Francis Anekwe Oborji: How Mandela Used ‘Sit-At-Home’ In His Liberation Struggle –...

Francis Anekwe Oborji: How Mandela Used ‘Sit-At-Home’ In His Liberation Struggle – Part 1 [MUST READ]

mandela nelson south africa
11 Feb 1994, Cape Town, South Africa --- Nelson Mandela looks out the window of the cell in Robben Island Prison where he was incarcerated for more than two decades. He was held as a political prisoner by the Apartheid-based government from 1964 to 1990 for sabotage. | Louise Gubb/CORBIS SABA

In his award-winning book, entitled, “No Easy Walk to Freedom” (Collection of Writings), Nelson Mandela detailed how the African National Congress, ANC’s Sit-At-Home order worked effectively well in bringing down the White-Minority Apartheid Racist regime in South Africa. In the words of Mandela:

“The Call of All-In African National Action Council for ‘A-Stay-At-Home’ on 29, 30, and 31 May 1961 received solid and massive support throughout the country. This magnificent response was as the result of the hard work and selfless devotion of our organizers and activists who had to overcome formidable difficulties very often involving personal risks to themselves. Defying unprecedented intimidation by the State, trailed and hounded by the special Branch, denied the right to hold meetings, operating in areas heavily patrolled by Government and municipal police and teeming with spies and informers, they stood firm as a rock and spread the ‘stay-at-home’ message to millions of people throughout the country.”

Continuing, Mandela said:

“Ever since the All-In African Conference at Pietermaritzburg, the issue that dominated South African politics and that attracted Pressmen from all over the world was not the Republican celebrations organized by the Government, but the stirring campaign of the African people and other non-White sections to mark our rejection of a White Republic forcibly imposed upon us by a minority.” – (Nelson Mandela, “No Easy Walk to Freedom”, Penguin Books, London 1965, p. 75.)

In his Editorial note to Chapter 11 of Mandela’s book, “No Easy Walk to Freedom”, Ato Quayson narrates what led the ANC to embark on the national campaign for ‘A Stay-At-Home’ Civil Disobedience against the Apartheid White-Minority Racist Government in South Africa:

“Following the All-In African Conference, a demand was made for the holding of a national convention to draft a new, non-color-bar constitution that would ensure universal adult suffrage. A Stay-at-home was called following the Pietermaritzburg conference, to which the Government responded with the country’s biggest mobilization since the war. Immediately after the strike, Mandela wrote a detailed analysis of it, this article (that is, Chapter 11 of the book, “No Easy Walk to Freedom”), being published by the underground ANC offices and by its offices abroad.” – (See Chapter 11 of Mandela’s book, “No Easy Walk to Freedom”, “Editorial note”, p. 75 (Emphasis mine.)

Some might have thought that Nnamdi Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB continued appeal for Sit-At-Home Civil Disobedience in Southeastern Nigeria (Biafraland) at this most critical time of their liberation struggle as pro-Biafra group agitators, is something out of the ordinary in liberation struggle. The fact is that sit-at-home civil disobedience as non-violence method in liberation struggle, served, and has continued to serve in history, as one of the most potent ‘weapons’ of protest available to the oppressed and marginalized people in their struggle against a repressive regime as we have it in Nigeria today. That is, the Federal Government apparent continued repressive attitude and discrimination against the Igbo nation, people of Southeastern Nigeria.

Mandela’s discourse on the ANC’s use of ‘Stay-at-home’ Civil Disobedience during their liberation struggle in South Africa against the White-Minority Apartheid Racist Regime, no doubt will help us to appreciate and evaluate objectively, the reasons behind Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB present use of sit-at-home civil disobedience, non-violence methodology in their Biafra self-determination and independence liberation struggle in Nigeria.

