Speech by Thabo Mbeki at the Paasiviki
Society - Helsinki, Finland, 14 September 1998
"South Africa, Southern Africa and the African
Distinguished Members of the Paasiviki Society and Guests:
The long winter nights of Northern Europe lay waste
to the human spirit - without light, without warmth,
only giving hope because each of their passing days
portends their ending.
Those who may know nothing about the eternal movement
of the planets may conclude that the curse of the gods
had been visited permanently on those of our human race
who have to suffer patiently as they wait for the penetrating
head of tomorrow's sunrays.
We who come from the other end of our common planet,
which part Prometheus blessed with an abundance of the
warming rays of the sun, a blessing which not even the
Vikings could command to light up your world, have known
nothing else from you except the warmth of your hearts.
And knowing that, we have known that in you, the people
of Finland, of Northern Europe, we have true friends
who will be friends with us not because we lead brilliant
lives that evoke envy, but because of who and what we
are and what we have done, which brings up from the
depth of the universal soul the exasperation of the
anger of pity.
And so we are here today to speak to you, as friends,
about efforts that are being made which are helping
to remake Africa, of attempts to do something that is
good and right that fail, of a determination to succeed
A song of the musical, "The Man of La Mancha",
speaks to the striving and hope of the peoples of our
Continent, where its lyrics say:
"To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow,
To run where the brave dare not go,
To right the unrightable wrong,
To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star...
To fight for the right without question or pause,
To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause,
And the world will be better for this,
That one man, scorned anc covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable stars!"
But you of the long winter nights will understand also
the long winter night that descended on the African
world when the magnificence of Carthage was reduced
to rubble, when the ancient manuscripts of the libraries
of Alexandria were consumed by fire, when Africa's talent
travelled east and west and south in the chains of the
slaves, when others from the European world took possession
of our Continent as their personal patrimony, when others
as indigenous to Africa as I, saw the millions of us
across the face of Africa, as fit objects for a merciless
and triumphant rapine.
When South Africa achieved her emancipation, all of
us breathed a sigh of relief and sang a song of joy.
At long last, our common battle for justice and human
dignity had overcome. This was a battle that we had
all of us fought with great passion, even at moments
when reason seemed to suggest that victory was impossible.
At that moment of celebration, not many could have
stopped to absorb the import of the success and therefore
to proclaim the view that the common victory over the
apartheid crime against humanity signified also a commitment
to build on that success, to bring nearer the realisation
of the dream of Africa's rebirth.
As we, the South Africans, have lived our daily lives
in conditions of freedom over the last four years, so
have we come to understand that to give meaning to the
lives of the millions of our people and to honour the
perhaps unexpressed aspirations of even larger millions
throughout the world, what we had to do was to undo
the damage of two millennia, whose accumulated ravages
made it possible for all to accept that it was acceptable
to speak of "the Dark Continent".
And so what is this South Africa which the millions
of our people, both black and white, seek to build!
We seek to create a democratic South Africa in which
all our people can truly participate in the process
of determining their destiny and in which their fundamental
human rights are respected and protected.
Thus we are also continuously in search of the ways
and means by which we can translate into practice the
concepts of a people-centred society and people-driven
processes of development.
Necessarily, the objectives of the accountability of
government tot he people and transparent systems and
processes of governance, and therefore a permanent vigilance
against corruption and abuse of power, are among the
important goals which have to be pursued continuously.
We have also had to recognise the fact of the geographic
size of our country and the reality that ours is a multi-cultural
and multi-lingual society.
Accordingly, our Constitution provides for a structure
and institutions of government which seek to ensure
that these basic features do not become a source of
conflict and instability but component parts of an interactive
process which enables all our people to translate into
actuality the view that they share a common destiny.
Necessarily also, the great struggle to build a people-centred
society has also meant that we wage a determined offensive
against the terrible apartheid legacy of poverty, human
degradation and underdevelopment, of inequality between
black and white, between men and women, between the
rural and the urban areas.
Among other things this requires high and sustainable
rates of economic growth and development, black empowerment
and an equitable distribution of the national wealth,
the integration of our formerly isolated country into
the world economy, the restructuring and modernisation
of our economy and the all-round development of our
people so that they acquire the skills and knowledge
which define the empowered citizen of the modern world.
