The African Renaissance Statement of
Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki
SABC, Gallagher Estate, 13 August 1998
A struggle for political power is dragging the Kingdom
of Lesotho towards the abyss of a violent conflict.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is sliding back into
a conflict of arms from which its people had hoped they
had escaped forever.
The silence of peace has died on the borders of Eritrea
and Ethiopia because, in a debate about an acre or two
of land, guns have usurped the place of reason.
Those who had risked death in Guinea Bissau as they
fought as comrades to evict the Portuguese colonialists,
today stand behind opposing ramparts speaking to one
another in the deadly language of bazooka and mortar
shells and the fearsome rhythm of the beat of machine-gun
A war seemingly without mercy rages in Algeria, made
more horrifying by a savagery which seeks to anoint
itself with the sanctity of a religious faith.
Thus can we say that the children of Africa, from north
to south, from the east and the west and at the very
centre of our continent, continue to be consumed by
death dealt out by those who have proclaimed a sentence
of death on dialogue and reason and on the children
of Africa whose limbs are too weak to run away from
the rage of adults.
Both of these, the harbingers of death and the victims
of their wrath are as African as you and I.
For that reason, for the reason that we are the disembowelled
African mothers and the decapitated African children
of Rwanda, we have to say enough and no more.
It is because of these pitiful souls, who are the casualties
of destructive force for whose birth they are not to
blame, that Africa needs her renaissance. Were they
alive and assured that the blight of human made death
had passed for ever, we would have less need to call
for that renaissance.
In the summer of light and warmth and life-giving rain,
it is to mock the gods to ask them for light and warmth
and life-giving rain. The passionate hope for the warming
rays of the sun is the offspring of the chill and dark
nights of the winters of our lives.
Africa has no need for the criminals who would acquire
political power by slaughtering the innocents as do
the butchers of the people of Richmond in KwaZulu-Natal.
Nor has she need for such as those who, because they
did not accept that power is legitimate only because
it serves the interests of the people, laid Somalia
to waste and deprived its people of a country which
gave its citizens a sense of being as well as the being
to build themselves into a people.
Neither has Africa need for the petty gangsters who
would be our governors by theft of elective positions,
as a result of holding fraudulent elections, or by purchasing
positions of authority through bribery and corruption.
The thieves and their accomplices, the givers of the
bribes and the recipients are as African as you and
I. We are the corrupter and the harlot who act together
to demean our Continent and ourselves.
The time has come that we say enough and no more, and
by acting to banish the shame, remake ourselves as the
midwives of the African Renaissance.
An ill wind has blown me across the face of Africa.
I have seen the poverty of Orlando East and the wealth
of Morningside in Johannesburg. In Lusaka, I have seen
the poor of Kanyama township and the prosperous residents
I have seen the African slums of Surulere in Lagos
and the African opulence of Victoria Island. I have
seen the faces of the poor in Mbari in Harare and the
quiet wealth of Borrowdale.
And I have heard the stories of how those who had access
to power, or access to those who had access to power,
of how they have robbed and pillaged and broken all
laws and all ethical norms and with great abandon, to
acquire wealth, all of them tied by an invisible thread
which they hope will connect them to Morningside and
Borrowdale and Victoria Island and Kabulonga.
Everyday, you ad I see those who would be citizens
of Kabulonga and Borrowdale and Victoria Island and
Morningside being born everywhere in our country. Their
object in life is to acquire personal wealth by means
both foul and fair.
Their measure of success is the amount of wealth they
can accumulate and the ostentation they can achieve,
which will convince all that they are a success, because,
in a visible way, they are people of means.
Thus, they seek access to power or access to those
who have access to power so that they can corrupt the
political order for personal gain at all costs.
In this equation, the poverty of the masses of the
people becomes a necessary condition for the enrichment
of the few and the corruption of political power, the
only possible condition for its exercise.
It is out of this pungent mixture of greed, dehumanising
poverty, obscene wealth and endemic public and private
corrupt practice, that many of Africa's coups d'etat,
civil wars and situations of instability are born and
The time has come that we call a halt to the seemingly
socially approved deification of the acquisition of
material wealth and the abuse of state power to impoverish
the people and deny our Continent the possibility to
achieve sustainable economic development.
Africa cannot renew herself where its upper echelons
are a mere parasite on the rest of society, enjoying
as self-endowed mandate to use their political power
and define the uses of such power such that its exercise
ensures that our Continent reproduces itself as the
periphery of the world economy, poor, underdeveloped
and incapable of development.