As a caveat, it is important to emphasize once more, that our present article does not intend to promote or condemn any group or individuals concerning the use of sit-at-home as civil disobedience, non-violence methodology in the present circumstances we found ourselves as a people in Nigeria. The aim of the article rather, is to help create more awareness on what sit-at-home civil disobedience is all about, its meaning, significance and relevance today.

The article intends to bring to our knowledge and general awareness, that even Nelson Mandela’s ANC used the sit-at-home civil disobedience, non-violence methodology in their liberation struggle against the Racist Apartheid White-Minority regime in South Africa in the early 60s’. What are the inspirations and lessons for young Africans today, especially, those who are already in the forefront of agitation for self-determination and second-independence from the domineering ethnic group/groups in their different African nation states in post-colonial/neo-colonial Africa? Our primary aim however, is to relate, in a very positive manner, Mandela’s ANC use of sit-at-home civil disobedience, non-violence methodology, to the present-day use of the same strategy in the Nigerian context by the pro-Biafra agitators of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB.

Sit-at-home as a Non-Violence Methodology in Liberation Struggle 

What is sit-at-home civil disobedience all about, if not the use of non-violence methodology in liberation struggle, as great icons of freedom fighters like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, among others, did during their own time. And in our Nigerian context today, if truth be told, Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB is challenging the collective conscience of the oppressed Africans to embrace, by introducing the sit-at-home methodology in his (Kanu’s) own liberation struggle for the Biafran people of Southeastern Nigeria.

Sit-at-home civil disobedience is a form of non-violence method in liberation struggle. The true meaning of non-violence in freedom fighting is that you do not use violence against your oppressor, as the case may be. Rather, do the violence on yourself, for the sake of your freedom and that of your people, by sitting-at-home as a form of protest against your oppressor.

The struggle for freedom of a persecuted and marginalized people or group is not an individual affair. It is the collective responsibility of the entire people or ethnic-nationality/group clamoring for their liberation and self-determination from the domineering group/groups, or foreign power. Even though in many cases, a liberation movement may revolve around one central figure and his movement, e.g., Mandela and ANC, Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Movement, or Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB, etc. Yet, in each case, however, the leaders of the liberation movements represent the collective aspiration and struggle of their oppressed and marginalized people for freedom and self-determination.

This means that as a group, the people have a price to pay for their liberation and self-determination during the liberation struggle. Sit-at-home civil disobedience, non-violence methodology is one of such a collective price the people as a group, is often called upon to embrace, in the cause of their liberation struggle. So that at the long run, when the freedom is won, everybody will be proud to say that, he/she participated in bringing about the freedom of the people at that point in history, because he/she sat-at-home when it was demanded by the leadership of the freedom fighting movement.

The participation of all members of the oppressed group in observing the sit-at-home order during liberation struggle, affords each one of them the opportunity to be part of the freedom fighting, to make the personal sacrifices for their liberation as a people. In other words, sit-at-home civil disobedience, non-violence strategy, is where the power of the marginalized and oppressed people to wrestle their oppressor, lies.

Moreover, the advantages of sit-at-home civil disobedience goes beyond its traditional strategy to pressurize the oppressive regime to agree to a roundtable dialogue, to grant the request of the oppressed for freedom and self-determination. Sit-at-home civil disobedience, non-violence methodology, is about the struggle for survival of the oppressed people who are facing constant threats of extinction from the domineering force (or the most favored ‘ethnic-group’, as the case may be.) It is a means for the oppressed people to make their ‘point’ known, to say, ‘enough is enough.’ That they demand their freedom and self-rule, here and now, no matter what!

In other words, sit-at-home civil disobedience, non-violence methodology, is about saving lives of a people or ethnic-group facing constant threats of extermination from a repressive regime, central government controlled by the most favored and domineering ethno-religious group in the country. The aim of sit-at-home as a liberation strategy is therefore, to help save the lives of the oppressed from the bullets of the trigger-happy military and police officers of the repressive government in power.

