Statement by Deputy President Mbeki
at the African Renaissance Conference
Johannesburg, 28 September 1998
First of all, let me thank those among us who had the
courage and vision to organise this Conference on a
matter that is dear to all our hearts - the reconstruction
and development of our Continent of Africa.
I would also like to join the organisers in thanking
everybody who is attending the Conference and especially
the distinguished delegates who have come from outside
our own country.
Our appreciation must also go to the various organisations
that have joined hands to sponsor the Conference, without
whose generosity we would not be here today.
For me personally, it is a matter of great inspiration
to see the intelligentsia of our Continent come together
in this way, not as observers seeking to out-compete
one another in an orgy of criticism and denunciation
of others, but with the serious intention to add to
the strengthening of the movement for Africa's Renaissance.
I am certain that many of the delegates saw the article
which appeared in one of our Sunday papers, yesterday,
written by Guinness Ohazuruike, commenting on this Conference.
As you will recall, the article ends with the words:
"For long our people have suffered untold hardship.
For long our collective destiny has been compromised
by selfish rulers. This Conference should not end up
another academic talk-shop irrelevant to the needs of
the common man. We want practical solutions to our problems.
This is our chance."
I would like to believe that all of us are meeting
here today because we are moved by the same spirit of
impatience reflected in this appeal and are committed
to addressing the needs of both the common man and the
common woman, with special emphasis in the latter.
Without overestimating what one two-day Conference
can achieve, I am nevertheless convinced that by convening
as you have, you have taken all of us an important step
forward towards the realisation of our common goal of
the renewal of our Continent.
I take it also that our participation at this Conference
constitutes an undertaking by each one of us that we
commit ourselves to stay the course as genuine activists
for the rebirth of our Continent.
As you know, there are and will be many with loud voices
who will seek to discourage you, to pour scorn on all
your efforts, to pretend that the deep seated problems
we are all confronted with, many of them the result
of the activities of those who have appointed themselves
superior judges over our efforts, can be solved overnight.
Because of their hatred for the forces of genuine change
on our Continent, and their determination to defeat
us, you will have seen these judges virtually approve
of a coup d'etat in Lesotho against an elected government,
proclaim criminal arson and looting in Lesotho as an
heroic act of resistance, denounce a humane approach
by the region's armed forces which minimised the loss
of life, and prostitute the truth in the process, with
Our strength, however, derives from the fact that in
as much as we did not owe our liberation as a Continent
from colonialism and apartheid to these superior judges,
so we will not owe our emancipation from the deadly
clutches of neo-colonialism and the other ills which
afflict our Continent to these eminent persons.
Accordingly, it is not their view which should determine
our direction and pace of march, but our own sovereign
perspective of what is good and necessary for us to
achieve the new birth of Africa.
A few days ago, I had the privilege to meet a delegation
of a section of the leadership of the Afrikaner youth
of our country to hear their views about the future
of our country.
During the course of that meeting, they made a statement
as pregnant with hope as it was elegant in its rendition.
Here is what they said:
"Yesterday is a foreign country - tomorrow belongs
Of course they were speaking of South Africa. They
spoke of how our country's transition to democracy had
brought them their own freedom; of how their acceptance
of themselves as equal citizens with their black compatriots
defined apartheid South Africa and its legacy as foreign
to themselves; of how South Africa, reborn, constitutes
their own heritage.
We ourselves would not have erred if we followed these
young Afrikaners and repeated after them that "yesterday
is a foreign country - tomorrow belongs to us!"
By taking that position we would be saying that we
must make foreign to Africa the disempowerment of the
masses of our people. To borrow a slogan from the South
African liberation movement, we would accordingly proclaim
that - the people shall govern!
By taking that position, we would be saying that we
want to see an African Continent in which the people
participate in systems of governance in which they are
truly able to determine their destiny and put behind
us the notions of democracy and human rights as peculiarly
Thus would we assume a stance of opposition to dictatorship,
whatever form it may assume.
Thus would we say that we must ensure that when elections
are held, these must be truly democratic, resulting
in governments which the people would accept as being
genuinely representative of the will of the people.
By this means, we would also create the mechanisms
for the peaceful resolution of conflicts within African
society as well as the ways and means by which we ensure
that the competition for scarce resources does not result
in a mutual slaughter of civil war and violent conflict.
By saying all this, I am not suggesting that there
is any one model of democracy which we must copy. Necessarily,
we have to take into account the specific conditions
in our countries to find the organisational forms which,
while addressing those specific conditions, nevertheless
still live up to the perspective that the people shall
As part of this, clearly we must also respond to what
Nelson Mandela said a week ago when he addressed the
General Assembly of the United Nations, that we must
fight against and defeat what he described as the deification
of arms, the seemingly entrenched view that to kill
another person is a natural way of advancing one's cause
or an obviously correct manner by which to resolve disputes.
