Speech by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki
at the United Nations University
THE AFRICAN RENAISSANCE, SOUTH AFRICA AND THE WORLD
9 April 1998
We must assume that the Roman, Pliny the Elder, was
familiar with the Latin saying, Ex Africa semper
aliquid novi! (Something new always comes out
of Africa). Writing during the first century of the
present millennium, Pliny gave his fellow Romans some
startlingly interesting and supposedly new information
about Africans. He wrote:
"Of the Ethiopians there are diverse forms and
kinds of men. Some there are toward the east that have
neither nose nor nostrils, but the face all full. Others
that have no upper lip, they are without tongues, and
they speak by signs, and they have but a little hole
to take their breath at, by the which they drink with
an oaten straw ... In a part of Afrikke be people called
Pteomphane, for their King they have a dog, at whose
fancy they are governed ... And the people called Anthropomphagi
which we call cannibals, live with human flesh. The
Cinamolgi, their heads are almost like to heads of dogs...
Blemmyis a people so called, they have no heads, but
hide their mouth and their eyes in their breasts."
(Cited in: "Africa: A Biography of the Continent":
John Reader, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1997.)
These images must have frightened many a Roman child
to scurry to bed whenever their parents said, The
Africans are coming! The strange creatures out of Africa
Happily, fifteen centuries later, Europe had a somewhat
different view of the Africans. At the beginning of
the 16th century, Leo Africanus, a Spaniard resident
in Morocco, visited West Africa and wrote the following
about the royal court in Timbuktu, Mali:
The rich king of Timbuktu ... keeps a magnificent and
well-furnished court ... Here are great store of doctors,
judges, priests, and other learned men, that are bountifully
maintained at the king's cost and charges. And hither
are brought diverse manuscripts or written books out
of Barbarie, which are sold for more money than any
other merchandise.' (Reader, op cit.)
Clearly, this was not the Dog King of which Pliny had
written at the beginning of the millennium, but a being
as human as any other and more cultured and educated
than most in the world of his day. And yet five centuries
later, at the close of our millennium, we read in a
book published last year:
"I am an American, but a black man, a descendant
of slaves brought from Africa... If things had been
different, I might have been one of them (the Africans)
-- or might have met some... anonymous fate in one of
the countless ongoing civil wars or tribal clashes on
this brutal continent. And so I thank God my ancestor
survived that voyage (to slavery) ... Talk to me about
Africa and my black roots and my kinship with my African
brothers and I'll throw it back into your face, and
then I'll rub your nose in the images of the rotting
flesh (of the victims of the genocide of the Tutsis
or Rwanda)... Sorry, but I've been there. I've had an
AK-47 (automatic rifle) rammed up my nose, I've talked
to machete-wielding Hutu militiamen with the blood of
their latest victims splattered across their T-shirts.
I've seen a cholera epidemic in Zaire, a famine in Somalia,
a civil war in Liberia. I've seen cities bombed to near
rubble, and other cities reduced to rubble, because
their leaders let them rot and decay while they spirited
away billions of dollars -- yes, billions -- into overseas
bank accounts ... Thank God my ancestor got out, because,
now, I am not one of them.' ("Out of America: A
Black Man Confronts Africa": Keith B. Richburg.
Basic Books, New York, 1997.)
And this time, in the place of the Roman child, it
is the American child who will not hesitate to go to
bed when he or she is told, The Africans are coming!
The barbarians are coming!
In a few paragraphs, quoted from books that others
have written, we have traversed a millennium. But the
truth is that we have not travelled very far with regard
to the projection of frightening images of savagery
that attend the continent of Africa.
Images of hope and despair
And so it may come about that some who harbour the
view that as Africans we are a peculiar species of humanity
pose the challenge: How dare they speak of an African
Renaissance? After all, in the context of the evolution
of the European peoples, when we speak of the Renaissance,
we speak of advances in science and technology, voyages
of discovery across the oceans, a revolution in printing
and an attendant spread, development and flowering of
knowledge and a blossoming of the arts.
And so the question must arise about how we -- who,
in a millennium, only managed to advance from cannibalism
to a "blood-dimmed tide" of savages who still
slaughter countless innocents with machetes, and on
whom another, as black as I, has turned his back, grateful
that his ancestors were slaves -- how do we hope to
emulate the great human achievements of the earlier
Renaissance of the Europe of the 15th and 16th centuries?
One of our answers to this question is that, as Africans,
we recall the fact that as the European Renaissance
burst into history in the 15th and 16th centuries, there
was a royal court in the African city of Timbuktu which,
in the same centuries, was as learned as its European
What this tells me is that my people are not a peculiar
species of humanity! I say this here today both because
it is true, but also because I know that you, the citizens
of this ancient land, will understand its true significance.