Since the oppressed are not allowed any longer to hold public meetings, or engage in peaceful streets protests without they themselves been shot and killed by the government’s military and police officers, the only option available to them as oppressed people, is to embark on sit-at-home as a form of protest in making their demands for freedom, justice and self-determination. Such a strategy of sit-at-home has twofold advantages for the oppressed people: First, as a form of civil disobedience, non-violence methodology, and secondly, to avoid being shot and killed by the repressive government’s military and police officers, as they do whenever the oppressed want to hold peaceful streets protests.

These are the reasons for which the leaders of Liberation Movements in history, as in today’s Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB, decided to resort to the use of sit-at-home civil disobedience as a form of non-violence methodology in freedom fighting. Their reasons have remained the same down the ages. Such reasons have not changed since Gandhi first applied the sit-at-home civil disobedience, non-violence strategy in his liberation struggle for his Indian people. Because each time the oppressed and marginalized people would come out on the streets to protest or demand for freedom, justice, equity and fairness, the government in power would mobilize the police and army to pursue, attack and kill them, extra-judicially. These victims of repressive regime during the liberation struggle, hardly do they receive any justice from anybody or anywhere, after all.

Often times, as presently is the case in Nigeria, the Federal Government and its security forces are using violence against members of IPOB and its Vigilante security outfit Eastern Security Network (ESN). The Government forces themselves would stage-manage violence against innocent civilians and turn around to accuse members of IPOB/ESN as being responsible. All in a desperate attempt by the repressive regime and its security forces to discredit members of the liberation movement before the local population.

In such a repressive and hate-propelling atmosphere against a targeted group and hated people as we have it today in Nigeria against the Igbo nation and Biafra agitators, the only means of public protest available to the oppressed, is sit-at-home civil disobedience, non-violence method. This is the underlying principle, Mandela in his bestseller book, “No Easy Walk to Freedom”, has tried to communicate to us today.

Mandela and His Use of Sit-At-Home Civil Disobedience 

Writing on the successful compliance to the ANC’s ‘Stay-At-Home’ order throughout the country (South Africa) in May 1961, Mandela said: “Few political organizations could have succeeded in conducting such a stubborn and relentless campaign (sit-at-home) under such conditions which, for all practical purposes, amounted to martial law. But we did so. The steps taken by the Government to suppress the campaign were a measure of our strength and influence in the political life of the country and of its weakness.”

Continuing, Mandela adds:

“The Government was alarmed by the tremendous impact of the demand for a national convention and the call for country-wide anti-Republican demonstrations. It realized that there would be overwhelming support for the call if the campaign was not immediately suppressed through open terror and intimidation. It also realized that the organizational machine built up to propagate the campaign was of so high a standard, and support for the idea so firm and widespread, that the situation could only be controlled by resorting to naked force. Only by mobilizing the entire resources of the State could the Government hope to stem the tide that was running so strongly against it.” – (Nelson Mandela, “No Easy Walk to Freedom”, pp.75-76.)

 Mandela added that, “a special law had to be rushed through the Parliament to enable the [Racist Apartheid] Government to detain without trial people connected with the organization of the stay-at-home. The Army had to be called out, European civilians armed, and the police force deployed in African townships and other areas. Meetings were banned throughout the country, and the local authorities, in collaboration with the police force, kept vigil to ensure that no strike propaganda should be spread amongst the masses of the people.” – Nelson Mandela, “No Easy Walk to Freedom”, p. 76.)

In addition, Mandela said that, the Apartheid Racist Government in that particular day, arrested “more than 10,000 innocent Africans and jailed them under the pass laws”, such that terror and intimidation became widespread and order of the day: “We condemned this police action as blatant persecution of our voteless people by a European minority which we could no longer tolerate. We placed on record that we were deeply incensed by this provocative action and demanded the immediate stopping of the arrests and the unconditional release of all those detained. Not a single Opposition Newspaper published this statement notwithstanding the extensive publicity they gave this police operation and the unwarranted compliment they paid to the same police for the courteous manner in which they were alleged to have carried out the operation.” – Nelson Mandela, “No Easy Walk to Freedom”, p. 77.)

