The history of South Africa, as we know it today, recounts the selfless sacrifices made by Nelson Mandela, but does it mention the effort of the Nigerian who believed in him and fought for him? Hardly.
We know that the South African activist and hero, Nelson Mandela, lived his life as a rebel and a fighter and that he spent most of it running, hiding, or in prison. We know he was threatened, punished, and even sentenced to death, for speaking up against the imposed white supremacy and the slavery of the blacks in their homeland. But how much is said about Jaja Wachuku, the Royal Prince of Ngwa land in Eastern Nigeria who employed his reputation and expertise to save Mandela from a death sentence? Very little.
Nigerians, in recent times, have suffered undeserved xenophobic attacks at the hands of South Africans in South Africa. From every corner, we get reports of the gruesome killings of foreign nationals, especially Nigerians. And where there may be allegations of Nigerians engaging in the illicit businesses, this begs the question that, why not allow the laws of the country to take its course? Why take laws into their hands?
For the most part, Nigeria has been at the forefront in peacekeeping operations, yet she is not recognized by African countries that benefited from her magnanimity. It is even on record that Nigeria’s involvement in these operations has had a devastating effect on her human and material resources. Yet, the only thing we find is that her interest is challenged at regional and international levels.
Jaja Anucha Wachuku is the Nigerian who gave the people of South Africa a chance at fighting back. Born to King Josiah Ndubuisi Wachuku, Jaja received the best of education in Nigeria, Ghana, and Angola until finally leaving for Ireland for further studies. His mother, Queen Rebecca Ngwanchiwa Wachuku was also widely known as a woman’s right activist and wealthy landowner years before she married into royalty.
Jaja Wachuku successfully graduated as a lawyer and went on to work as the first Minister of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria. Because he showcased excellent work ethics, he gained considerable respect and fame in the United Nations as well as established strong relations with presidents of the United States between 1960 and 1963.
His achievement and rise put him in a position to intervene in what is often referred to as “the trial that changed South Africa”. Nelson Mandela’s struggles and rebellions had met a dead end, and he and twelve other ‘controversial’ politicians were going to die for sabotage. Where people are quick to argue that the incident at Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia, was a momentary stop in their progress, I choose to call it a dead end. Not for argument, but because that’s exactly what it was.
Dead ends are an integral part of the lives of freedom fighters, and no one should argue otherwise. Don’t get me wrong. The constant back and forth in their movement and protest is what makes one describe their lives as such.
Every now and then, they find themselves in life-threatening situations and are forced to take drastic actions. Sometimes, they survive. Some other times, they don’t. The constant thing, however, is their need to always reconsider their positions as a way of keeping their lives.
For the South African legend, Nelson Mandela, one of such dead ends was at the Rivonia Trial. All hopes were lost until the Nigerian from Abia State intervened.
Jaja Wachuku believed in what Mandela stood for and believed that he was wrongfully sentenced. He then initiated an intervention through the United Nations and the South African government. So instead of a death sentence, they got life imprisonment; a timely occurrence that provided the patriots an opportunity to continue the liberation movement they started.
Jaja may have passed away about two decades ago, but the hand he played in enforcing Mandela’s release remains a big game-changer in the course of South Africa’s history. Mandela’s ultimate release helped move his country from the racial tyranny of apartheid toward democracy. And as documented in history, the Rivonia trial was a critical milestone that helped chart the end of Apartheid and the future of what is now called the new South Africa.
I’m of the opinion that instead of all the hate and killings, Nigerians are supposed to be accorded a special place in the polity, social structure, and economy of the South African state. We didn’t stop at the dissolution of apartheid; Nigerians have since then contributed tirelessly in the economic development and progress of the entire country.
There is no doubt that their xenophobic attacks will inform the conclusion that South Africans are ungrateful. And until they realize that they owe us and act accordingly, their debt remains unpaid.