And as we speak of an African Renaissance, we project
into both the past and the future. I speak here of a
glorious past of the emergence of homo sapiens on the
I speak of African works of art in South Africa that
are a thousand years old. I speak of the continuum in
the fine arts that encompasses the varied artistic creations
of the Nubians and the Egyptians, the Benin bronzes
of Nigeria and the intricate sculptures of the Makonde
of Tanzania and Mozambique. I speak of the centuries-old
contributions to the evolution of religious thought
made by the Christians of Ethiopia and the Muslims of
I refer also to the architectural monuments represented
by the giant sculptured stones of Aksum in Ethiopia,
the Egyptian sphinxes and pyramids, the Tunisian city
of Carthage, and the Zimbabwe ruins, as well as the
legacy of the ancient universities of Alexandria of
Egypt, Fez of Morocco and, once more, Timbuktu of Mali.
When I survey all this and much more besides, I find
nothing to sustain the long-held dogma of African exceptionalism,
according to which the colour black becomes a symbol
of fear, evil and death.
I speak of this long-held dogma because it continues
still to weigh down the African mind and spirit, like
the ton of lead that the African slave carries on her
own shoulders, producing in her and the rest a condition
which, in itself, contests any assertion that she is
capable of initiative, creativity, individuality, and
entrepreneurship. Its weight dictates that she will
never straighten her back and thus discover that she
is as tall as the slave master who carries the whip.
Neither will she have the opportunity to question why
the master has legal title both to the commodity she
transports on her back and the labour she must make
available to ensure that the burden on her shoulders
translates into dollars and yen.
An essential and necessary element of the African Renaissance
is that we all must take it as our task to encourage
she, who carries this leaden weight, to rebel, to assert
the principality of her humanity -- the fact that she,
in the first instance, is not a beast of burden, but
a human and African being.
But in our own voyage of discovery, we have come to
Japan and discovered that a mere 130 years ago, the
Meiji Restoration occurred, which enabled your own forebears
to project both into their past and their future. And
as we seek to draw lessons and inspiration from what
you have done for yourselves, and integrate the Meiji
Restoration into these universal things that make us
dare speak of an African Renaissance, we too see an
African continent which is not "wandering between
two worlds, one dead, the other unable to be born.
"A rediscovery of ourselves"
But whence and whither this confidence? I would dare
say that that confidence, in part, derives from a rediscovery
of ourselves, from the fact that, perforce, as one would
who is critical of oneself, we have had to undertake
a voyage of discovery into our own antecedents, our
own past, as Africans. And when archeology presents
daily evidence of an African primacy in the historical
evolution to the emergence of the human person described
in science as homo sapiens, how can we be but confident
that we are capable of effecting Africa's rebirth?
When the world of fine arts speak to us of the creativity
of the Nubians of Sudan and its decisive impact on the
revered and everlasting imaginative creations of the
African land of the Pharaohs -- how can we be but confident
that we will succeed to be the midwives of our continent's
rebirth? And when we recall that African armies at Omduraman
in the Sudan and Isandhlwana in South Africa out-generalled,
out-soldiered and defeated the mighty armies of the
mighty and arrogant British Empire in the seventies
of the last century, how can we be but confident that
through our efforts, Africa will regain her place among
the continents of our universe?
And in the end, an entire epoch in human history, the
epoch of colonialism and white foreign rule, progressed
to its ultimate historical burial grounds because, from
Morocco and Algeria to Guinea Bissau and Senegal, from
Ghana and Nigeria to Tanzania and Kenya, from the Congo
and Angola to Zimbabwe and South Africa, the Africans
dared to stand up to say the new must be born, whatever
the sacrifice we have to make -- Africa must be free!
We are convinced that such a people has a legitimate
right to expect of itself that it has the capacity to
set itself free from the oppressive historical legacy
of poverty, hunger, backwardness and marginalisation
in the struggle to order world affairs, so that all
human civilisation puts as the principal objective of
its existence the humane existence of all that is human!
And again we come back to the point that we, who are
our own liberators from imperial domination, cannot
but be confident that our project to ensure the restoration
not of empires, but the other conditions in the 16th
century described by Leo Africanus: of peace, stability,
prosperity, and intellectual creativity, will and must
succeed! The simple phrase We are our own liberators!
is the epitaph on the gravestone of every African who
dared to carry the vision in his or her heart of Africa
The conviction therefore that our past tells us that
the time for Africa's Renaissance has come, is fundamental
to the very conceptualization of this Renaissance and
the answer to the question: Whence this confidence?
Unless we are able to answer the question Who
were we? we will not be able to answer the question
What shall we be? This complex exercise,
which can be stated in simple terms, links the past
to the future and speaks to the interconnection between
an empowering process of restoration and the consequences
or the response to the acquisition of that newly restored
power to create something new.
Learning from Japan
If, at this point, you asked me whether I was making
a reference to the Meiji Restoration and its impact
on the history and evolution of this country, my answer
would be, Yes! However, I would also plead that you
should not question me too closely on this matter, to
avoid me exposing my ignorance.
But this I would like you to know that in the depth
of my ignorance, I am moved by the conviction that this
particular period in the evolution of Japan, to the
point, today, when her economic problems are those of
a surfeit rather than the poverty of resources, has
a multiplicity of lessons for us as Africans, which
we cannot afford to ignore or, worse still, not to know.
And if we as students are badly informed, you have a
responsibility to be our teachers. We are ready to learn
and to become our own teachers as a result.