Mandela adds that, “These arrests were made for the purpose of forestalling demonstrations planned by us. We had gone through numerous roadblocks in various parts of the country and it was our people who had been rounded up under a system which is rejected by the entire African nation and which has been condemned by every Government Commission which considered it. Was it not important for the country to know what our views were on a matter of such importance?” – (Nelson Mandela, “No Easy Walk to Freedom”, ibid.)

The above statement of Mandela reminds one of how many times the present Fulani-controlled Federal Government of Nigeria had to go against any Nigerian Media House or Journalists that dares try to seek the point of view of Biafra agitators on any of those bogus, frivolous allegations the Government and security operatives often level against the pro-Biafra group. As experience as shown, few of the Media Houses or Journalists that tried it, were immediately, sanctioned by the Nigerian Government and their broadcasting licenses threatened. Such that to date, Nigerian public are being denied the opportunity to know what are the views of IPOB on Biafra agitation as a matter of fact, and also on most of the bogus lies and frivolous allegations of treason felon and terrorism, the Government deceitfully, always levels against the pro-Biafra Self-Determination group.

 Moreover, the Nigerian Media and Journalists instead of standing on the path of truth and ethics of their profession, most of them, unfortunately, have joined the Government in the propaganda of deceit and lies, demonizing Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB pro-Biafra group at any given opportunity. Often, the Media and those bought over Journalists do this for peanuts. Some of them, however, are those who harbor very strong anti-Igbo sentiments, the ethnic-biased culture against anything Igbo that still pervades the Nigerian Media especially, since the genocidal Nigeria-Biafra War of the 60s’. In general, however, the Nigerian Media practitioners do it nowadays, just to please the Government and their employers, most of whom are members of ruling class and therefore, are benefiting from the rotten system, Nigeria has become!

Writing on the treacherous role of the South African Media (Press) during the Anti-Apartheid Struggle and the ANC’s Stay-at-home order, Mandela said:

“The Press was even more treacherous on the morning of first day of the stay-at-home. The deliberate falsehoods spread by the police and radio were reproduced. At seven o’clock in the morning of that day, Radio South Africa broadcast news that workers throughout the country had ignored the call for a stay-at-home. The country was told that this news was based on statements made at six o’clock the same morning by Col. Spengler, head of the Witwatersrand branch of the Special Branch. Similar statements made at approximately the same time by other police officers in different parts of the country were quoted. This means that long before the factory gates were opened and, in some areas, even before the workers boarded their trains and buses to work, the police had already announced that the stay-at-home had collapsed. I cannot imagine anything more fraudulent.” – (Nelson Mandela, “No Easy Walk to Freedom”, pp. 77-78.)

This is exactly what we see in Nigeria today with regard to the way the Nigerian Media and BBC Igbo and Pidgin news reportage on Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB is tailored, especially, each time IPOB sit-at-home order is observed in Southeastern Nigeria. The impression, the Media often gives, is that, the sit-at-home order, had either collapsed or that it was partially observed in few places and not in the entire Southeastern region.

Only in some few occasions, that is, when they could not hide the truth because the public knew what transpired, do the Nigerian Media objectively, report on the total lockdown of the entire Southeast during the IPOB’s sit-at-home order. Otherwise, the general norm of the Nigerian Media, since they are working with the Government in power, is to play down on the successful compliance with the IPOB sit-at-home order by the people each day, it is observed in Biafraland.

This was also the experience of Mandela’s ANC with the South African Media during the Anti-Apartheid Liberation Struggle. But as Mandela rightly observed, “… the truth could not be suppressed for long. The Johannesburg Star of the same day reported that ‘early estimates of absenteeism in Johannesburg ranged from 40% to 75 per cent’. This admission was only a small portion of the truth. As the days rolled by, news came through that hundreds of thousands of workers and students throughout the country had given massive support to the call.”