Needless to say, time, resources and sustained effort
will be required to attain these objectives, all of
which cannot be achieved by the preservation of the
status quo, all of which, in fact, constitute the negation
of the apartheid reality which continues to define our
country and society.
Thus, to live up to the ideals of a non-racial, non-sexist
and prosperous society, we have to ensure that our processes
of development successfully address such important questions
as equality in the socio-economic sphere, the creation
of jobs and the improvement of the access of especially
the disadvantaged majority to a modern infrastructure,
to health, educational and other services.
Equally important are the objectives of the emancipation
of women, the empowerment and development of children,
the youth and the disabled, the reduction of the levels
of crime, including those against children, women and
the elderly and the cultivation of a value system reflective
of the high worth which we must place on the liberty
and happiness of the individual.
The end of apartheid rule in our country has also meant
that the opportunity has arisen for us to restructure
our relationship with the rest of the world to reflect
the goals of the independence and equality of nations,
world peace and the resolution of disputes by peaceful
means, the promotion of democracy and respect for human
rights, the democratisation of the system of international
relations, the upliftment of the developing countries
and mutually beneficial cooperation among all nations.
When we speak of South Africa's own reflection of the
African Renaissance and her participation in the struggle
to realise that Renaissance, we speak precisely of the
effort to achieve the objectives we have sought to explain.
These represent a break with the recent African past
of military coups d'etat and one-party states, the seeming
inability to address conflicting interests within states
by peaceful means, a permanent state of underdevelopment
for the majority and the enrichment of the few, in many
instances by corrupt means, dependence on donor assistance
and the marginalisation of the entire continent of Africa
on the periphery of a world in the throes of rapid development.
The objectives we have spoken of, which constitute
the essence of our reconstruction and development programme,
also compromise the agenda which many others countries
of Southern Africa are pursuing in accordance with the
sovereign will of their own peoples.
It is for this reason that many have come to place
hope on this part of our Continent as a cohesive region
whose efforts will succeed to signal that independent
Africa has, at last, emerged out of many decades of
conflict and regression.
The challenges of peace, stability and democracy in
Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, more recently,
Lesotho, are of course matters of great concern throughout
the region of Southern Africa.
This arises both from their impact on the three countries
and the negative effect they have on the region as a
whole to attend to the common challenge of integrated
regional economic growth and development and a regional
contribution to the efforts of the Continent as a whole
to address the fundamental question of peace and stability.
Our own views of these instances of continuing conflict
and instability in the region is that, in reality these
are but the negative elements of a larger and more positive
process which will result in the birth of the new African
societies which must characterise the African Renaissance.
We should not forget this that it was not so long ago
that Angola was in fact involved in a hot war in which
large numbers of people were being killed or forced
to flee their homes.
Neither are we very far from the days when the Democratic
Republic of Congo was rules by a neo-colonial product
of the Cold War, despised throughout the world as a
corrupt dictator and an embarrassment to all the peoples
Similarly, we are a mere four years away from white
minority rule in South Africa and an equally short period
of time from the days of a vicious civil war in Mozambique
and arbitrary one-man rule in Malawi.
That we speak of all these as belonging to the past,
indicates the depth of the process that is taking place
throughout Southern Africa towards the establishment
of systems and practices consistent with the vision
of an African Renaissance.
The same can also be said about other African countries
beyond the region of Southern Africa.
Among these, because of its size and importance tot
he rest of Africa, Nigeria deserves special mention.
We are convinced that Nigeria is, at last set on a
course which will lead to the reestablishment of democracy.
The steps that have been taken by the new military administration
led by General Abubakar should also contribute to the
enhancement of respect for human rights and the intensification
of the struggle against corruption.
The point is obvious that such changes as we are speaking
of in Nigeria will have a beneficial effect far beyond
the borders of that country, adding great impetus to
the process leading to the rebirth of our Continent.
We are very pleased that the governments and the political
formations of Nigeria and South Africa are cooperating
in the manner in which they are, to encourage and promote
the emergence of the new Nigeria.
Similarly, we need to make the point that, however
difficult it may be, peace will be realised in the region
of the Great Lakes, based on a ceasefire in the Congo,
the withdrawal of foreign troops, a stable regional
security system and a process within the Congo leading
to the holding of genuinely democratic elections.