We would also like you to know that our determination
to learn is exemplified by the willingness we have demonstrated
to learn on our own from our experiences. I refer here,
in particular, to the period since the independence
of many of our countries. Among many Africans, this
has been referred to as the neo-colonial period.
This constitutes an honest admission of the fact that
an important feature of African independence at that
stage was that the development of these independent
states was determined by the reality that the fundamental,
structural relationship between the independent slates
and the former colonial powers did not change. As a
consequence of the acquisition of independence, new
state symbols had been adopted and were displayed daily.
New state institutions were created. Political and other
decision-making processes commenced, which represented
and signified the formation of new nation-states. At
last, Africans were governing themselves.
However, reality, including the purposes of the Cold
War, dictated that the former colonial powers continued
to hold in their hands the power to determine what would
happen to the African people over whom, in terms of
international and municipal law, they no longer had
any jurisdiction. The mere recognition that this signified
a neo-colonial relationship, rather than genuine independence,
affirmed the point that the peoples of our continent
had not abandoned the determination to be their own
Much of what you see reported in your own media today,
represented, for instance, by the exit from the African
stage of a personality such as General Mobutu Sese Seko
of the former Zaire, represents the death of neo-colonialism
on our continent. And so we must return to the question,
Whence the confidence that we, as Africans, can
speak of an African Renaissance?
What we have said so far is that both our ancient and
modern history as well as our own practical and conscious
deeds convey the same message: that genuine liberation,
in the context of the modern world, is what drives the
Africans of today as they seek to confront the problems
which for them constitute a daily challenge.
The question must therefore arise: What is it which
makes up that genuine liberation?
The first of these (elements) is that we must bring
to an end the practices as a result of which many throughout
the world have the view that as Africans, we are incapable
of establishing and maintaining systems of good governance.
Our own practical experiences tell us that military
governments do not represent the system of good governance
which we seek.
Accordingly, the continent has made the point clear
that it is opposed to military coups and has taken practical
steps, as exemplified by the restoration to power of
the elected government of Sierra Leone, to demonstrate
its intent to meet this challenge when it arises. Similarly,
many governments throughout the continent, including
our continental organisation, the OAU, have sought to
encourage the Nigerian government and people to return
as speedily as possible to a democratic system of government.
Furthermore, our experience has taught us that one-party
states also do not represent the correct route to take
towards the objective of a stable system of governance,
which serves the interests of the people. One of the
principal demands in our liberation struggle, as we
sought to end the system of apartheid was: The
people shall govern! It is this same vision which
has inspired the African peoples so that, during the
present decade, we have seen at least 25 countries establish
multi-party democracies and hold elections so that the
people can decide on governments of their choice.
The new South Africa is itself an expression and part
of this African movement towards the transfer of power
to the people. At the same time, we are conscious of
the fact that each country has its particular characteristics
to which it must respond as it establishes its democratic
system of government.
Accordingly, none of us seek to impose any supposedly
standard models of democracy on any country, but want
to see systems of government in which the people are
empowered to determine their destiny and to resolve
any disputes among themselves by peaceful political
In our own country, conscious of the need to properly
handle the contradictions and conflicts that might arise
among different ethnic and national groups, aware also
of the fact that such conflicts have been an important
element of instability on the continent, we have made
it a constitutional requirement to establish a Commission
for the Promotion of Cultural, Language and Religious
In this context, we must also mention two initiatives
which the continent as a whole has taken through the
agency of the Organisation of African Unity. We refer
here to the establishment of the inter-state Central
Organ for the Prevention and Resolution of Conflicts
which is empowered to intervene to resolve conflicts
on the continent and which is currently working on the
design of an instrument for peace-keeping to increase
our collective capacity to intervene quickly, to ensure
that we have no more Rwandas, Liberias or Somalias.
The second initiative to which we refer is the adoption
of the African Charter of Human and People's Rights,
which sets norms according to which we ourselves can
judge both ourselves and our sister countries as to
whether we are conducting ourselves in a manner consistent
with the defence and promotion of human and people's
rights. Like others throughout the world, we too are
engaged in the struggle to give real meaning to such
concepts as transparency and accountability in governance,
as part of the offensive directed against corruption
and the abuse of power.
Popular rule and political rebirth
What we are arguing therefore is that in the political
sphere, the African Renaissance has begun. Our history
demands that we do everything in our power to defend
the gains that have already been achieved, to encourage
all other countries on our continent to move in the
same direction, according to which the people shall
govern, and to enhance the capacity of the OAU to act
as an effective instrument for peace and the promotion
of human and people's rights, to which it is committed.
Such are the political imperatives of the African Renaissance
which are inspired both by our painful history of recent
decades and the recognition of the fact that none of
our countries is an island which can isolate itself
from the rest, and that none of us can truly succeed
if the rest fail.
The second of the elements of what we have described
as the genuine liberation of the peoples of Africa is,
of course, an end to the tragic sight of the emaciated
child who dies because of hunger or is ravaged by curable
diseases because their malnourished bodies do not have
the strength to resist any illness.
What we have spoken of before, of the restoration of
the dignity of the peoples of Africa itself, demands
that we deal as decisively and as quickly as possible
with the perception that as a continent we are condemned
forever to depend on the merciful charity which those
who are kind are ready to put into our begging bowls.
