South Africa, let’s burn the granary

“I am so full, lets burn the granary” African idiom


An apt African idiom that expresses overindulgence that leads to ingratitude or myopia loosely goes thus; “I am so full, lets burn the granary”. South Africa’s xenophobes seems intent on burning their granary. It is tempting to argue South African interests in the rest of Africa from an economic perspective; one of their smaller investments in Africa is Tanzania which hosts at least 150 South African companies and imports 7 billion Rand worth of South African goods. The dehumanization and killing of human beings on the basis of their identities has revolted the rest of slumbering humanity into resolute action in Nazi Germany, Slave-owning America and apartheid South Africa.

There is significant and noticeable messaging and police action in South Africa since international outrage. It is however grossly inadequate in individual leadership given the affront to our sense of humanity that the killings provoke. The posturing is unforgiveable given that not only is the South African freedom enjoyed today courtesy of African countries, but a large part of its government leadership since 1994 were hosted and supported in various parts of the continent courtesy of the outrage inherent in fellow Africans.

So outraged was Zambia at the treatment of black South Africans that, against its security, economic and political interests, it indefinitely hosted the Africa National Congress (ANC) party leaders in exile. It paid a devastating cost for that outrage. It was  regularly invaded by the  apartheid army and Zambia had to institute a dusk-to-dawn curfew on its own citizens to protect ANC units from detection and targeting by apartheid regime. At some point, President Kenneth Kaunda kept OR Tambo and his wife in state house to protect them from assassination attempts by the apartheid regime.

More profound was the decision by the Zambian government to reach out to China for help in constructing a railway line, the TAZARA Railway line, that would be used to export the country’s copper.  Zambia decided not to economically support the apartheid regime by not using South Africa’s ports. The rest is history.

Tanzania hosted MK trainees and provided training and ammunition to them. Mozambique suffered untold injustices for its solidarity with you. Swaziland had to reckon with constant  invasions into its territory and an ever-present threat of annexation by the apartheid regime. Dirt poor as Ethiopia was, it invested in training and arming MK. It also issued Nelson Mandela with passport so that he could travel the globe and mobilise support for ANC

Undated picture of Lindiwe Zulu in exile. Now serving as South Africa’s Minister for Small Business
Undated picture of Lindiwe Zulu in exile.

The current ANC government has 8 cabinet members who have been Kwerekwere (derogatory term for foreigner in SA) in other African countries. Lindiwe Zulu, South Africa’s Minister for Small Business, is the paragon of ingratitude. She returned from exile in 1992 having lived in Uganda and Tanzania. She has recently been accused at the South African Human Rights Commission of making  inflammatory remarks against small businesses owners of foreign origin.

The current South African President, Jacob Zuma, spent most of his youth in Robben Island, Mozambique and Zambia. Rob Davies, the Minister for Trade was exiled in Mozambique and UK from 1979 to 1990. Derek Hanekom, the Minister for Science and Technology  was a guest of Uncle Bob (President Robert Mugabe) and his government in Zimbabwe from 1987 – 1990. Nosiviwe Nqakula, the Minister for Defence was Kwerekwere in Angola and Russia from 1984. Jeff Radebe was in Mozabique and Tanzania from 1977, Abel Ramathlodi in Lesotho from 1981 and Lindiwe Sisulu variously hosted by Africans since 1973.

Even the current speaker of South Africa parliament, Baleka Mbete, taught in Mbabane in Swaziland from 1976, and then went on to work for the ANC in several other African cities, including Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Nairobi in Kenya, Gaborone in Botswana, Harare in Zimbabwe, and Lusaka in Zambia.

To each of these comrades who benefited from our solidarity, we ask of you to summon the very courage that made you stand up to apartheid, to now confront an even deeper inhumanity. For a time is coming when China is King on the global geopolitics table and does not need us anymore. When capital is chasing opportunities elsewhere beyond your borders and thus labour must follow suit. When that time of hunger comes home to South Africa, make sure NOW that you are gathering adequate moral capital with which to again buy Africa’s support.

(The writer is a Kenyan who lived in South Africa for four years)