Mphumzi Mdekazi

Mphumzi Mdekazi

Published May 2, 2024


Mphumzi Mdekazi

If you’ll permit me, I would like to thank The Rector and The Vice Rector for International Cooperation, Youth and Social Policy (Stanislav Surovtsev), as well as Chairperson of the Organising Committee and all the present academics here with us.

My sincerest gratitude goes to the Student Association for the invite to be here with you to share with my views of the relations between Africa a previously colonized continent with Russia.

It would be insincere of me if I do not admit right from the outset that the ANC - which is currently the governing party - is indebted to the people of Russia for their sincere and enduring support in so many ways. Which is why I did not hesitate to take this opportunity.

With the help of the British, Belgium, Portugal, and France etc our country and Continent was completely taken over and the indigenous peoples subjugated to a underclass.

The history of discrimination and outright violent conquest and racial subordination was later crystallized into a doctrine of separateness and inequality, where the black people were by law declared of a lower status to the invaders of the land and sadly, recognized as such by much of the world for the better part of the 21st century after many attempts at resistance to this colonial subjugation later called Apartheid, we in our case, the indigenous people of the country had taken a decision that we would use every avenue available to free ourselves from this systematic oppression.

Organized around a common umbrella body the Africa National Congress (ANC), we sought help from countries who we believed had a clear political ideology that recognized the rights of all people to determine their future, but more especially countries that had a shared value system as ours, of democracy and equality.

We reached out to these countries by sending delegations to request support for our struggle. Amongst those who were sent by the ANC was JB Marks from South Africa side to Russia.

These developments did not happen overnight, they stretched on for decades and in that time the world received a number of delegations from the African people requesting support in their struggle against a heinously racist white tribe that had established their hegemony over the indigenous peoples in the most barbarous ways and gradually became recognized as State, where the original inhabitants were the hewers of wood and the invaders (so to speak) took over the governance and ownership of the means of production.

Faced with the evil system that gradually took grip of the country, black people searched for solutions. Starting, firstly by organizing into various forms of resistance, culminating in establishments of resistance forces and programmes to assert the power of the indigenous people who were generally oppressed.

The heinous policies of South Africa are well known, we do not need to go into detail here, except to give you a Birds Eye view on how we came to be what we sought to do to get ourselves out of this iron grip evil system.

As I place the premium of this lecture into historical perspective and faced with the then evil system that gradually took grip of our, it is because I want to illustrate that black people didn’t fold arms, as they embarked on rebellious democratic and undemocratic conventions to free themselves.

The first of the more dominant political movements to reach out to the world outside of themselves for help was the African National Congress as indicated here above.

Significantly, having refined its own Nationalist ideology, it felt that there was a need to reach out to like minded peoples in the world to seek help to undertake the struggle that would take a century forward.

For our purposes here, we might want to go straight to the important aspect of our foraging for partners of our struggle. These were those countries from whom we had learnt a great deal about how to consolidate strategies to help us coalesce our people around a common ideology and a common program of action.

We reached out to countries we needed as partners in our struggle, countries whose ideology was one we subscribed to; Countries that had gone through their own struggles and countries we looked up to .There were several delegations sent out and significantly one was to the then Soviet Union a country from whom much had been learnt, a country we were certain would be willing to help us free ourselves from a colonial racist grip and the rest of the western world that had recognized the the racist colonial state. It is important to note that the less talked about and least celebrated, namely Walter Sisulu and Duma Nokwe went to see Chairman Mao in China, for the same course.

One would would even foretell that BRICS was a foregone economic embryonic block in spiritual political thought, given the foresight and the benefit of hindsight of all these efforts by our forefathers. Inevitably BRICS was going to be born.

It is here in Russia where we received the most generous help that carried us to our victory. It is that help that fed thousands of our soldiers who were training in countries like Angola and Mozambique - both former colonial countries that had fought against colonial rule and succeeded in getting their independence.

I am aware of the fact that the task at hand is not about South Africa, but Russia-Africa Forum, and what must be done, a phrase you decided to coined as; WHAT NEXT.

In my Mail & Guardian newspaper article last year, I offered perspectives on Africa in the Changing World.