Accordingly, and again driven by our own painful experience,
many on our continent have introduced new economic policies
which seek to create conditions that are attractive
for domestic and foreign investors, encourage the growth
of the private sector, reduce the participation of the
state in the ownership of the economy and, in other
ways, seek to build modern economies.
Simultaneously, we are also working to overcome the
disadvantages created by small markets represented by
the relatively small numbers of people in many of our
nation states. Regional economic associations have therefore
been formed aimed at achieving regional economic integration,
which in many instances would provide the necessary
condition for any significant and sustained economic
growth and development to take place.
In our own region, we have the Southern African Development
Community, which brings together a population of well
over 100 million people. The community has already taken
the decision to work towards transforming itself into
a free-trade area and is currently involved in detailed
discussions about such issues as the timetable for the
reduction of tariffs, to encourage trade among the member
states and thus to take the necessary steps leading
to the creation of the free trade area to which we have
We are also engaged in other initiatives aimed at the
development of infrastructure throughout the region,
both as an expression of development and to create the
basis for further development and therefore a sustained
improvement in the standard of living of the people.
Cooperation against violence
As part of the determined offensive to achieve integrated
and mutually beneficial regional development, we have
taken other initiatives to deal with common regional
problems, going beyond the directly economic. I refer
here to the establishment of a regional instrument to
address questions of regional security, peace and stability,
including the building of regional peace-making and
peacekeeping capacity. I refer also to the development
of a regional system of cooperation to combat crime,
including trade in narcotics and illegal firearms, as
well as the evolution of common programmes and legislative
frameworks to deal with such challenges as violence
against women and children.
We are therefore determined to ensure that we end the
situation according to which, for many years, Africa
recorded the slowest rates of economic growth and, in
many instances, actually experienced economic decline.
Already, a significant number of countries have shown
relatively high rates of growth as a direct consequence
of changes in economic policy and, of course, the achievement
of stability within our countries, as a result of the
establishment of democratic systems of government.
These economic objectives, which must result in the
elimination of poverty, the establishment of modern
multi-sector economies, and the growth of Africa's share
of world economic activity, are an essential part of
the African Renaissance. We are certain that the movement
towards their achievement will also be sustained precisely
because this movement represents an indigenous impulse
which derives from our knowledge of the mistakes we
have made in the past and our determination to put those
mistakes behind us.
I say this to emphasize the point that necessarily
the African Renaissance, in all its parts, can only
succeed if its aims and objectives are defined by the
Africans themselves, if its programmes are designed
by ourselves and if we take responsibility for the success
or failure of our policies.
As South Africans, we owe our emancipation from apartheid
in no small measure to the support and solidarity extended
to us by all the peoples of Africa. In that sense our
victory over the system of white minority domination
is an African victory. This, I believe, imposes an obligation
on us to use this gift of freedom, which is itself an
important contribution to Africa's Renaissance, to advance
the cause of the peoples of our continent.
Building on successes
The first thing we must do, clearly, is to succeed.
We must succeed to strengthen and further entrench democracy
in our country and inculcate a culture of human rights
among all our people, which is, indeed, happening.
We must succeed to rebuild and reconstruct our economies,
achieve high and sustained rates of growth, reduce unemployment,
and provide a better life for the people, a path on
which we have embarked.
We must succeed to meet the needs of the people so
as to end poverty and improve the quality of life by
ensuring access to good education, adequate health care,
decent homes, clean water and modern sanitation, and
so on, again a process on which we have embarked.
We must take decisive steps to challenge the spread
of HIV/AIDS, of which Africa accounts for two-thirds
of the world total of those infected. Our government
has taken the necessary decisions directed at launching
and sustaining a big campaign to confront this scourge.
We must discharge our responsibilities to ourselves,
future generations and the world with regard to the
protection of the environment, cooperating with all
nations to meet what is, after all, a common challenge.
We must rise to the critical challenge of creating
a non-racial and non-sexist society, both of which objectives
are also contained within our constitution. I believe
that we, who were exposed to the most pernicious racism
represented by the system of apartheid, have the historic
possibility and responsibility indeed to create a non-racial
society, both in our own interest and as our contribution
to the continuing struggle throughout the world to fight
racism, which remains an unfortunate feature of many
Similarly, we have a real possibility to make real
advances in the struggle for the genuine and all-round
emancipation of women and have, with this objective
in mind, established a constitutional commission for
gender equality, which will help our society as a whole
to measure the progress we are making to secure gender
Many African peoples throughout Southern Africa sacrificed
their lives to help us secure our freedom. Others further
afield ignored the fact of their own poverty to contribute
resources to guarantee our emancipation. I am convinced
that this immense contribution was made not only so
that we end the apartheid crime against humanity, but
also so that we build a society of which all Africa
would be proud because it would address also the wrong
and negative view of an Africa that is historically
destined to fail.
Similarly, the peoples of Africa entertain the legitimate
expectation that the new South Africa, which they helped
to bring into being, will not only be an expression
of the African Renaissance by the manner in which it
conducts its affairs, but will also be an active participant
with other Africans in the struggle for the victory
of that Renaissance throughout our continent.
