Speech by Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, on the occasion of a Public Lecture on “Celebrating the Legacy of Liberation Movements in Africa: Freedom through Diplomacy”, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, 06 March 2012.

Programme Director;
Honourable Vice Chancellor, Dr Max Price;
Members of the University Management;
Faculty members;
Senior Government Officials;
Community Leaders here with us this evening;
Members of the Media;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

Let me take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude, and indeed a sense of appreciation to management, staff and students of the University of Cape Town for having us here today. We feel privileged to be associated with such an institution ranked amongst the oldest and most reputable in South Africa – we thank you for receiving us with such pomp and ceremony!

The topic of our talk tonight is: “Celebrating the Legacy of Liberation Movements in Africa: Freedom through Diplomacy”.  In this regard, I would like to preface my lecture with a well known quote that: “Until the lions have their historians, tales of hunt shall always glorify the hunter”

It is common knowledge that the evolution of Africa’s international relations and diplomacy, particularly during the liberation struggles on the Continent, has always been told by those who were neither Africans nor participated or supported the liberations struggles on the Continent. Our history as a continent and as a people has always been told from a non-African perspective. We need our historians to tell our side of the story of the evolution of Africa’s international relations and diplomacy. That is a challenge I would like to place squarely on the doors of our African Historians and our Universities.  The relationship between diplomats and academics should be strengthened as a way of sharpening and consolidating Africa’s international relations and diplomacy.

Therefore, tonight’s discussion should be the beginning and not the end of our conversation. Indeed, SADC has commissioned a study to document the history of the liberation struggles in Southern Africa. In my view, the dimension of the use of diplomacy as a tool for persecuting our struggles for political liberation and independence should be given the necessary focus it deserves as SADC is trying to do.

As we celebrate the centenary of the oldest liberation movement in Africa, the ANC, we have called upon our friends to join us in celebrating this milestone of unparallel trials and tribulations.   This is our victory; these celebrations belong to all of us together! This is our victory of Ubuntu and Humanity!

You will recall that our Cabinet is of the view that the Centenary Celebrations of the ANC are National celebrations - they do not belong to the ANC alone. It is the celebrations of our collective struggle against colonialism and its apartheid manifestation.

These celebrations give us, our country and the people of South Africa, Africa and the world, an opportunity to reflect on the journey we have travelled together. This freedom that we have attained is not based on colour – it belongs to all of us – black and white together. Above all, it belongs to humanity at large.

We should also pay homage to African countries that are celebrating 50 years of their liberation from the chains of colonialism.  Accordingly, we wish them well in their pursuits, and indeed their struggle to further eradicate from their countries the remnants of Colonialism. 

Programme Director

The complex and dynamic world of diplomacy did not begin on this continent with our encounter with colonialism.  Our ancestors had an established diplomatic practice of the use of emissaries and conflict mediation and resolution as well as treaties to manage relations between communities and nation-states.   Diplomacy as practiced today may have been codified in Europe from the 17th century, but it has a long history dating back to the ancient period.  It is not European in origin; and nor has it been the monopoly of Europe in history.  It is therefore not an accident that the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 could open its preamble with the observation that “peoples of all nations from ancient times have recognized the status of diplomatic Agents”.

However, in terms of today’s international law, as defined in the Convention cited above as well as other relevant instruments, our notion of diplomacy is state-centric. 

But then what is the place of the diplomacy of liberation movements in our international law, state-centric as it is?  This is a question we will try to answer in this lecture.

Ladies and gentlemen


It is thanks to African diplomacy, that is fundamentally collective-oriented and radical in character, that today we have what could be called revolutionary diplomacy.  African diplomacy post-colonial rule was generally radical.

A pre-eminent African diplomat with a distinguished service in Ghana and the United Nations, Ambassador Frederick Arkhurst, recently reflected on the emergence of African diplomacy in the years after the Second World War. Writing in his much-read memoirs entitled African Diplomacy, Ambassador Arkhurst, who was also the chairperson of the first Africa Group at the United Nations in 1960,  suggested that (I quote):

“Their common history under Western European colonialism; the frustrations of dependency; the ravages of apartheid in the southern part of the continent; the appearance of neo-colonialism in the newly independent Republic of Congo (Zaire) – all these factors led to a reaction which injected a certain radicalism to the collective African posture in international relations.” (close quote)

This meant that out of their experiences in the past and owing to the continued demon of neo-colonialism, African diplomacy would be dedicated wholly to opposing colonialism in countries that were not yet free, fighting neo-colonialism and continued imperialism in independent Africa, and affirming that Africa was free.

