Friday, 8 June 2012



On the 23rd of May 2012, I eagerly left my freezing residence at Rhodes University in the tranquil Eastern Cape and headed to the Gauteng province with an immeasurable level of excitement. The foundation of my excitement lay in my primary reason for coming to Johannesburg: to honour an invitation that I had received a few weeks before from the Chief Executive Officer of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, an invitation to attend the Annual Thabo Mbeki Afrika Day Lecture. I was excited about the nature of engagements that I expected would take place, engagements that I assumed would give some kind of direction to the Afrikan narrative that continues to be defined within the constructs of neo-liberalism. The following day, as I made my way to the ZK Matthews Great Hall at UNISA Muckleuneuk Campus in Pretoria, I could hardly contain my excitement.
Let me make it clear that at no point was I under any illusions about the ideological orientation of the former president. Mr Mbeki has never been a pan Afrikanist, despite being defined so by people who are not well-schooled in the ideology that gave the Afrikan continent giants the likes of former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Isidore Sankara, former leader of FRELIMO, Samora Machel and former leader of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere. I have always understood Mbeki to be a Black Consciousness scholar whose full categorisation into the said philosophy is prevented only by his questionable free market fundamentalism. Nonetheless, I have always respected the man for his endless capacity to dissect questions that beg for critical analysis in the Afrikan discourse, questions not frequently asked in a continent that is defined by dishonest politicians, apologetic statesmen and a people who remain trapped in a perpetual state of defeatism. In a society that has normalised and legitimised philistinism, Mbeki has emerged as one of a few intellectuals, but whether the intellectualism is geared towards a progressive direction in the long-run is a debate for another day.
The 2012 Annual Thabo Mbeki Afrika Day Lecture, entitled “Afrika in the New World Order: Challenges and Opportunities”, began at 18h00 on the 24th of May inside a hall full to capacity. The theme of the lecture was a pellucid reflection of where Afrika currently finds itself. Decades into what is regarded as an era of independence, the continent continues to be trapped in chains of neo-colonial rule, battling to assert its sovereignty that is under the attack from Western and Eastern powers. Despite the fact that it is the richest continent in the world in terms of natural resources, Afrika finds itself in economic bondage, a result of centuries of colonisation and manifestations of scientific racism, which in South Afrika, gave birth to the apartheid ideology, a nefarious system that resulted in the dispossession of land, economy and humanness of the Black majority. It is for this reason that the theme was an important subject that had the potential of becoming a national debate long after the lecture had passed. But failure by the former president and his guests to capitalise on this potential resulted in a lecture that is going to go down the books of history as yet another talk-shop of the intellectual elite that produced no solutions for the Afrikan problem.
It would be futile to reflect on the 2012 Annual Thabo Mbeki Afrika Day Lecture without first dissecting the basis of such discussions. Now more than ever before, there is a need for the Afrikan continent to engage in meaningful debates as a method of introspection for a continent that finds itself theoretically liberated but still on a quest for absolute liberty. For many centuries, the Afrikan continent has been under the domination of Europe and the East (while its role is downplayed, it’s no secret that the first colonisers of the Afrikan continent were, in fact, Arabs, as early as the eleventh century). The West and the East have both arrogated themselves the right to dominate the continent and reduce its natives to their subordinates. In a quest for the strengthening of their economies, the United States of AmeriKKKa and Europe began the trans-Atlantic slave trade, wherein Afrikan people were forcefully wretched from the orbit of their existence and sent to toil in the cotton fields of the AmeriKKKas. The fruit of their labour became the backbone of the superpower’s grand economy.
Over and above Afrikan labour being utilised to give life to the global capitalist economy, raw materials from Afrika were appropriated by forces of imperialism. It is for this reason that we say that Afrikans were dispossessed not only of their economy and land, but also of their humanness. The making of an Afrikan slave was the relegation of Afrikans from human-beings into something that is only important for the labour that it can provide and the domination that it can endure. It was the relegation of Afrikans from the human race, a relegation which we have spent centuries fighting against. And yet, despite Afrikan countries re-claiming their “independence” from their former colonial masters, the continent remains trapped in a dark abyss. The current political situation is proof of this. We have in Afrika countries that are still under severe oppression, the likes of Western Sahara, a country forgotten by all. We have in Afrika countries that are still reeling from the effects of atrocities that happened in the not-so-distant past, the likes of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have in Afrika monarchs whose existence survives on the oppression of the people, the likes of Swaziland. And we have in Afrika countries that can only feed their people through foreign aid. But above all, we have in Afrika leaders who refuse to rise against forces of their oppression, leaders who sit idle as global powers make of the continent a prostitute. This pitiful state of fragmentation has destroyed gains that were made by yesterday’s revolutionaries and has taken an Afrika that had progressed a step forward two steps backwards. This volatile political situation is what informs and necessitates Afrikan dialogue. It is important that we have discussions around such serious questions, so that we can find solutions to what former president of Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah termed “the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty and scarcity in the midst of abundance” (I Speak of Freedom, 1961).