Necessarily, therefore we are engaged and will continue
to be engaged in Africa's efforts to guarantee peace
for her children, to feed and clothe them, to educate
them and to bring them up as human beings as human as
any other in the world, their dignity restored and their
equal worth recognized and valued throughout our universe.
Interdependence means global action
We would like you to join us in the noble struggle
to achieve these objectives. The process of globalization
emphasizes the fact that no person is an island, sufficient
to himself or herself. Rather, all humanity is an interdependent
whole in which none can be truly free unless all are
free, in which none can be truly prosperous unless none
elsewhere in the world goes hungry, and in which none
of us can be guaranteed a good quality of life unless
we act together to protect the environment.
By so saying, we are trying to convey the message that
African underdevelopment must be a matter of concern
to everybody else In the world, that the victory of
the African Renaissance addresses not only the improvement
of the conditions of life of the peoples of Africa but
also the extension of the frontiers of human dignity
to all humanity. Accordingly, we believe that it is
important that the international community should agree
that Africa constitutes the principal development challenge
in the world. Having made this determination, we believe
that we should then all join forces to ensure that we
elaborate and implement practical programmes of action
to respond to this principal development challenge.
Urgent steps are required to bring about debt relief
to the many countries on our continent which suffer
from an unsustainable debt burden. Measures must be
taken to encourage larger inflows of capital into the
continent, taking advantage of the fact of changed economic
policies and improved political circumstances which
have brought many of our countries into the mainstream
of world developments with regard to the creation of
circumstances which make for high and sustained economic
The developed world has to follow more generous trade
policies, which should ensure easier access of African
products into their markets. Further, we still require
substantial flows of well-directed development assistance.
Accordingly, we believe that steps should be taken to
reverse the decline in such assistance which has occurred
in many countries of the developed world.
Similarly, as the process of globalization develops
apace, enhancing the need for a multilateral process
of decision making affecting both governments and the
non-governmental sector, it is necessary that, acting
together, we ensure that Africa, like other regions
of the developing world, occupies her due place within
the councils of the world, including the various organs
of the United Nations.
It is our hope and conviction that this important member
of the world community of nations, Japan, will see itself
as our partner in the practical promotion of the vision
of an African Renaissance. By acting on the variety
of matters we have mentioned and others besides, we
trust that Japan will continue to place herself among
the front ranks of those who are driven to act not only
within the context of a narrowly defined national interest,
but with the generosity of spirit which recognizes the
fact that our own humanity is enriched by identifying
ourselves especially with those who suffer.
When once more the saying is recalled, Ex Africa semper
aliquid novi! (Something new always comes out of Africa!),
this must be so, because out of Africa reborn must come
modern products of human economic activity, significant
contributions to the world of knowledge, in the arts,
science and technology, new images of an Africa of peace
Thus shall we, together and at last, by bringing about
the African Renaissance depart from a centuries-old
past which sought to perpetuate the notion of an Africa
condemned to remain a curiosity slowly grinding to a
halt on the periphery of the world. Surely those who
are the offspring of the good that sprang from the Meiji
Restoration would not want to stay away from the accomplishment
of so historic a human victory!
Question-and-answer session following the speech
Rector van Ginkel, United Nations University: Thank
you very much, Mr. Mbeki. I think we all understood
well your invitation to join you in the promotion of
the "African Renaissance," because it has
become clear that no single person nor one single country
can ever achieve this aim. Achieving this is not just
the interest of African countries and the African people,
but it is in the interest of the whole world. This is
an opportunity at the moment, now that this strong force
in fact has been unleashed all over the continent and
the concept is becoming more and more known and supported
around the world.
Well, you are so kind to say that you are prepared
to take on questions. You will be supported in answering
the questions by some other experts here on stage, so
no one in the audience should be afraid to pose even
the most difficult questions, because there is a lot
of thinking power from Africa in fact assembled here.
Q: Would you give some further details on some of the
most important challenges for an African Rennaissance?
Mr. Mbeki: We are saying, for instance, an important
element which needs to be addressed with regard to meeting
this challenge of African development is the debt problem.
The debt problem has to be dealt with.
You know about the highly indebted programme concerning
the poor countries and the slowness in the movement
with regard to the implementation of that programme.
The periods that are required by the multilateral institutions
for countries to prove themselves that they would not
act in the manner that will result in the measures of
are long. The burden continues to weigh
down. You have continuous greater outflows of resources
out of Africa as result of this servicing of that debt.
Now I do not know if you want us to go into more detail
with regard to this question, but the need to address
the matter of the debt burden is important, and we're
hoping for instance that this matter will be dealt with
When President Clinton was in South Africa, we raised
it with him. And he undertook that indeed when the G-8
(group of eight industrialized countries) meets he would
seek to raise this question. We are hoping that the
same position - well, the same position has been taken
by the Prime Minister of Japan.