While in conventional diplomatic theory states are expected to conduct their diplomacy primarily on the basis of national interests, independent African countries tended to show a sense of collective, continental allegiance. This is a tendency that countries inherited from liberation movements that tended to have a pan-African outlook, joining forces at times with their counterparts in other African countries to force the common colonial rulers to heed the grievances of the colonised peoples.

Vulnerable individual African countries coming out of decades of harsh colonial rule realised that bilateral diplomacy would have limited benefits for them in negotiations against powerful states in the international system. So, they would favour collective diplomacy as the key tool of fighting colonial and neo-colonial tendencies. They gravitated towards collective action with other former colonies within the rubric of global south solidarity. For this reason, this anti-colonial African diplomacy would find concrete expression in cooperation in the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of African Unity and the United Nations.

The independence of Ghana in 1957 triggered a wave of independence movements that would lead to the independence of over thirty African countries in a period of a mere three years. This movement took the form of energetic movements that learned quickly to form links with counterparts to pile up pressure on colonial powers to give up their power. The imaginative politics of the first generation of post-colonial leaders led to the initiation of policies and programmes designed to assist unfinished liberation struggles succeed.

Some of the newly independent states would later crumble internally partly because the first generation of our leaders focused intensively on foreign affairs, mainly in the support of the liberation struggles of colonial territories in Africa. In this way, they sacrificed their own national interests and neglected to invest all their energies to deal with huge domestic challenges in their pursuit for the liberation of not-yet-liberated countries.

For this reason, the sudden decline of colonial powers in Africa from the 1960s was not a spontaneous and inexplicable development. But it was very much an outcome of the agency of African liberation movements and the revolutionary diplomacy of independent African states.

Collective African diplomacy in the UN was remarkable given the fact that in most cases the newly independent states had to send diplomats without experience, resources, and guidance into this very complex arena of multilateral diplomacy. Indeed, there were few African diplomats in the UN in the 1960s, the decade in which diplomacy played a critical role in the liberation struggles of 30 countries that became independent in this period.

In their wisdom, the new African leaders and governments sent to the UN some of their sharpest minds, probably the most needed in the reconstruction of their newly independent countries. The distinguished early African permanent representatives to the UN used their resourcefulness and collective wisdom to champion many achievements on behalf of Africa in the UN system to the surprise of many established diplomats.

Programme Director,

The creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 and subsequently, the establishment of the OAU Coordinating Committee for the Liberation of Africa, is a story that is yet to be told in full. These are two important institutions in the history of Africa’s international relations and diplomacy and indeed our own history.

For South Africa, we remember the words of OR Tambo, the 9th President of the ANC, in 1985 when he declared that “our movement and our people have been sustained in our struggle by the firm solidarity of the African continent. The chief agency of that solidarity has throughout been the OAU and its Liberation Committee.”

Indeed, the OAU and its Coordination Committee for the Liberation of Africa provided a strong platform for the launching of Africa’s International Relations and Diplomacy to the rest of the World. This was conducted through the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council, the Committee of Twenty-Four on Decolonization, the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement. 


Ladies and Gentlemen

As pointed out already, the 1960s marked a significant turning point in the history of our Continent. It is undeniable that the anti-colonial sentiments and the struggles for political independence in Africa were largely influenced by events in Europe and North America, particularly after World War II.

The Pan African Congresses convened largely by the African Diaspora outside our continent, also contributed immensely in shaping Africa’s International Relations and diplomacy prior to the establishment of the OAU.

In fact, the diplomatic support to the liberation struggle in South Africa was clearly outlined at the founding Summit of the OAU. During that Summit, and having considered the question of apartheid and racial discrimination in South Africa, a Declaration issued by the Summit stated that the OAU Member States were unanimously convinced of the imperious and urgent necessity of coordinating and intensifying their efforts to put an end to the criminal policy of apartheid and wipe out racial discrimination in all its forms. 

The intrinsic strategy and logic of Africa’s international relations and diplomacy against the apartheid regime was essentially to mobilize the international community to support the liberation struggles in South through a policy of effective sanctions and complete isolation of the apartheid regime from the rest of the international community. In this regard, Africa’s international relations and diplomacy focused on ostracizing and isolating the apartheid regime from the international community and at the same time supporting the armed struggle through the OAU Coordination Committee for the Liberation of Africa. The Committee had the mandate to mobilize military, financial and other resources to enhance the capacity of the armed struggle.

