A shared language is a solid signifier of a community existing as one family
THERE are sound and compelling historical and cultural reasons that justify the formation of an Economic Union composed of the current southern African states. The people comprising these southern African states are historically and culturally one people. They can be said to be members of one historical family, which was artificially split by the European colonialists.
A few examples: the people called BaTswana stretch all the way from what today is called Botswana to Pretoria – but the European colonialists drew an arbitrary line separating the BaTswana of Botswana from the BaTswana of South Africa; the people called the Swazi stretch from Swaziland to Mpumalanga and Johannesburg – but European colonialists drew an arbitrary line separating the Swazi of Swaziland from the Swazi of South Africa.
The people called BaSotho stretch from the Lesotho to the Free State – but European colonialists drew an arbitrary line separating the BaSotho of Lesotho from the Basotho of South Africa.
The same applies to the formation of a country called Mozambique, as well as to the drawing of the boundaries separating present-day Zimbabwe from South Africa.
It is important to stress that there was constant movement of people from one area of Africa to another. Today we move as individuals, or as individual families; in the pre-capitalist, pre-colonial era, we moved as communities.
We know, for example, of the movements of communities of people from KwaZulu-Natal, which spread to different regions of southern Africa: we know of communities led by Soshangane, who established a kingdom in what today is Mozambique; of communities led by Mzilikazi, who settled consecutively in what is now Gauteng, the North West and later Zimbabwe.
We know of communities led by Zwangendaba, who moved up to what now is Malawi and parts of Zambia and Tanzania; we know of Shemane, King Zwide’s son, who moved with his community to what today is Limpopo. In sum, these communities were mixtures of Nguni, Sotho, Shona, Tswana, Venda, Pedi, and other cultures.
All these people were one family. Language is, among other things, a very significant piece of evidence in community genealogy.
The study of languages spoken by people in southern Africa shows that these people are originally one family. For example, linguists who have studied the structure of Nguni and Sotho languages have concluded that the Nguni language is the skeleton of Sotho languages; through separation of groups, migrations and interface with differing environments and activities, different flesh and accents emerged: “If genetic relationship among a number of languages can be demonstrated, it constitutes prima facie evidence that the ancestors of the speakers of those languages shared a common location at some time in the past.” ( Reconstructing African Culture History, edited by C. Gabel and NR Bennett, 1967, p 31).
Capitalism, the African slave trade, colonialism and racism were like an enormous worldwide landslide that radically reshaped social relations, the human mind and consciousness throughout the world: a new measuring rod of human beings emerged, which placed Europeans as the top and best, and Africans as the bottom and worst, with the rest of humankind falling in-between.
During the first two decades of the 20th century, Europeans began to carve and create new white-ruled nations in southern Africa: it was during the same period that Pan-Africanism was born, that the Bambatha War occurred, and the ANC was formed.
The ANC was originally formed as a Pan-Africanist Movement for the emancipation of all Africans from European domination. The first constitution of the ANC, adopted in 1918, takes it for granted that the people of what today is Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, are constituencies of the new organisation. In her history of the ANC, Mary Benson wrote as follows: “Early in January 1912, from the kraals in the Highveld and Lowveld of the Transvaal, from Zulu villages, from the beautiful bare uplands of the Transkei, from the arid expanses of Bechuanaland and the royal capital of Swaziland, from the paramount chief ’s fastness in the
Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrica became the anthem for the entire region of southern Africa. The kings and queens of Africa were the god-parents of the ANC.
mountains of Basutoland, came chiefs and their followers… Among them were the chiefs from the neighbouring high commission territories: Prince Malunga KaMbandeni, regent of Swaziland, just back from England; Chief Maama, the descendant of Moshoeshoe the Great, representing the paramount chief of Basutoland; and chiefs Molema, Montsioa and Mankwane from Bechuanaland.” (Benson, Mary, The African Patriots: The Story of the African National Congress of South Africa, pp. 26-27)
The founders of this organisation were very clear that they were forming a “PanAfrican association”. Mary Benson continues: “The conference resolved to unite together and form a federation of one Pan-African association” (p 28).
It must be emphasised that this PanAfrican association would form a union with a single parliament, of which what today are Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland would be constituent parts. Ms Benson further wrote: “The conference accepted Seme’s recommendation that the Congress should be modelled on the American Congress and it was also decided to combine British parliamentary structure and procedures in an Upper House of Chiefs and a Lower House of Commoners, each with a president. The paramount chief of the Basuto, Letsie ll, was unanimously elected honorary governor, leader of the Upper House in which princes of African blood were to hold their seats for life” (p 28).
This was, indeed, a Pan-African agenda: Dr Seme travelled the entire southern Africa, mobilising support for the ANC; that is the reason Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika became the anthem for the entire region. The kings and queens of Africa were the god-parents of the ANC. Perhaps no people in southern Africa made a greater contribution to the establishment of the ANC, during the early years, than the Swazi.
Through Prince Sobhuza’s grandmother, Queen Labotsibeni, the Swazi royal kingdom made a tremendous financial contribution for the upkeep of the ANC; Dr Seme and Patrick Vilakazi relocated to Swaziland, as advisers to the royal leadership, and acted also as tutors to the young prince, so that he could be raised in the tradition of the ANC.
As the new white nation-state called South Africa became stabilised, consolidated and triumphant, the agenda of the ANC was formulated anew in reaction to the policies of the white nation-state: there began the south africanisation of the ANC.
European capitalism in southern Africa did not clip its wings to fit within the white nation-state. Cecil Rhodes and AngloAmerican used semi-slave labour of Africans from southern Africa to lay the foundation of South African industrialisation. It was the forced labour power of entire southern Africa which created the melting pot called South Africa. The mining industry knit the entire southern Africa into one economy, with its metropolis being the white-controlled cities and towns of the new country – South Africa.
I am emphatically not proposing that Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique and the other existing states should be made part of the existing South Africa; I am proposing that we form a new union altogether, comprising all the existing nations of southern Africa, beginning first with a Central Economic Council, which shall make investment and planning decisions for entire southern Africa, which later on can result in political unification.
With the wealth of all southern Africa put together, this union shall be more powerful and decisive in the world economy than Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) – and it shall impart great power to the participation of South Africa in Brics. Professor Herbert Vilakazi is an independent scholar and contributed this article in his personal capacity. Note: This is the final article in a two-part series on this topic. Reference works used in this piece have been acknowledged by the editor.