But as I said earlier, the issue of easier access of
African products into the markets of the developed world
is important. Again, I don't think we have time to discuss
this matter in any particular detail. But you see, for
instance, a part of what we think is that when we are
dealing with the least-developed countries, I am talking
particularly about the World Trade Organization, we
might start from the position that the products of the
least-developed countries should have duty-free access
to all of the economies of the developed world.
So that indeed the possibility for the least-developed
countries to trade freely with the developed world then
becomes one of the ways by which the least-developed
become less least-developed.
The third point we are making is that it is necessary
to take whatever measures we can take to encourage larger
inflows of foreign capital into Africa. I am sure you
would be familiar with the figures about this, that
when you compare Africa with other regions of the world,
Africa will be at the bottom in terms of the regions
of the world that attract foreign capital.
I think in part the problem is the persistence of particular
images in people's minds about the negative things about
the continent. I think, in part, it is to do with a
tendency to look at Africa as one whole. So that if
something goes wrong in South Africa, people further
afield do not say; "Something has gone wrong in
South Africa"; they say, "Something has gone
wrong in Africa."
So I am saying that one of the things which I think
very important is a better communication of what the
African people themselves are doing to change their
The gentleman just has spoken who has been in Kenya
and Uganda and Tanzania, and you can see in those countries
the great efforts that people have made to move away
from one-party states, to address matters of economic
policy, to open up these economies in all sorts of ways.
It may well be that that kind of information is not
reaching people sufficiently. I am taking in particular
here about people who might be interested to invest
in the African continent. That's something that needs
to be addressed.
I was saying also that the matter of development assistance
needs to be addressed, because it is in itself not necessarily
bad. It is true that in the past few years private capital
inflows into Africa and other developing countries have
superceded significantly official development assistance
into these countries.
If it was merely a relative matter, it might not be
so bad, but you have had arguments that there was a
need to reduce development assistance in an absolute
way. We don't think this is correct. And we have said
that we don't believe the contrasting of development
assistance and trade is a correct approach. So, as I
was saying, again we could get into the detail of this,
(but) I am not sure that would have the time.
We are saying that "Let's all make common determination
that Africa constitutes the principal development challenge
in the world."
We had a discussion two and a half months ago with
the president of the World Bank to discuss precisely
this question. To say that if you look at the expenditures
of the World Bank group, of the five regions in the
world which the World Bank deals with, in all instances,
Africa is at the bottom. Whether you are talking about
development finance or you are talking about international
finance cooperation, talking about concessional money,
talking about trade promotion -- it does not matter
what you talk about.
In all the various expenditure items of the World Bank,
Africa will be at the bottom.
So we were saying, and he agreed fortunately, that
why don't we all agree that if you look at the rates
of economic growth and restructuring of economies, integration
of the world economy, all of these questions. If you
look at that, it is clear that the biggest of the development
challenges among these five regions with which World
Bank deals is Africa.
But the figures don't reflect this. So it is necessary,
having said this is the principal development challenge
for reasons that are obvious, that then we try and move
not only the multilateral institutions, but I think
also countries which have got some capacity to move
in a way which responds to a determination which says
"Africa is our principal development challenge."
The impact of the process of globalization on the sovereignty
of countries is an important factor of today's world.
The weaker, the smaller you are, the more decisive that
impact of globalization is on this matter of sovereignty.
Decisions are taken by the World Trade Organization
which we may not be able to influence about tariffs
and about the rates at which they must be reduced and
so on. Our decisions are taken out of the hands of individual
countries; they become multilateral agreements which
are enforceable across the globe.
And we believe that one of the correct responses to
that process of globalization is to make sure that the
smaller countries of the world therefore have a proper
place in the decision-making processes of these institutions
which take decisions which have a universal impact.
And again one we can go into the detail of that, but
these are some of the points that we are raising.
Q: What sort of role is South Africa ready to play
for the development of the entire continent of sub-Saharan
Mr. Mbeki: One of the things that is happening with
regard to countries of southern Africa that have been
mentioned is that you have had some noticeable movement
of capital from South Africa into some of the economies
in the region.
For instance you might have seen this in Uganda, that
part of the process of the development of the telecommunication
infrastructure there is partly as a result of new investment
that has been put into that sector by South African
companies, as does indeed another telecommunication
license I think that is coming in Uganda on which, again,
South African companies are bidding.
You would also have seen these things in Tanzania,
of an involvement by South African corporations in the
privatization processes of Tanzania and in some interesting
areas that have already had an impact in terms of improvement
of quality, growth of exports in Tanzania, and recovery
of production facilities that have collapsed.
You would also see in Tanzania a number of South African
mining companies that have come into mining in Tanzania
to create new capacities and to expand existing capacity.
Or, I do not know which airline you might have used
while you were in the region. If you used Alliance Airline,
it is a consortium of South African Airways and other
airways in the region of East Africa.
So I am saying that you have that whole process of
investment from South Africa in the economies of the
region, and that would include tourism, so I think that's
part of what will happen.
And as I was saying, as the southern African development
community we've taken the decision to constitute ourselves
into a free-trade area and we are involved in discussions
about this. And it would seem to us that one of the
things that we need to do, as South Africa, is to perhaps
move ahead of the rest of the countries of the region
because of the relative strength of South African economy
to speed up the process of arriving at that free trade
area so that we lower tariffs into the South African
economy faster than everybody else. So that indeed countries
like Tanzania, which are part of the development community,
can then gain that easier and better access into what
is after all a larger market.