In that article, I painted a picture of my Continent (Africa) as follows:

The history of Africa, and the trajectory its history took could have been different. Hence its influence on the world and on change would be far different. Consider for a moment Carthage, Hannibal and Rome. A different outcome could have changed the world then and it would be very completely different now.

The Romans defined Europe. They set the precursors for its current geographical boundaries, language differences, and even its major religions and systems of government. But it could have been quite different.

Before Rome became a superpower, it had an equally, if not more powerful, enemy: Carthage. Founded in the 6th century, one could consider Carthage as Rome’s complete antithesis.

Whereas Carthage built its empire on trade, “a” Rome expanded by conquest and plunder. Carthaginians preferred establishing colonies that retained their national identities in exchange for annual tribute, whereas Rome opted for the assimilation or annihilation of conquered lands, and encouraged a singular Roman identity. This permeated European culture.

The great rivalry between the two states came to a head in 264 BC, when a dispute over Sicily led to the beginning of the Punic Wars.

The three decisive wars that lasted almost a century in total, resulted in the ruin and eventual destruction of Carthage in 146 BC, and the rest, as they say is history.

But what would Europe be like if Carthage had come out on top instead of Rome? The famous general Hannibal Barca almost seized Rome after famously crossing the Alps with an army of elephants. He and his army won a succession of victories across the Italian peninsula only to be called back to Carthage before having the chance to take Rome itself.

What if he hadn’t been recalled? Many historians believe as I do too, that if Hannibal had pressed on and taken Rome, the second Punic war would have swung heavily in favor of the Carthaginians. The Punic wars would have ended early, Carthage would have colonized Italy and gone on to become the dominant superpower in the Mediterranean, significantly altering European history as we know it. and, I must add, altering Africa’s history as we know it.

Had Hannibal pressed on and taken Rome, the first thing we would notice on this alternate timeline is that, the European borders would be nothing like what we have today. After successfully seizing Rome, the Barcid family would have gained more power and prestige and Hannibal may have likely set his sights on conquering the Iberian Peninsula to consolidate the Barcid family lands in Spain.

As Carthage valued gold over power, and there was no gold, Europe continued to develop as independent states and maintained their pagan heritage, and without the backing of Rome, Christianity would not have been legitimized. Even if Christianity found another way to gather a mass following, without the Roman unification of Europe it is unlikely that Christianity would have spread so far and so fast and northern Europe would have stayed primarily pagan, possibly with fractious tribes battling it out for supremacy within their own states.

As a historian myself, it is not easy to omit certain aspects of our historical metamorphosis, instead these are re-emerging debates which ought to be influencing not only our current African leaders, but African academics and students too pedagogically speaking.

Africa's history is a story of change. It all began with a paleoanthropological site located on the outskirts of Johannesburg, in South Africa.

The Cradle for Humankind is home to the largest concentration of human ancestral remains anywhere in the world. The Sterkfontein Caves were the site of the discovery of a 2.3-million-year-old fossil Australopithecus africanus (nicknamed "Mrs. Ples"), found in 1947 has produced more than a third of early hominid fossils ever found prior to 2010. The Dinaledi Chamber contains naledi fossils, the most extensive discovery of a single hominid species ever found in the world.

At its peak, prior to European colonialism, it is estimated that Africa had up to 10,000 different states and autonomous groups with distinct languages and customs. Some notable pre-colonial states and societies in Africa include the Ajuran Empire, Bachwezi Empire, D'mt, Adal Sultanate, Alodia, Dagbon Kingdom, Warsangali Sultanate, Buganda Kingdom, Kingdom of Nri, Nok culture, Mali Empire, Bono State, Songhai Empire, Benin Empire, Oyo Empire, Kingdom of Lunda (Punu-yaka), Ashanti Empire, Ghana Empire, Mossi Kingdoms, Mutapa Empire, Kingdom of Mapungubwe, Kingdom of Sine, Kingdom of Sennar, Kingdom of Saloum, Kingdom of Baol, Kingdom of Cayor, Kingdom of Zimbabwe, Kingdom of Kongo, Empire of Kaabu, Kingdom of Ile Ife, Ancient Carthage, Numidia, Mauretania, and the Aksumite Empire.

