In the poem Chimurenga/Freedom the man dubbed “The People`s Poet”, Mzwakhe
Mbuli,states,”Agostino Neto, the late poet-president, used both the pen and
the machine to achieve the liberation of Angola.”This is not only a
statement reflecting a connection between two poets, but also one which
reflects of a time of deep ties between two peoples.
Following independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola’s MPLA government gave
refuge to South Africa’s liberation movements, the ANC and the PAC, to use
its territory as a base to wage a guerilla-style warfare against South
Africa’s apartheid government. The ANC`s Umkhonto we Sizwe(MK) and the PAC
Azanian People’s Liberation Army(APLA), like they had done in a number of
other Southern African states, set up camps in Angola where they could train
young recruits pouring out of South Africa into guerrillas to go back and
fight the apartheid state through bombings, assassinations and other
guerrilla-style tactics. In an effort to annul the existence of these
training camps the Nationalist-party government sent the South African
Defence Force(SADF),on cross-border raids into Angola to obliterate the
camps and any sign of MK and APLA activity if found.
The SADF’s continued raids into Angola in the mid-eighties caused a lot of
antagonism between the MPLA government and Pretoria. These highly unwelcome
invasions of Angolan territory by the SADF were decisively repelled by a
coalition of the Angolan army, MK and Cuban recruits in what is now famously
known as The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale. On 23 September 1987 the SADF went
on the offensive and started shelling the border town of Cuito with heavy
long-range artillery. The heavier response from the Angolan army and the liberation armies was too much for the SADF to handle, and it finally conceded defeat and withdrew into South Africa-controlled South West Africa on 13 March 1988 after six
unsuccessful attempts to push through the coalition’s stronger defenses.
It is against the backdrop of such relations between the ANC in exile and
a new MPLA government that that the current face-off between Angola’s refugees in South Africa and the South African government comes into focus. The
tables have now turned. The ANC is now the ruling party in South Africa,
and over a hundred and fifty thousand Angolans remain in exile in a number
of Southern African states, including South Africa, due to a bloody civil
war between Neto’s MPLA government and UNITA rebels which has run through most
of Angola’s independence years, ending in 2002.
On 3 May 2013 the Department of Home Affairs together with the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a statement declaring that all Angolan refugees in South Africa were to be a part of a repatriation process which would commence as of August 31.
Details around the process have been sketchy, and this has left the Angolan refugee community in South Africa on tenterhooks as to what is actually going to happen to
them and their future in South Africa. The organisation representing
Angolans in South Africa, the Congress of Students and Angolan
Community (CACE) held a protest demonstration outside of the South African
parliament building on 16 May 2013.The following points were raised by the
protesters in a petition to the department:
- It is unclear whether the South African government is going to enforce a voluntary repatriation program for Angolan refugees or whether they are going to enforce cessation and force Angolans to go back home.
- If an Angolan refugee does not want to return to Angola, what options exist for an exemption?
- Who can apply for exemption and what are the criteria?
- What other options will be created for those Angolans who have established roots, via marriage and other means, in South Africa? Will there be a special permit allowing them to reside and work in South Africa?
The issue of Angolan support to the ruling ANC government during the struggle in South Africa was also voiced by protesters. Part of the petition handed over to a government representative read:
“The CACE would like to remind the South African government of the historical ties between our two nations. We as Angolans gave assistance to the ANC and other political organizations during the struggle for freedom in South Africa. This important period in our shared history is best remembered by the loss of many Angolan and ANC fighters in The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, where the apartheid regime was defeated and forced to begin preparations towards a free, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. We would like the ANC government to be reminded of this recent background when it deals with the issue of our exile in South Africa today.”
According to Scalabrini Advocacy Officer, Marilize Ackermann, the repatriation process appears to be racked by inefficiency and a lack of information from the department’s side. “It is all happening under the radar, with no clear communication by the department, which is leading to a lot of concern in the Angolan refugee community,” she says. Scalabrini has 78 Angolan clients, 56 of whom are being assisted with cessation procedures.
A thorny issue around the repatriation process is people’s safety and protection once they return to Angola, according to CACE president Manuel Panzo:
“The president has mentioned that Angolans in exile, especially those of us in South Africa, are hatching a plot to overthrow the government once we return to Angola. This is far from the truth. We are not planning any take-over of power in Angola. We fear for our safety and human rights once we set foot in Angola. These concerns have fallen on deaf ears with local authorities.”
Following the hand-over of the petition, the parliament’s representative promised to hand it over to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs. He added that he would follow up with the department and provide feedback to CACE as soon as it was available.
The march ended with a declaration by CACE that they would await the government`s response and if there was no feedback by June 30th, the organisation would return to stage another protest demonstration outside parliament’s buildings.