So there are a whole variety of matters like this which
point to, I think, a fairly rapid process of regional
economic integration taking place.
Q: As immediate post-independence leaders in Africa
are now beginning gradually to leave the stage -- the
generation that a Nigerian Nobel laureate often referred
to as a "wasted generation" -- and your new
generation of African leaders are beginning to move
center stage in African affairs, can we say for sure
that the problem of leadership that has held down African
so long is about to come to an end?
Mbeki: I think, personally, that the matter is not
really so much a matter of leaders as a matter of the
peoples of our continent. I think that the experience
that we've had as Africans, which has meant, as I was
saying, military coups, one-party states, meant corruption
and so on -- I think (this) has taught the masses of
that some things are no longer permissible.
I think we have the fortunate situation in which we
live in the post-Cold War world. And you know the instances
on the African continent when people (who) were bad
for Africa were maintained in power by various powers
because they were useful in the context of that Cold
I think there are better possibilities now to ensure
that we don't have the images of some of the kind of
leaders we had in the past, who progressed from being
a master sergeant in charge of a platoon and ended up
proclaiming themselves emperors. I think that time has
Q: There is a requirement, where you have this scheme,
that employment of a certain percentage point go to
women and to minorities in South Africa. Do you think
the competitiveness of corporations would go hand-in-hand
Mbeki: No, there is no legislation in South Africa
which requires that companies must meet particular quotas.
It doesn't exist. What we've done is to say that there
are some basic challenges in South African society,
such as what I was trying to indicate in what I said
One of these challenges, and it is a very important
challenge, is the creation of a nonracial society. You
know what apartheid means. You know what legacy it has
Fact of the matter is that if you look at South Africa
today, four years after liberation, in terms of the
socioeconomic setting of South Africa, it's still essentially
an apartheid setting. So racism, we believe it is fundamentally
important that that matter be addressed. We also believe,
again as I was trying to indicate earlier, that the
matter of gender equality, the emancipation of women,
is very important if we are going to say this is a genuinely
democratic society. But the matter needs to be addressed
in a very consistent way.
We have a significant proportion of the South African
population who are disabled, who I suppose as in many
other countries would in the past have been dealt with
as welfare cases. But clearly, our orientation, certainly
as far as government and the disabled themselves are
concerned, is that they don't want to be dealt with
as welfare cases, but they want to be treated as normal
human beings. And then things need to be done to ensure
that despite their disability they are able to participate
as fully as they can in the activities that any other
human being would be involved in. And therefore, we
are discussing draft legislation which says, these matters
need to be addressed: racial discrimination, gender
discrimination, discrimination against the disabled.
There's nothing in the legislation which speaks about
quotas, which prescribes numbers. Rather, the legislation
says that the enterprises, economic institutions, business
institutions should themselves work out their own plans
as to what they will do to address these issues. So
there is no legislative compulsion; therefore, what
you might have been told about "You are therefore
obliged to take a person who happens to be black, or
a woman, or disabled, despite the fact that they are
incompetent" - there is no such legislation, and
there would not be such legislation either.
But I must make the point that in our society, it is
not possible to leave the matter of the racial disparities,
the racial differences, to leave those matters unaddressed.
Because if you did, you would indeed be asking for
a very big explosion in that society tomorrow, because
the majority of this population which continues to suffer
from that apartheid legacy surely will not say, "It
was enough for us to be able to get the vote, but it
is perfectly all right to continue with a society which
continues to discriminate" against them in other
I must say that in reality, many of the foreign investors
who have come into the South African economy have been
very conscious of these particular matters. I know,
for instance, of corporations that didn't require any
persuading, did not require any legislation - as soon
as they took decisions that they wanted to invest in
the South African economy and so on, who actually went
out of their way to ensure that they themselves recruited
and trained people from among black society, so that
they could bring them into positions of management and
so on. Because they did not want to reproduce within
their companies the South Africa of old, where you would
walk into a South African boardroom and you would not
think you were in Africa, you would think you are in
So I'm saying there are companies that have decided
on their own, without any persuasion from anybody, to
address this matter because they understood the challenge
of the creation of this nonracial society themselves,
and the importance to themselves as corporate citizens,
in terms of ensuring stability in the country.
Q: What are the preferable sectors in South Africa
in which people might be interested to investing?
(Mr. Moss Ngoasheng, economic advisor to Mr. Mbeki):
The question really will take us the whole afternoon
if we're going to deal with it in detail. But I mean
just to make a few general points on this matter:
One: The reintegration of the South African economy
into the world economy itself offers a whole range of
opportunities in terms of modernization. So you are
required to do quite a bit of work in terms of identifying
those sectors. That's a general point.
And I think that one of the great opportunities that
we have in the country is to grow and develop the infrastructure
within the country, to service the broad range of requirements
and needs that we have in the various areas of our people.