In my view, the manner in which the OAU conducted its international relations and diplomacy, particularly at the level of the United Nations and indeed at various multilateral levels, was very effective and without doubt contributed substantially to the success of our struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Besides the Coordinating Committee for the Liberation of Africa, the OAU’s anti-colonial machinery was also supported in its anti-apartheid crusade by the Front-line States – a body which later transformed into the Southern African Coordinating Conference, a regional economic community intended to lessen economic dependence on apartheid South Africa. The body would lay the groundwork for the post-apartheid Southern African Development Community (SADC) that we have today.

Formed in 1976, the Front-line States maintained military and diplomatic pressure on the white minority regimes to accept the principle of majority rule. During the same period, they successfully demanded that Zimbabwe's divided anti-colonial movement negotiate as a united front and accept some unpalatable compromises in order to reach a settlement. As a result, Zimbabwe became Africa's 51st independent country on 18 April 1980 and an important addition to the membership of the Front-line States.

The OAU Member State and Members of the OAU Coordinating Committee, with the support of the Front-line States, used every opportunity available at the multilateral level to convince the international community that the wars of liberation were just wars in accordance with international law and therefore had to be supported by the international community. The OAU argued that the struggles constituted the fundamental requirement for an oppressed people for self-determination and political independence as well as economic emancipation as recognized in various UN instruments, including the Charter.

One of the achievements in this regard was when the apartheid regime was expelled from most of the multilateral institutions recognized by the United Nations as well as the Commonwealth.

Clearly, the entire concept of Africa’s International Relations and Diplomacy drew its inspiration from the OAU Charter which, among others, called for the promotion of the unity and solidarity of African states to eradicate all forms of colonialism from Africa and to promote international cooperation, having due regard to the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To achieve these goals, OAU Member States pledged themselves to harmonize their policies in the fields of political and diplomatic cooperation and in cooperation for defense and security, among others. This, I submit, is the source of Africa’s International Relations and Diplomacy and its intrinsic logic to support all liberation movements in Africa.

As you are aware, the OAU was eventually transformed into the African Union in 2002.

Significantly, at the launch of the African Union in 2002, the assembled Heads of State and Government noted that nowhere had the OAU "proved more decisive than in the African struggle for decolonization." Through the liberation committee, they declared, "the continent worked and spoke as one with undivided determination in forging an international consensus in support of the liberation struggle." Indeed, the new South Africa stands as historical testimony and an internationally acclaimed product of Africa’s international relations and diplomacy.


The ANC was part and parcel of Africa’s diplomatic onslaught against apartheid and an active member of the family of liberation movements on this continent.  If anything, the ANC was in many respects playing a leading role in actions undertaken against apartheid on the international front.

However, the use of diplomacy in our struggle against colonialism in this country did not begin with the formation of the ANC 100 years ago, in 1912.  It began the very day colonialists set their foot on our shores.  During the wars of dispossession from those that were fought by the Khoisan people in the 17th century to the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906, diplomacy played a role as our weapon of struggle.

Land, cattle and labour were all key ingredients in the many wars fought between the colonialists and the indigenous people. The role of diplomacy was prominent throughout, not only in the form of the use of interpreters and emissaries between the warring parties, but also in peace agreements and other treaties that were entered upon. In many cases wars would arise as a result of conflicting interpretations of these treaties which in most cases were intended to protect the interests of colonialists.  Conflicting understandings of land ownership also led to countless wars. To Africans, land belonged not to an individual but to the community - it could only be shared, and used communally. To encroaching colonialists, land was for exclusive, private appropriation.  

Moreover, colonialists did not recognize indigenous sovereignty.  They saw no problem in dispossessing the indigenous people of their land, and killing them if they fought back.  In dispossessing the indigenous people of their land, colonialist used a combination of violence, threats, and conquest, side by side with diplomatic methods such as negotiations, treaties, blackmail and buy-offs. 

Our first diplomats of the liberation struggle in this country were the three Khoi interpreters who played an essential role in the interface between the Khoi people and the early Dutch settlers in the 17th century in what is today the Cape Peninsular.    These Khoi personalities were: Autshumato, Kratoa (a woman known also as Eva), and Doman.  The three interpreters had a good knowledge among themselves of Dutch, English, French and Portuguese languages and cultures which they put into good use in Khoi-Dutch interactions.  They were all key in the first war of dispossession known as the First Khoikhoi - Dutch War of 1659 as interpreters, the go-betweens, negotiators, and even warriors on the side of the Khoi people.