This was before the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 that established the rules for the conquest and partition of Africa; legitimising the brutal exploitation of Africa and Africans as property of the Europeans and the US, and resolutely refusing to consider the question of our sovereignty. I must however mention that the brutality of Berlin did not break us because we are here, still standing, despite the fact that Berlin conference managed to reproduce its African accomplices, like we are currently witnessing in South Africa; a case of coal exportation at the expense of switching lights on for the indigenous and rightful owners of the land and it’s inherent minerals.


135 years after Berlin began what was perhaps the most significant moment for our Continent. 32 African States met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 1 May 1964 to found the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

At that conference, the late Gambian historian - and one of the leading Gambian nationalists and Pan-Africanists at the time - Alieu Ebrima Cham Joof implored African leaders to “endeavour your utmost to come to agreement, save Africa from the clutches of neo-colonialism and resurrect African dignity, nationhood and national stability”.

He warned the leaders; “Your success will inspire and speed up the freedom and total independence of the African continent and eradicate imperialism and colonialism from the Continent and eventually neo-colonialism from the globe ... Your failure, which no true African in Africa is praying for, will prolong our struggle with bitterness and disappointment.”

The momentum of Africa’s unity drive continued. Twenty six years after Addis Ababa, African leaders adopted the Sirte Declaration on 9 September 1999. African leaders “deliberated extensively on the ways and means of strengthening our continental organisation; to make it more effective so as to keep pace with the political, economic and social developments taking place within and outside our Continent”.

Sirte announced the formation of what we know today as the African Union (AU) and led to implementation of the Abuja Treaty - to create an African Economic Community, African Central Bank, African Monetary Union, African Court of Justice and Pan-African Parliament established by 2000.

Sirte was followed by summits at Lomé, Togo in 2000, when the Constitutive Act of the African Union was adopted, and at Lusaka, Zambia in 2001, when the plan for the implementation of the African Union was adopted. The first session of the Assembly of the African Union was held in Durban, South Africa on 9 July 2002 and the inaugural session of the Pan-African Parliament, hosted by South Africa, was held in March 2004.

In 2015, the African Union (AU) published a long-term plan for Africa’s future: “Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want”. This document lays out a remarkable vision of an Africa that is prosperous, integrated, democratic and peaceful.

As Kwame Nkrumah put it: ‘Our objective is African union now ... the struggle against colonialism does not end with the attainment of national independence”.

I concur with Nkrumah, and I have no illusions that it will be easy. We just need suitable leaders in Africa to achieve this task.

We will need to be resolute in our unity and purpose not to fall prey to false promises and trickery. Not everyone has Africa’s best interest at heart. To quote Leo Tolstoy (Russian Author) in War and Peace: “A battle is won by him who is firmly resolved to win it.”

In answering the WHAT NEXT question of this Forum:

Russia- Africa relationship, during my short stint at international relations as a chief director, I recall amongst the issues we agreed upon with the Russians is that:

For Africa, BRiCS is not an option or forum in engaging global issues as it’s not AU which is represented in the body, but South Africa. While South Africa is in Africa, South Africa is not Africa and does not represent the totality of African interests.

It’s very unlikely in the evolving BRICS Plus AU can easily join this economic club. In any case BRICS for now is sort of economic platform and not a political theatre for global powers to act out their misdeeds and influence events to suit their whims and caprices.

Given this conundrum and unpalatable choices, Africa is left with no choice than to cast its lots with one of the global evolving hegemonic forces, in this case Russia.

What needs to follow is for Russia to spearhead the establishment of BRICS Military Wing and BRICS Intelligence outfit. That must be done as a matter of urgency in order to stabilise the world, especially on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Russia must provide leadership in the area of BRICS’s inability in terms of Intra-BRICS trade and investment. BRICS lacks a strong, formal institutional framework, hindering effective decision-making and implementation.

BRICS has not yet achieved significant reforms in global governance structures, such as the UN and IMF, the Africa/Russia Forum must look into that.

As members of BRICS we need to improve administration and underline our cooperation with a common outlook on major international matters , with an outlook that is distinctly identifiable. BRICS does not have a distinct image and a face currently. They must invest in a Secretary who is going to be the face of the BRICS Block.

Africa through the BRICS partnership must rise. Africa must unite.

This is an edited extract of an address delivered by Mphumzi Mdekazi, the CEO of the LN Sisulu Foundation to the MGIMO UNIVERSITY Youth Organisation, (Moscow-Russia ) 24 April 2024.