The Afrikan problem, as briefly explained, is a labyrinth of centuries of colonial domination, of current lack of political will and of an uncertain future. But while it is important for us to re-visit this past so as to gain an understanding into the nucleus of today’s problematic chromatin network defined by poverty, landlessness, unemployment, cultural disorientation and liberalism, it is equally important that we begin to shape our own destiny. We must collect the scattered ashes of our painful past and re-create an Afrika that will be fit for human habitat.
It is improbable to imagine a progressive Afrika under the current system. In fact, it is impossible to imagine a world fit for human habitat in a free market economy. In a free market economy, where wealth and power are in the hands of an elite minority, it is not possible to create a society where the value of human life is placed above the value of powerful currencies. Afrika and her people thus need to centralise dialogue around the exploration of a system that will annihilate the constructs responsible for its state of destruction and that system can only be Socialism. This must not be understood to imply that Afrika’s are going to be obliterated by this system, for even in that society there will exist new challenges that will require the commitment of Afrikan people to overcome. But it is vital that Afrikan people cease to attempt to locate solutions within the matrix of Capitalism and shift the dialogue to Socialism, for “socialism in Afrika introduces a new social synthesis in which modern technology is reconciled with human values, in which the advanced technical society is realised without the staggering social malefactions and deep schisms of capitalist industrial society. For true economic social development cannot be promoted without the real socialisation of productive and distributive processes”, (Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Afrikan Socialism Revisited, 1967). It is for this reason that the 2012 Annual Thabo Mbeki Lecture was most disappointing. None of the panelists attempted to address the real issue: the system that is keeping Afrika and her children in chains. And without addressing this fundamental cause of the challenges facing Afrika, there is little progress that will come out of any engagement.
Professor Barney Pityana, who gave the introductory statement, presented one of the few important arguments that were made on the night. His intentions were clearly to take a swipe at certain people in corridors of power rather than to educate the audience about what I deem a vital matter, but such is the norm in South Afrikan debates, a norm that has been legitimised by even the most intellectually astute of persons. The professor raised the question of philistinism, what he so aptly termed “a phobia of intellectuals and intellectualism”, a problem that has indeed engulfed a country that once birthed the minds of Onkgopotse Tiro, Oliver Tambo, Robert Sobukwe, Khotso Seatlholo, Bantu Steve Biko, Albertina Sisulu and Chris Hani, some of the best thinkers known to history. Indeed, in Polokwane we did witness the beginning of the end of a society that encouraged and nurtured thinking, replaced by one where misuse was not limited to state resources, but to brains as well.
Professor Pityana’s concerns must be taken to heart by all of us, but student leaders in particular, for theirs is an important task: to groom the leaders of tomorrow, who are heirs to the throne of a crumbling South Afrika. It is not debatable that seeds of corruption, careerism and populism are growing at an alarming rate in student movements in South Afrika. The degeneration of student movements in the country must not be neglected, for “if not tackled with contempt, it shall take student movements straight into the dustbin of history” (Vusi Oldman Mahlangu, 15 Years of the Student Movement’s Revolutionary Struggle: Marking PASMA’s One and a Half Decade of Mobilisation, 2012). South Afrika needs a revolution of a special type, a mental revolution. This revolution needs to destroy the elements of the current epoch where the phobia of intellectual discourse has found firm rooting.
I would be economising with the truth if I fail to express a view I hold, that Professor Pityana, His Excellency Thabo Mbeki, His Excellency Pires, His Excellency Chissano and Professor Landsberg themselves showed an advanced detachment of philistinism. Theirs was rooted more in failure to provide pragmatic solutions to Afrikan challenges in the new world order and even to correctly dissect the nucleus of these challenges. The four gentlemen spoke nothing that sounded like real politics, focusing instead on non-issues that are too far divorced from the realities of the toiling Afrikan masses. Theirs was a convergence of former presidents afflicted with nostalgia. The panel discussion possessed characteristics of an Oprah Winfrey show, with the exception that Ms Winfrey’s audiences at least leave the show with a gift, be it a car or a shopping voucher, whereas Mbeki’s audience left with nothing but the satisfaction of having seen Mbeki physically.
The struggle for meaningful debates must continue. In every platform accorded to us and that which we create, we must continue to ask questions that matter and provide solutions wherever we can. The responsibility of re-writing the Afrikan narrative rests with us, young and old. It rests with all those whose ideas and resources are geared towards an Afrikan developmental agenda. I have no doubt that even with his Afrocentric views, Mr Mbeki falls under this category. But next year’s lecture needs to offer us more than what this one did if we are to use him as a think-tank for Afrika’s revolutionary vision. It is not enough to quote and reference great scholars of yesterday if they are not going to help create solutions for the struggles of Afrika today.

Malaika Wa Azania
Minister of Land Affairs 2033

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