Kratoa is worth singling out because she was a woman in a male dominated environment. She was employed by Jan van Riebeeck as a domestic helper at an early age, being groomed as a mediator between the Khoi and the Dutch, and became the first African in this country to be married to a white person.  She lived a painful life after the death of her husband, including being imprisoned on Robben Island several times for what they called “immoral” behavior.  The Cape-Slavery-Heritage published an article on its website entitled “Van Riebeeck and the Three Diplomats - the Founding of Modern South Africa”, which paid tribute to Kratoa as follows, that (I quote):

“She fell pregnant a number of times by different men and each time her infants were taken from her into care. This tragic founding mother of modern South Africa and early diplomat died at the age of 31 in 1674. She is the early ancestral mother of many Coloured, white Afrikaner and indigene African families of today”. (close quote)

The same article concluded that: “The stories of the three diplomats - Autshumato, Kratoa and Doman - are as much a part of the founding of modern South Africa as that of Jan van Riebeeck”.

Historians are in agreement that during the wars of dispossession Africans employed strategies and tactics that had in them both elements of resistance and accommodation.  The latter, accommodation, entailed the use of diplomatic tactics such as the building of alliances. Indeed, Africans built alliances to exploit divisions among different European colonial powers such as when King Moshoeshoe of the Basotho used alliance with the British to protect himself from the so-called Voortrekkers, this resulting in Lesotho being a British protectorate instead of part of the Union of South Africa.

Programme Director


The formation of the ANC in 1912 took the diplomacy of our struggle to another level.  The founders of the ANC had continued with the diplomatic strategies that were used during the wars of dispossession of engaging the British imperial government and other colonial powers as a way of seeking a peaceful solution to the South African question. However, like with earlier attempts, this non-violent, diplomatic approach did not take our struggle any far towards the solution. This happened to the 1909 delegation sent to England which failed to convince the British Crown to remove the colour bar clauses from the constitution of the Union of South Africa.  The same fate visited another ANC diplomatic mission which was dispatched to England in 1914. 

ANC’s diplomatic overtures to the world were not limited to sending delegations to the British Crown. The visit by Josiah Gumede, the 4th President of the ANC, to the former Soviet Union in November 1927 not only was it the first by an ANC president to that part of the world.  It also led to the so-called Black Republic resolution by the international communist movement which helped the South African Communist Party transit ideologically to the eventual development of the famous theory of Colonialism of a Special Type. The Black Republic resolution transformed the SACP into a truly South African movement with a theory and strategies and tactics grounded in the South African reality. It helped the SACP recognise the colonial question and integrate it into its class analysis of the South African struggle.

One big issue that preoccupied the ANC and the entire Africa in the 1940s was the future of South West Africa (known today as Namibia).  The Africa Group at the United Nations had kicked into action when in 1946 the racist regime in South Africa sought unsuccessfully to incorporate South-West Africa into South Africa as a fifth province. For his part, Dr Alfred Xuma, the 6th President of the ANC, in addition to addressing letters to the United Nations, also travelled to the headquarters of this world body in New York in 1946 to join the campaign against the incorporation of South West Africa.

However, it was in exile, between the 1960s and the unbanning in 1990, that the ANC perfected the use of diplomacy as a weapon in our struggle.  With international solidarity identified as a pillar of our struggle alongside three others (namely: armed struggle, the underground, and mass struggle), the ANC built an unrivalled diplomatic arsenal that stretched from the OAU and the UN to many countries all over the world.  With the anti-apartheid movement established in many countries for internal mobilization and lobbying of governments and observer missions in existence at the OAU and the UN as well as formal diplomatic representation in many countries – the ANC was a force to reckon with in the international arena.  When the organization was unbanned in 1990, it had more diplomatic representations in the world than the apartheid government.

One of the shining lights of ANC’s diplomacy in exile was the late Johnny Makhathini who died in Zambia in December 1988 and reburied in his home province of Kwazulu-Natal in February 2010.  In his eulogy at the reburial ceremony, President Jacob Zuma reminded us that:

All who lived and worked with him will recall that as ANC representative in Algeria, [Comrade Makhathini] was highly effective, making the message of freedom heard in all corners, from Algeria to the Western Europe.  Comrade Johnny Makatini was also a respected figure in the Organisation of African Unity, pushing the agenda of the unity of the African people and the fight against apartheid.