Once more we must make the point that the engagement
of the women in these processes by which the people
determine their destiny must be central to our determination
as to whether we are succeeding or otherwise in the
struggle to make the masses of the people their own
Where we say that "yesterday is a foreign country
- tomorrow belongs to us!", we must make the abuse
of political power to gain material wealth by those
who exercise that power foreign to our Continent and
systems of governance.
Thus, I believe that we cannot speak of an African
Renaissance where we permit that corruption remains
an endemic feature of the private and public sectors
on our Continent.
Within this, we must necessarily include those who
come with bags full of money from countries beyond our
shores, who also participate in the process of purchasing
our souls so that they win tenders and contracts or
gain special favours intended to improve their bottom
I am certain that none of us present here will dispute
the fact that the cancer of self-enrichment by corrupt
means constitutes one of the factors which accounts
for the underdevelopment and violent conflicts from
which we seek to escape.
For example, many of us will be familiar with instances
in which wars have dragged on seemingly without end,
because soldiers and their political accomplices find
the situation of conflict profitable as it opens up
business opportunities for them to earn commissions
on arms purchases, to open possibilities for criminal
syndicates to loot and rob and to set themselves up
as private business people.
Our vision of an African Renaissance must have as one
of its central aims the provision of a better life for
these masses of the people whom we say must enjoy and
exercise the right to determine their future.
That Renaissance must therefore address the critical
question of sustainable development which impacts positively
on the standard of living and the quality of life of
the masses of our people.
Our agenda for this Conference correctly includes a
number of topics which seek to address this question.
Indeed, there is a huge volume of literature which seeks
to provide answers as to what might be done to achieve
the goal of economic growth and social development.
Even now, we can reel off the list of things that need
to be done in this regard, including human resource
development, the emancipation of women, the building
of a modern economic, social and communication infrastructure,
the cancellation of Africa's foreign debt, an improvement
in terms of trade, an increase in domestic and foreign
investment, the expansion of development assistance
and better access for our products into the markets
of the developed world.
I do not suppose that any among us would disagree with
such a list. But if we know what needs to be done, why,
then, is not being done!
I believe that what is at fault is not so much that
we are at a loss as to what to do to realise the goal
of development, but that we have not evolved the social
movement with its leadership, which will ensure that
we do indeed make the necessary advances on this front.
Again, the democracy of which we have spoken is an essential
requirement for this social movement, of which this
movement is itself an inherent part.
And yet we must also recognise the fact that we cannot
win the struggle for Africa's development outside of
the context and framework of the world economy.
One of the results of the current international financial
crisis has been that it has made it necessary and possible
for most thinking people to question the prescriptions
which have been proclaimed during the recent past as
the cure for all economic ills, including those which
affect our Continent.
For us as Africans this is particularly important because
our reality has taught us that the much acclaimed beneficial
effect of the process of globalisation, if true, is
by no means automatic.
Much as many of our countries have tried to live up
to the injunctions handed down to us from on high to
behave in particular ways, the results have been very
slow in coming.
We must therefore insert ourselves into the international
debate about the issues of globalisation and its impact
on the lives of the people and make our voice heard
about what we and the rest of the world should do actually
to achieve the development which is a fundamental right
of the masses of our people.
I believe that fundamental to everything we may say
about these matters, must be the consideration that
we have to attract into the African economy the significant
volumes of capital without which the development we
speak of will not happen.
I refer here to both domestic and foreign investors
and to both private and public sector sources of capital.
The current international financial crisis has brought
to the fore, very sharply, the fact of the accumulation
of vast quantities of especially financial capital in
the developed countries of the North.
The rapid movements of this capital, from one corner
of the globe to the other, in search of immediate profit
have contributed greatly to the problems which the world
is experiencing today.
On other occasions we have made the point that we are
subjected to the strange situation that the process
of the further reproduction of wealth by the countries
of the North has led to the creation of poverty in the
countries of the South.
There has to be something out of joint where wealth
Surely, there must be a way whereby the surpluses accumulated
within the world economy become available also to the
developing countries, including and especially the countries
of Africa, as long-term capital helping us to address
the socio-economic development objectives we have already
It is in this context that it becomes absurd and totally
unacceptable that poor countries such as ours in Africa,
as a consequence of their foreign debt burden, become
net exporters of capital, for the benefit of areas of
the world which may already be experiencing, to all
intents and purposes, a surplus of capital.
Accordingly, we must be in the forefront in challenging
the notion of "the market" as the modern God,
a supernatural phenomenon to whose dictates everything
human must bow in a spirit of powerlessness.
In reality, the market is made up of people who take
conscious decisions in pursuit of deliberate and measurable
objectives, understanding the regularities which govern
the process of the reproduction and expansion of wealth.
Interventions have to be made into this market by other
human beings in pursuit of the measurable objectives
of ending poverty and underdevelopment.