It is also true that gradually the economies of a number
of African countries have been recording positive growth
rates and increases in per capita income, partly as
a result of fundamental changes in economic policies.
These changes have resulted, in part, in the reduction
of the involvement of the state in direct economic activity
and therefore the reduction of budget or elimination
of subsidies to inefficient enterprises, the mobilisation
of domestic capital and larger inflows of foreign direct
investment, both resulting in higher levels of real
Obviously, many problems remain to be addressed.
These include the challenge of the cancellation of
the relatively huge foreign debts which many poor countries
have to carry and service, the continued dependence
on raw materials and primary products in a situation
of deteriorating terms of trade and the need radically
to increase the skills levels in all the countries of
But the point we are making is that a new beginning
has been and is being made to bring the African continent
into the mainstream of international socio-economic
development and sustained progress towards achieving
the objective of a better life for all.
Of importance in this regard, is the combination of
efforts and resources by the countries of Africa to
overcome the weakness inherent in any approach whereby
countries with severely limited resources seek to resolve
their problems by relying exclusively on their own efforts.
Certainly for our region, the institution, the Southern
African Development Community, with a combined population
of over 135 million is a critically important instrument
through which to actually to achieve progress in such
spheres as the establishment of a Free Trade Area, the
development of a regional communication, transport,
energy, water and health infrastructure, industrial
development and human resource development.
Needless to say, the African Renaissance of which we
speak and which we are working to realise, cannot take
place outside of the complicated and dynamic process
of globalisation which is such a defining feature of
the modern world.
It is probably true that no thinking person in the
world today will question the fact that this process
of globalisation does carry with it certain elements
which have a negative impact on especially the smaller
and weaker countries of the world, including ourselves
It would therefore seem obvious that one of the challenges
of the African Renaissance is for us, who are the victims
of these negative elements, to contribute decisively
to finding the responses to the challenge of globalisation
so that the vision of the African Renaissance does not
perish having been overwhelmed by blind forces which
have an enormous potential to do good.
Indeed, it may be that the challenge whether it is
possible so to regulate the process of globalisation
so that it benefits both the rich and the poor will
be answered by the ability of all nations, especially
the most powerful, to ensure that the possibilities
represented by globalisation actually reinforce the
struggle for an African Renaissance.
We are also convinced that a country such as Finland,
as well as the rest of the Nordic countries, which have
a long history of acting in solidarity with the peoples
of our Continent, can and must play an important part
in supporting this Renaissance through their increased
involvement in all aspects of the struggle to put Africa
on a new road of development.
This must include the struggle to democratise the system
of international relations, encompassing such organisations
as the United Nations, the WTO and the Bretton Woods
institutions so that the voice of the poor is strengthened,
the agendas of these important bodies is made more responsive
to the needs of the developing world and the reduction
of national the sovereignty of especially the smaller
countries is counter-balanced by the ability effectively
to influence the institutions of the system of international
governance, some of which we have mentioned.
There is a new spirit that is abroad throughout Africa.
Its essence is the conviction among millions of our
people that they, themselves, have to do something to
overcome the problems and forces that have condemned
much of our continent to backwardness and dependence
on charitable handouts.
Our very failures of the past and the present are precisely
the factors which inform African option that the time
to change is now. The achievements of other peoples
throughout the world, such as yourselves tell us that
we too have the capacity to emulate your example of
As we move along the difficult road towards Africa's
rebirth, we will be encouraged by the fact that however
difficult it may have seemed, we overcame the system
of apartheid, white minority and colonial rule.
However impossible it may have seemed, the dictators
of the ilk of Idi Amin of Uganda and Mobutu Sese Seko
of Zaire are a thing of the past.
In the end, we passed beyond the pain and barbarism
The dim but glorious past of the African origins of
homo sapiens is also returning to our consciousness,
as is the recollection of a past of outstanding scholarship
represented, among others by the African scholars of
ancient Egypt who led in unravelling the secrets of
nature more than two thousand years ago.
All these communicate the message to the millions of
thinking Africans that we have the power in ourselves
fundamentally to change the situation on our Continent
for the better, to end the marginalisation of Africa,
to secure her Renaissance.
Thus will it be that the long night of Africa's winter,
which we as human beings have the capacity to banish,
will come to an end and all humanity will together proclaim
that a terrible blight on the human conscience has ceased