‘We got a raw deal’

‘We got a raw deal’

MASERU – Chaba Mokuku, 50, vividly remembers scores of Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) youths flocking to their residence in Maseru, Lesotho, seeking refuge after the 1976 Soweto Uprising. He was only nine.

He remembers how his father, an Anglican Bishop, Philip Stanley Mokuku and his mother ’Matsepo Adeline Mokuku, a school teacher, would ask him to give up his bed for the political refugees.
The refugees were mostly supporters of the ANC and the PAC which were banned by the apartheid government.

And so during Lesotho’s biting winters, the young Mokuku would often find himself sleeping on the floor. Even during those early formative years, Mokuku would consider it a small price to pay in the fight for the liberation of South Africa.
As the anti-apartheid struggle intensified, more young black South Africans within the ranks of the ANC and the Pan-Africanist Movement (PAC), found themselves skipping the border into Lesotho.

Bishop Mokuku’s modest church house in Maseru was in most cases their first port of call.
“My father, a committed Bishop, was very active in the secular world; he accommodated all kinds of marginalised people,” he says.
“When the refugees left South Africa, they knew where their home was in Lesotho, which was the Anglican Church and its schools.”
Among those who crossed into Lesotho during those turbulent years were former South Africa Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni and the late Umkhonto we Sizwe commander Chris Hani.

Lesotho, because of its unique geographical location in which it is entirely surrounded by South Africa, became the epicentre of the liberation struggle in the late 1970s and early 80’s. It was to pay a heavy price for its commitment to the decolonisation of South Africa and other countries within the southern Africa region. For instance, on December 9, 1982, South African Defence Force commandos launched a deadly raid on Maseru that killed 42 people, the majority of them ANC cadres.

The raid infuriated the international community. Mokuku says although he was too young to have played an active role at the frontline, he still vividly remembers the immense sacrifices of his own people in Lesotho in the liberation of South Africa.
One event that stands out was the assassination of Steve Biko on September 12, 1977.

“After news of Biko’s death filtered in, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu who was the Bishop of Lesotho from 1976 to 1978 immediately organised a special prayer service in his honour that evening at St. James and St Mary Cathedral in Maseru where my father was the Dean of the Cathedral. The anger was building up and the political situation was getting worse,” he says.

Mokuku says it was Biko’s death that seemed to galvanise Archbishop Tutu to take up the cudgels and confront the apartheid regime back home.
And so Archbishop Tutu left Lesotho for South Africa, in 1978 to become the Secretary General of the South African Council of Churches. Mokuku’s father, Bishop Philip Mokuku, a soft-spoken yet assertive human rights defender, then took over the running of the Anglican Church in Lesotho.
Although Mokuku believes in peaceful settlement of disputes, he truly believed in the concept of liberation theology, which promotes active participation of Christians in liberation movements to bring about social and political change.

“I believe there are times when people are compelled to defend themselves and defy unjust laws,” he says.
Mokuku says while the South African apartheid government considered Umkhonto we Sizwe a terrorist group, he considered “it a liberation movement that was defending the people”.

From a very tender age, Mokuku says he was immersed in the politics of liberation theology. He found the narrative quite appealing.
“We were fed on the non-violent efforts of Nelson Mandela and how the apartheid system left him with no choice but to defend himself,” he says.
On the other hand, the Church was fulfilling its prophetic mission – to speak out against repression and injustice.
Twenty-three years after the end of apartheid, Mokuku believes not enough has been done to reward Lesotho for its immense sacrifices in the liberation of South Africa.

Instead, Basotho in Lesotho still continue to receive a raw deal – now from a democratically elected government of South Africa.
The divide between blacks and whites has remained unbridged 23 years after apartheid was dismantled, he says.
“The ANC government has dismally failed to foster a deracialised South Africa. What we still have is a small clique of whites with access to economic resources while the majority of blacks wallow in poverty.”

He says “without addressing the fundamentals of the economy you cannot dismantle apartheid because resources are still in the hands of whites.”
“All that the ANC has done is to create a small black elite that could be considered sell-outs. They have dismally failed to address the issue of racial equality.”

“Key state institutions responsible for economic development are almost paralysed and dysfunctional. Consequently, they can hardly deliver on the government’s mandate of promoting inclusive growth.” “Both Mandela and Biko must be turning in their graves.”

Mokuku says South Africa remains a deeply divided country, with a small group of white people on one hand with blacks wallowing in poverty on the other. Race and economic class still divides the country. One recent incident at the Maseru border post seems to illustrate the lingering racist attitudes among the white community and sheer lack of respect for Lesotho’s sacrifices by black South Africans.

Mokuku says on September 7, 2017 he was crossing into South Africa at the Maseru border with his nine-year-old daughter who is South African. It was drizzling and the queue was extremely long. Bizarrely, there was a shorter queue for “South Africans only” and another queue for “the great unwashed” from Lesotho and other nationalities.

Mokuku says the “South Africans only” queue reminded him of the discriminatory practices that were enforced under apartheid.
Under apartheid, there were separate amenities for “whites only”, as well as for blacks, Coloureds and Asians.
Two decades after the end of apartheid, Mokuku says that discrimination, which appears to be wired into the people’s psyche, is alive and kicking in South Africa.

As he stood in the “South Africans only” queue with his daughter, a man with a distinct Afrikaans accent tapped on his shoulder and reminded him that he did not belong in that queue – “Jy is in die verkeerde ry”. Of course he ignored him and went on with his business.

Although this was a simple incident at the border, Mokuku says it graphically illustrates the levels of discrimination Basotho continue to suffer at the hands of South Africans “whom we rescued”.
“It was a terrible feeling,” he says.

“I looked back at the contribution our family and many others in Lesotho had made towards the liberation of South Africa and I must say I was extremely disappointed.”
He says colonial borders have “divided people and families who are essentially one people”.
“We can’t be talking of regional integration, regional trade and cooperation when we have these artificial borders.”
Mokuku believes South Africa’s decision to tighten border controls just before the 2010 World Cup has gone a long way in “reversing the gains of free movement within the SADC region”.

“We need to promote trade and tourism between the two countries. If you tighten borders, that defeats the purpose and the two economies are affected. Tightening borders does not improve security for South Africa.” He argues “there are more serious criminals in South Africa than in Lesotho”. “What we have in Lesotho are petty criminals.”

When he looks back 23 years after the end of apartheid, Mokuku believes South Africa has not done enough to reward Lesotho for its sacrifices.
He says only former South Africa president Thabo Mbeki had a vision to reward Lesotho under a bilateral cooperation agreement he signed with Lesotho in April 2001.

Under the South Africa-Lesotho Joint Bilateral Cooperation (JBCC) agreement, Pretoria would use its economic might to pull Lesotho’s economy to South Africa’s level. The agreement was also, among other things, intended to facilitate the smooth movement of people, goods and services between the two countries.

“His thinking was that Lesotho deserved to be at the level of South Africa because of its sacrifices during the liberation struggle and its unique geographical position. You do not want to have an island of poverty in your backyard.”
“Unfortunately, we never moved on this. The agreement was never operationalised.”

l Chaba Mokuku is the Project Manager at the Private Sector Competitiveness and Economic Diversification Project (PSCEDP); and the Economic Diversification Support Project (EDSP) – two projects that seek to grow and support Lesotho’s private sector. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Chaba Mokuku and do not necessary reflect the official policy or position of any institution.

Abel Chapatarongo

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