So infrastructure development in its general form is
an area for investment: water, electrification, housing,
municipal infrastructure and so on. That's an area where
as a government we are quite active, the Development
Bank of Southern Africa, which is the development arm
of the state, is a very active player. We have the (Bank's)
C.O. here; if you have some interest in that regard,
you can speak to him. They're piloting a lot of public-private
sector partnerships in that area.
We recognize that mining remains the main sector in
the South African economy, and therefore mineral processing
and mineral beneficiation is an area where we are seeking
greater involvement, and in fact, we are happy that
there is a lot of interest from Japanese corporations
in that area.
The other area which we think offers a lot of opportunities
in South Africa is the area of furniture manufacturing
and processing of the forest resources that we have.
The general electronics and IT sector is a very fast-growing
sector in the South African economy that I think offers
again a whole range of possibilities, and we are quite
happy to see that a lot of Japanese corporations are
back in the economy and making a lot of products from
We have a substantial auto component and auto-producing
sector, and we probably are one of the largest, fastest-growing
after-market producers of components that go into various
international markets. We were in Brazil last year and
we were surprised to find that some of the auto manufacturers
in Brazil actually order all their seats and other components
from Port Elizabeth in South Africa. They produce the
car in Brazil but the seats are produced in South Africa
So there are a number of areas that we can talk about
for the rest of the afternoon, but I think those are
just the highlights.
The reality of the matter is that the South African
economy is bubbling, and there is a whole range of opportunities,
and at a distance sometimes you are unlikely to see
those. So we invite you to come down and look at those
opportunities: the Development Bank of Southern Africa,
the Industrial Development Corporation, the Ministry
of Trade and Industry, the Investment in South Africa
organizations will be able to assist all investors interested
in coming down.
Q:Do you have an explanation for this kind of extraordinary
response by the leaders and people of South Africa to
their long years of oppression?
Mbeki:And so to the last question. I think that the
people of South Africa recognize the fact that all of
them are South African. I think that is a matter that
is fundamental to the willingness and the capacity to
accommodate one another. South Africa belongs to all
who live in it. I'm saying that I believe, that indeed
all of us believe, that South Africa belongs to all
And secondly, I think that the manner in which the
country developed historically produced a mutual dependence
among South Africans regardless of colour, which the
system of apartheid tried to undermine, but couldn't
succeed. And therefore I think that there's a recognition
that "If I want to succeed, I can only achieve
that success with the assistance of my neighbour."
That mutual dependence, which developed as a history
of the evolution of our country, makes the South Africans
know that it is better that they cooperate among themselves
in order to achieve success rather than they fight against
I think also that in the course of the struggle to
end apartheid, we arrived at a point where the apartheid
regime saw that it could not really defeat the liberation
movement, and we ourselves in the liberation movement
would not give up, but it might very well take us a
bit of time to get to the result of ending the system
of apartheid. Therefore, by the time we entered into
negotiations, both sides knew that they had not defeated
each other, and that both of them were capable of a
lot of destruction, and that in the end if you had a
lot of destruction, as I was saying, both (sides) will
lose something. So in a situation like that, I think
it became obvious to everybody that the only way out
was not to seek victory one over the other, but rather
to find a settlement that would be acceptable to both.
One other thing that happened was that we did in fact
spend very many years talking among ourselves as South
Africans about the future of South Africa. Many people
think that the process of negotiations began in 1990.
In fact the process of negotiations to bring about change
began five or six years earlier.
And that had to do with a lot of interaction among
people who were in the leadership of the society, in
various points of leadership in the society: in business,
academic world, the religious leadership, sporting people,
all sorts of people, the regime itself.
And that particular process was in reality focused
on seeing whether we could together elaborate a common
vision about the kind of South Africa we want. So as
I say, for five or six years we were talking among ourselves
to say, "When we say we want a democratic society,
what are we talking about? When we talk about an economy
that addresses the interests of all the people rather
than a small minority that is white, what are we talking
about?" All of these questions
by the time the formal negotiations started, the formal
open negotiations started with the government in 1990,
they had developed a common vision about what kind of
South Africa we wanted. As a consequence of which, one
of the things that we agreed was that we need to put
into the constitution a set of constitutional principles
which would be agreed by everybody, so that all of the
various political formations in the country would participate
in the process of drawing up and agreeing (on) those
So that those principles then became the framework
within which the new constitution could be drawn by
an elected board. The advantage of that was that even
the smallest political player in South African society
could make an input into drafting that framework of
constitutional principles, so that even if they didn't
get elected in the elections that then took place afterward,
they didn't feel threatened, because they knew that
the new constitution that would be drafted would be
drafted in the context of these constitutional principles,
which really constituted a consensus about which direction
South Africa should go.
And I'm saying that's a consensus which many people
worked at, from five or six years before 1990. And I
think it's a total of these two issues, the totality
of these things, which in the end I think continue to
say to South Africans, "There is no benefit to
be gained from any policies which seek to discriminate
against another South African."
There is no benefit to be gained by anybody in the
pursuit of policies that might seek revenge for things
that were done in the past. Because in the end, if you
took that route, what you would in fact be saying is
that we must reopen the conflict. And as I was saying,
in the end as South Africans we came to the conclusion
that the continuation of our conflict would benefit