He distinguished himself as the head of the ANC mission in the United Nations. He was highly influential and was known by every diplomat worth his salt. 

Programme Director

From the foregoing, it is clear that liberation movements have indeed transformed the state-centric nature of international law, especially in four areas. Firstly, the right of nations to self determination is firmly established in international law. Secondly, just cause for which people can fight is recognized in international law in the context of the use of force. International law also recognizes the right of a people to institute a revolutionary change of government as opposed to unconstitutional change of government (known as coups). Thirdly, over the years, elements of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations were qualified when the UN adopted a resolution granting observer status to some liberation movements, including our ANC.  Finally, liberation movements came to be considered as party to a conflict in terms of international humanitarian law and therefore bound by obligations under such law like on the treatment of prisoners of war. The ANC was one of the few liberation movements that respected this aspect of international law.

In a word, the ANC’s diplomacy was successful in that, firstly, it made the struggle against apartheid an aspect of international law when apartheid was condemned as a crime against humanity and a threat to international peace as defined in the UN Charter. Secondly, the UN Convention on the suppression of apartheid of November 1973 was one example of the body of international jurisprudence that evolved against apartheid. Thirdly, the UN deployed boycotts and sanctions for isolating and weakening apartheid South Africa as a member of the international community, including targeting its access to arms as well as international trade and investment. Fourthly, the establishment of the UN Special Committee against Apartheid and its Center against Apartheid, created a follow up mechanism in the UN system on anti-apartheid issues.   Finally, the granting of observer status to the ANC was the cherry on the top! 

In this regard, Chief Albert Luthuli, the 8th President of the ANC, spoke for many of us when he thanked those who laid down their lives for the attainment of our freedom, when he said (and I quote):

“To these champions of the noble cause of freedom for Democracy I say, money to give you we have none, but in full measure, we express our deep-felt sympathy and admiration, we are proud of you”. (close quote)


Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to end this lecture by quoting from the words of a great Pan-Africanist who participated at the 1th Pan African Congress in London, England, in 1900 and the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England, in 1945. It was, indeed W.E.B du Bois who said in a statement delivered at the 1900 Congress that (I quote):

“Let the nations of the world respect the integrity and independence of the free Negro states of Abyssinia, Liberia, Haiti, and the rest, and let the inhabitants of these states, the independent tribes of Africa, the Negroes of the West Indies and America, and the black subjects of all nations take courage, strive ceaselessly, and fight bravely, that they may prove to the world their incontestable right to be counted among the great brotherhood of mankind. Thus we appeal with boldness and confidence…for a generous recognition of the righteousness of our cause.”

There is no doubt that the African spirit that blessed the 1st Assembly of the OAU in Cairo in 1964, a year after OAU was established in 1963, derived from the 1st and the 5th Pan African Congresses of 1900 and 1945 respectively. Our struggle and the historical support it gained from the OAU, the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, reflects the spirit of Pan-Africanism which logically demands the united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa to assume its responsibility in the promotion of peace, security, stability and development in Africa. Accordingly, we are determined to work closely with Members States of SADC to play an active role in the strengthening of AU, the successor institution of the OAU, to ensure that the AU remains a viable framework for the conduct of Africa’s international relations and diplomacy.

As the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, we have used the last eighteen years (18 yrs) of our freedom to reposition our country within our continent and in the rest of the world. Today, South Africa stands out among the front ranks of those countries who strive for peace, democracy, prosperity, infrastructure development, and poverty eradication (among others).

Programme Director, Dr Xuma (ANC President) once wrote to the then UN Secretary-General in November 1946 that “I may mention that it is difficult for the native African in South Africa to get his views and aspirations known by the outside world. The views represented by the Government of the Union of South Africa generally represent the interest of the ruling European minority”.  Decades of ANC’s diplomacy, supported by the OAU anti-colonial machinery, would change this picture radically.  The struggle of the South African people was known in almost all households in the world.  Today we pay homage to all those dedicated cadres who made this possible.

Once again, we thank the University for inviting us.  You did so, because you yourselves have been part of this journey that led us to our freedom in 1994.  You did not stop there.  You have continued to be on our side in another leg of our journey to a prosperous, non-racial, non-sexist South Africa, free of poverty, unemployment, inequality, and all the vestiges of the legacy of apartheid.  Today’s lecture is part of this journey!

I thank you!

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