On 3 June 1961, Post, a Johannesburg Sunday newspaper with a huge circulation, published reports from its team of crack reporters and photographers who had kept a continuous watch on townships in different parts of South Africa and who conducted detailed personal investigations inside and outside of these areas. Said the newspaper: “Many thousands of workers registered their protest against the Republic and the Government’s refusal to cooperate with non-Whites. THEY DID NOT GO TO WORK. They disrupted much of South African commerce and industry. Some factories worked with skeleton staffs, others closed, and many other businesses were shut down for three days.”

Mandela also wrote that, “The leading article of the New Age of 8 June 1961 acclaimed the stay-at-home as the most widespread general strike on a national scale that this country had ever seen.” On its own part, Contact of 1 June 1961 wrote, “On Tuesday 50 per cent of Indian workers in Durban were still out. Some factories showed 100 per cent success with some clothing factories 100 per cent unattended. In Durban and Pietermaritzburg most Indian businesses were closed on Monday and open again on Tuesday. Large numbers of schoolchildren kept away from school. There were attacks on buses at Cato Manor and a bus to Pietermaritzburg from a Reserve was fired on.” Sam Sly, writing in the same paper on 15 June 1961, observed:

“In defiance of that sickening and sterile rule, there were plenty of politics on plenty of campuses. Enough to bring large bands of armed police to five campuses. There was defiance, leadership, and courage amongst the students. There was political awareness, even non-racial solidarity. Before, what had one heard but minority protests lost among the sounds of the inter-varsity rugby crowd or chatter in the students’ cafeteria.” – (Quoted in Nelson Mandela’s “No Easy Walk to Freedom”, p. 78.)

As is in Nigeria today, that is, in relation to the present Federal Government’s repressive response to Biafra agitators and people of the Southeastern region in general, so it was the case of Black Africans at the time of Nelson Mandela’s ANC’s liberation struggle against the repressive government of the infamous Apartheid White-Minority Racist regime in South Africa. The Apartheid White-Minority Racist Government in South Africa was hell-bent in suppressing Mandela and his ANC agitation against the racist regime itself, at all cost.

This is despite the fact that sit-at-home civil disobedience is a non-violence response to a repressive regime by freedom fighters and agitators for self-determination and independence. Gandhi whom we discussed in one of our last articles, was the first to use it modern history. Nelson Mandela as we have seen, also used it in his liberation struggle for Africans against the repressive White-Minority Apartheid Racist regime in South Africa. Martin Luther King Jr. also used it in its modified form for his African-American Civil Rights Movement liberation struggle in the United States of America. This was what the famous ‘boycott’ of public transport system, buses and trains embarked upon by the African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement anti-racist liberation struggle in the United States, was all about. This, however, will be a discussion for another day!

In Nigeria today, the biggest problem facing the Igbo people of Southeastern part of the country, is the question of survival as a people under constant threat of extinction in the hostile Nigerian State. This is why Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB pro-Biafra self-determination and independence struggle movement has continued to resonate among the people of Southeastern Nigeria. That is, in spite of the Federal Government continued clampdown on the group and persecution of Nnamdi Kanu.

The Biafra question will continue to wag Nigeria as the tail wags the dog, until the gatekeepers of this British contraption, called Nigeria, summon the courage and will, to address it objectively and truthfully. In the prevailing atmosphere of ethnic-hate and resentment against the Igbo in the Nigerian State, it is very difficult today, to convince any relatively conscious Igbo that he/she is truly, wanted in Nigeria as an equal citizen with the rest of the people in the country. This is because the State-sponsored killings, persecution and marginalization of the Igbos in Nigeria have not ceased, fifty years after the pogroms and the brutal genocidal Nigeria-Biafra War (1966/67-1970). This is the crux of the matter!

To be continued

Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He runs a column on The Trent. He can be reached by email HERE.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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