse for their prevalence in our own society.

Xenophobia is like any other prejudice and it is always irrational and morally wrong.

But when one looks at the shared history of struggle that joins South Africa and Mozambique, the discrimination – and sometimes violence – to which Mozambicans are often subjected in our country, is even more despicable.

Many debts were incurred in the struggle for our freedom.

One of these debts, certainly, is to Frelimo and to the people of Mozambique.

That debt is not only because Mozambique hosted so many of our activists during the hardest days of the struggle, often at real risk to its own security and citizens.

The victory of Frelimo over Portuguese colonialism in Mozambique was also a huge boost to the struggle here.

In 1974 Muntu Myeza, from the South African Students’ Organisation, organised rallies in support of Frelimo. The biggest of these events, and the most contested, was held in Durban at Curries Fountain.

The event was carried out in direct defiance of the apartheid regime and it put people like Saths Cooper, Patrick Lekota, Aubrey Mokoape and Strini Moodley in prison.

The rally has gone down in the history of Durban, along with the Durban strikes of 1973 and the moment of mass struggle in the 1980s, as one of the great moments in the struggle for freedom.

Forty years later the least we can do is to treat our neighbours, at home or in our own country, with the respect they deserve.