End of Apartheid was not end of oppression in Africa

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By David F.K Mpanga

Posted  Saturday, December 14  2013 at  02:00

In Summary

“These so-called Big Men, their families and lackeys do not tolerate any meaningful form of opposition or dissent.”


Frantz Fanon said, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.” The challenge of the generation that was born in Africa in the late 19th to mid-20th Centuries was European colonialism. South Africa, which established Black majority rule in 1994, was the last redoubt of European colonialism. Apartheid used unfair and immoral laws and the coercive organs of state to entrench and protect interests of the White population over those of Blacks.
The generation of Nelson Mandela, who died last week at 95 years, and his comrades such as Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki, amongst others, swiftly discovered their mission and fulfilled it. They fought the unjust and immoral oppression of Black people by White people and won against very steep odds.

Nelson Mandela also became the global personification of enlightened and effective leadership. His steady hand at the tiller enabled the South African ship of state to traverse the choppy waters of transition from Apartheid to Black majority rule with a minimum of bloodshed and social or economic upheaval. He turned bitter foes and his erstwhile tormentors into allies and willing participants in the process of change.

By the simple act of forgiveness and tolerance, Mandela gave his jailers the key out of the bigger prison of international ostracisation. In 1990, I was a First Year law student when I watched Mandela walk to freedom. At that time, my Ugandan passport expressly prohibited travel to South Africa and I only knew one White South African. Today, South Africa is my most frequent foreign destination, mainly for business but also for pleasure. The law firm in which I practice is in a business alliance with a South African law firm. My wife is in the final stages of her PhD at a South African University. We bank with a South African back, use the services of a South African telecom company and regularly shop in a South African supermarket. I count many White South Africans as my friends. We are all Africans now.

But we must remember that the end of Apartheid was not the end of oppression, injustice and tyranny in Africa. It was merely the end of institutionalised and easy to identify oppression of Black people by White people. What we, the generation born in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries have to squarely address is the equal but, perhaps, more pernicious evil of Black on Black oppression. I say more pernicious because unlike the oppression of Blacks by Whites, it is harder to identify and the end of the anti-colonialist struggle gave it the cloak of sovereignty under which it festers largely undisturbed.

All over the continent, Black elites are using laws and the coercive state machinery (police, army and intelligence agencies) inherited from the colonialists to entrench themselves in economically advantaged positions. These so-called Big Men, their families and lackeys do not tolerate any meaningful form of opposition or dissent. They instrumentalise their ethnicities to hide their personal and (immediate or extended) family greed, then hold their ethnic groups hostage to their being in state power. The abuse of basic human rights abounds as the elites grab land, sell natural and state resources to cronies for a pittance and loot state coffers dry to feather their opulent nests.

These situations are very difficult for people, whether Black or White, to oppose because they are done by Black people to Black people and, allegedly, this is as God intended it to be! Black people who point out to the Big Men that their policies and actions are imbalanced, oppressive or unfair are branded liars, traitors, terrorists, tribalists or inciters of genocide. They are also called lackeys of the colonialists. White people who point out the short comings of the Black elites are condemned as neo-colonialists and racists who are working to undermine “our sovereignty”. Where we were once happy to hear voices condemning Apartheid from all over the world, voices condemning Black on Black oppression are not to be entertained.

Apart from the cloak of sovereignty, lately Big Men and their praise singers are fond of quoting development statistics to argue that Black on Black oppression should be ignored because it is delivering “growth”. In this they are no different from the architects of colonialism and Apartheid who used arguments of bringing civilisation and development to the Africans to justify their unjust and immoral deeds.

The fight against Apartheid was premised on the simple basis that all human beings are equal and that no one must craft state power into a tool to oppress others in order to defend an indefensible and immoral economic position. The oppression of human beings by others is wrong and must stop – regardless of the colour of the oppressors or of the oppressed. Mandela and his generation fulfilled their mission of ending White on Black oppression. It is up to us to get up, get out and do something about the Black on Black oppression that has made Africa its home.
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