The African Renaissance demands that we purge ourselves
of the parasites and maintain a permanent vigilance
against the danger of the entrenchment in African society
of this rapacious stratum with its social morality according
to which everything in society must be organised materially
to benefit the few.
As we recall with pride the African scholar and author
of the Middle Ages, Sadi of Timbuktu, who had mastered
such subjects as law, logic, dialectics, grammar and
rhetoric, and other African intellectuals who taught
at the University of Timbuktu, we must ask the question
- where are Africa's intellectuals today!
In our world in which the generation of new knowledge
and its application to change the human condition is
the engine which moves human society further away from
barbarism, do we not have need to recall Africa's hundreds
of thousands of intellectuals back from their places
of emigration in Western Europe and North America, to
rejoin those who remain still within our shores!
I dream of the day when these, the African mathematicians
and computer specialists in Washington and New York,
the African physicists, engineers, doctors, business
managers and economists, will return from London and
Manchester and Paris and Brussels to add to the African
pool of brain power, to enquire into and find solutions
to Africa's problems and challenges, to open the African
door to the world of knowledge, to elevate Africa's
place within the universe of research the information
of new knowledge, education and information.
Africa's renewal demands that her intelligentsia must
immerse itself in the titanic and all-round struggle
to end poverty, ignorance, disease and backwardness,
inspired by the fact that the Africans of Egypt were,
in some instances, two thousand years ahead of the Europeans
of Greece in the mastery of such subjects as geometry,
trigonometry, algebra and chemistry.
To perpetuate their imperial domination over the peoples
of Africa, the colonisers sought to enslave the African
mind and to destroy the African soul.
They sought to oblige us to accept that as Africans
we had contributed nothing to human; civilisation except
as beasts of burden, in much the same way as those who
are opposed to the emancipation of women seek to convince
them that they have a place in human society; but only
as beasts of burden and bearers of children.
In the end, they wanted us to despise ourselves, convinced
that, if we were not sub-human, we were, at least, not
equal to the colonial master and mistress and were incapable
of original thought and the African creativity which
has endowed the world with an extraordinary treasure
of masterpieces in architecture and the fine arts.
The beginning of our rebirth as a Continent must be
our own rediscovery of our soul, captured and made permanently
available in the great works of creativity represented
by the pyramids and sphinxes of Egypt, the stone buildings
of Axum and the ruins of Carthage and Zimbabwe, the
rock paintings of the San, the Benin bronzes and the
African masks, the carvings of the Makonde and the stone
sculptures of the Shona.
A people capable of such creativity could never have
been less human than other human beings and being as
human as any other, such a people can and must be its
own liberator from the condition which seeks to describe
our Continent and its people as the poverty stricken
and disease ridden primitives in a world riding the
crest of a wave of progress and human upliftment.
In that journey of self discovery and the restoration
of our own self-esteem, without which we would never
become combatants for the African Renaissance, we must
retune our ears to the music of Zao and Franco of the
Congos and the poetry of Mazisi Kunene of South Africa
and refocus our eyes to behold the paintings of Malangatane
of Mozambique and the sculptures of Dumile Feni of South
The call for Africa's renewal, for an African Renaissance
is a call to rebellion. We must rebel against the tyrants
and the dictators, those who seek to corrupt our societies
and steal the wealth that belongs to the people.
We must rebel against the ordinary criminals who murder,
rape and rob, and conduct war against poverty, ignorance
and the backwardness of the children of Africa.
Surely, there must be politicians and business people,
youth and women activists, trade unionists, religious
leaders, artists and professionals from the Cape to
Cairo, from Madagascar to Cape Verde, who are sufficiently
enraged by Africa's condition in the world to want to
join the mass crusade for Africa's renewal.
It is to these that we say, without equivocation, that
to be a true African is to be a rebel in the cause of
the African Renaissance, whose success in the new century
and millenium is one of the great historic challenges
of our time.
Let the voice of the Senegalese, Sheik Anta Diop, be
"The African who has understood us is the one
who, after reading of our works, would have felt a birth
in himself, of another person, impelled by an historical
conscience, a true creator, a Promethean carrier of
a new civilisation and perfectly aware of what the whole
earth owes to his ancestral genius in all the domains
of science, culture and religion."
"Today each group of people, armed with its rediscovered
or reinforced cultural identity, has arrived at the
threshold of the post industrial era. An atavistic,
but vigilant, African optimism inclines us to wish that
all nations would join hands in order to build a planetary
civilisation instead of sinking down to barbarism."
Issued by: Office of the Executive Deputy President