What is a hero?
Africa must decide who is a hero and who is not.
So far, the outside world decides for Africa just like they have pushed the Coca Cola brand to even represent every other cool drink there is on the market.
Without taking away anything from the ailing former South African president Nelson Mandela, Africa should reflect on other leaders who sacrificed their careers and people for the regional democracy and independence.
Mandela is a hero of course, but can he be more a hero than the people who fought for his release? Yes, the whole of Africa stood by Mandela with the then Frontline States making a lot of noise about his release.
Take Kenneth Kaunda for example. He put his country’s development and the lives of his people on the line just to help southern African countries attain independence.
Mozambican, Angolan, Namibian, Zimbabwean and South African refugees and freedom fighters sought refuge in Zambia where the Rhodesian and apartheid governments would send planes to bomb from time to time.
So where does Africa place Kaunda who obviously saved the lives of many people? Why does Africa not celebrate Kaunda for the help he offered to the region’s independence?
At one time Kaunda fell ill and was stuck in a Windhoek hospital, yet that news was never run on front pages but found itself buried deep in the stomach of the papers.
But when Mandela falls ill, every paper across the world scrambles to get the story.
If at all, isn’t a hero a person who fights for human rights; a person who sacrifices everything for the benefit of others; a person who fights injustice; a person whose life is surrendered for other?
This is what Mandela did but Kaunda did more than just sitting in jail for 27 years but actively fought for the region against apartheid South Africa for the independence of Namibia and South Africa; against the Rhodesian regime for the independence of Zimbabwe; against the Portuguese for the independence of Mozambique and Angola.
If we want to play the numbers’ game, how many lives did Kaunda save and how many did Mandela save? And why does Africa especially southern Africa ignore the man who gave everything for them?
If one fights for the end of oppression, isn’t that person fighting for peace; for human rights; for justice; for fairness?
So is Kaunda not a hero; an international icon and a statesman?
Isn’t that person a suitable candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize which the US president Barack Obama won despite his government still prowling the killing fields in Afghanistan, Iraq and many other parts of the world?
What about Julius Nyerere? He too like Kaunda stood by the continent giving space to people running away from their countries.
He fought for the betterment of others even at the expense of his own country and people.
Without the likes of Nyerere, southern African countries would not have realised the independence dream. Just like Kaunda, Nyerere put the lives of his people on line because the apartheid regime would fly its squadrons across the borders just to massacre refuges in Tanzania.
So isn’t Nyerere a hero? Isn’t he a statesman; a freedom fighter; a human rights defender; and an international icon?
Didn’t Kaunda and Nyerere fight for democracy if at all democracy is the key word in defining heroes?
And how does Africa define the late Mozambican president Samora Machel who also opened up his country for revolutionary movements from the then Rhodesia and SA? Did he not fight for democracy? And just why does he not qualify to be a continental hero?
While Kaunda, Nyerere and Samora fought for the independence and the human rights for millions of people in the region, their contribution is not recognised.
In a 2001 report titled ‘Zambia Against Apartheid’ compiled by and the Justice Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) estimates the cost of southern Africa’s war on Zambia at US$19b.
Of this figure, US$5,34b was incurred fighting apartheid alone. The report notes that 2010 figures ‘should be higher’. “Support for liberation of Zimbabwe and others contributed to Zambia going into debt and through harsh IMF and World Bank debt conditions, staying in debt. “And some forces that for gain supported racist regimes have come through other windows and are getting facilities and resources built by Zambia during the liberation. “In April 1994, when apartheid South Africa changed and Nelson Mandela became president, Africa’s liberation sights were reached. But for Zambia, there were no organised international or local processes of healing from Southern Africa’s war of liberation,” the report further says.
In an interview with Harry Kreisler, Executive Director of UC Berkeley’s Institute of International Studies and Executive Producer of Conversations with History, Dr Kaunda admits this fact: “We opened our doors and all liberation movements moved from Tanzania to Zambia. That meant being bombed from time to time by South African war planes.
“Zimbabwe, Southern Rhodesia in those days, the Portuguese in Angola, the Portuguese in Mozambique, the settlers in Namibia, all these were now attacking Zambia because they wanted us to fear that accommodating liberation movements meant being bombed, bridges being destroyed; you build, they will bomb them again, and so on. “Oil places, where you hide your oil, they come and bomb and destroy those. This is what life then was, but it was something we had to do. When God says, ‘Love they neighbor as thyself’ and ‘Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you’ there’s no choice there, if you understood that. We understood that, we accepted it, we worked together.” Dr Kaunda further says his desire and that of the people of Zambia was to see other countries free from ‘people who did not believe that people of all races were God’s children’. “We were not fighting for independence of Zambia; we were also very much concerned with seeing to it that our neighbours in that region were becoming independent. “Angola, west of us; Mozambique, west of us; Zimbabwe, south of us; South West Africa (Namibia) and of course, South Africa itself . . .” he said.
Considering all this, how honestly can people say Kaunda ran down the Zambian economy?
Nelson Mandela the terrorist
While Kaunda was fighting for the freedom and democratic rights of millions of people, the US and UK had placed Mandela on their terrorist list despite that he was fighting against apartheid.
It only emerged last week that the raid by the apartheid regime 50 years ago on Mandela’s hideout at Liliesleaf farm was engineered by the British.
According to Denis Goldberg, a white communist who was a bomb maker and ended up detained together with Mandela, a British intelligence agent posed as a birdwatcher while spying on Mandela and his comrades.
Goldberg also said the British supplied the apartheid police information resulting in the raid carried out on 11 July 1963.
"We believe that there was a British intelligence agent in the nearby caravan park. Everyone thought he was a birdwatcher because he would climb up a telegraph pole with binoculars every day. But I think we were the birds he was watching,” Goldberg said during the 50th celebration of the raid.
It was because of the British intelligence that Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years and ironically it’s the British today who have become Mandela’s biggest worshippers.
On their part, the Americans wasted no time in place Mandela on their terrorist list until 2008 – seven years after South Africa’s independence.
This action by both the UK and the USA meant that they supported apartheid even though the United Nations had sanctioned the regime.
It was because of this support for apartheid which, in the eyes of the west, does not see and make Kaunda, Nyerere and Machel heroes because they fought against the very system the two sought to prop up.
Lame excuses and reasons
So far two arguments have been forwarded as to why Mandela is an international icon; that he did not stay long in power and that he forgave the people who wasted his 27 years in jail.
The reality is that Mandela would not come out a belligerent man because his release was negotiated and there is no doubt that one condition was reconciliation and forgiveness.
In any case, nowhere in the region did a black government chase out whites after attaining independence. After a protracted war, Zimbabwe’s independence was negotiated so was Namibia’s and no white man was chased out.
Second, most people say Kaunda presided over a one-party state. But the political atmosphere then demanded that model which was borrowed from the then Soviet Union. Every country in the region from Kamuzu Banda’s Malawi down to apartheid South Africa was a virtual one-party state in accordance to the Cold War Era.