The mere existence of such important organisations
as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and
the World Trade Organisation emphasise precisely this
points that human intervention in this market is already
a fact of life. It is the nature and purposes of that
intervention that have to be addressed.
The new African world which the African Renaissance
seeks to build is one of democracy, peace and stability,
sustainable development and a better life for the people,
non-racism and non-sexism, equality among the nations
and a just and democratic system of international governance.
None of this will come about of its own. In as much
as we liberated ourselves from colonialism through struggle,
so will it be that the African Renaissance will be victorious
only as a result of a protracted struggle that we ourselves
Much, if not everything we have said about Africa's
need for democracy, peace, stability and development
is obviously not new. It is not the repetition of these
objectives that will bring about an African Renaissance.
It is what we do to bring about these objectives that
will take us a step forward in our quest for a new and
better African reality.
I believe that whereas before, as Africans, we might
have said all these things are necessary, we have now
arrived at the point where many on our Continent firmly
believe that they are now possible.
I am certain that is why we, too, have come together
in this important Conference, because we are convinced
that what we have known for a long time as something
that was desirable, has now become capable of realisation.
Surely, the historic victory of our Continent over
colonialism and apartheid has something to do with this.
Without that victory an African Renaissance was impossible.
Having achieved that success we created the possibility
to confront the challenge of the reconstruction and
development of our Continent anew.
We do this, now, with the experience of over 30 years
of independence for many of our countries. That experience
is also our teacher. It provides us with a wealth of
knowledge especially about what not to do.
I know that there are many within our Continent who
would say the opposite - who seek to justify things
that are wrong and unacceptable by saying "this
is the African way of doing things".
Therefore when I speak of a wealth of knowledge about
what we should not do, I address myself to those on
our Continent who are ready and willing to repeat after
the Afrikaner youth that "yesterday is a foreign
country - tomorrow belongs to us!"
I address myself to those who are ready and willing
to be rebels against tyranny, instability, corruption
and backwardness. It would seem to me that there are
many throughout our Continent who are ready and willing
to be such rebels. Whatever the limits, I believe that
the spirit is abroad in all Africa in favour of a sustained
offensive against neo-colonialism and all the degeneration
that it represents.
The challenge is to mobilise and galvanise the forces
inside and outside of government which are the bearers
of this spirit, so that they engage in a sustained national
and continental offensive for the victory of the African
This means that the workers and the peasants, business
people, artisans and intellectuals, religious groups,
the women and the youth, sportspeople and workers in
the field of culture, writers and media workers, political
organisations and governments should all be engaged
to constitute the mass army for the renewal of our Continent.
In this context, with regard to our own country, it
is critically important that we do not allow the revolutionary
energies built up in the struggle against apartheid
to dissipate, with the masses of the people disempowered
and demobilised to a situation where they become passive
recipients of the good things of life from their rulers,
objects rather than subjects of change. It is equally
important that these masses and their organisations
continue to sustain the feature characteristic of our
long years of struggle against white minority domination,
of international solidarity and a commitment to contribute
what we can to the making of a better global society.
I believe that a similar challenge faces the people
of Nigeria whose advance towards a democratic order
has created the possibility for this important African
country to set an agenda for itself against the repetition
of military rule, against corruption and the abuse of
power, for a system of governance that successfully
addresses the challenges of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic
society and an equitable system of sharing resources,
for a path of economic growth and development which
benefits the people and reinforces the independence
Any progress made on all these issues would be of great
benefit not only to Nigeria. It would also make an enormous
contribution to the rebirth of our Continent as a whole.
It may be that Nigeria will not have another opportunity
soon to confront these issues as it has now. We can
only hope that the best within that society will not
allow this moment to pass.
The end of a decades-old neo-colonial regime in the
then Zaire had raised hopes that this equally important
African country would itself seize the possibility created
by this historic change to position itself as a leading
fighter for the renewal of our Continent, with important
positive results for the whole of Africa.
Most regrettably, we now seem immersed in a situation
of conflict which, among other things, has brought back
to the national agenda of that country the enemy to
progressive change represented by ethnic divisions and
It is however clear that in the same way that we cannot
avoid it, neither can the people of the Democratic Republic
of Congo do without that process of fundamental transformation
in the interests of the people, which constitutes the
core of the vision of an African Renaissance.
An enormous challenge faces all of us to do everything
we can to contribute to the recovery of African pride,
the confidence in ourselves that we can succeed as well
as any other in building a humane and prosperous society.
None of us can estimate or measure with any certainty
the impact that centuries of the denial of our humanity
and contempt for the colour black by many around the
world have had on ourselves as Africans.
But clearly it cannot be that successive periods of
slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism and the continuing
marginalisation of our Continent could not have had
an effect on our psyche and therefore our ability to
take our destiny into our own hands.
Among other things, what this means is that we must
recall everything that is good and inspiring in our
past. Our arts should celebrate both our humanity and
our capabilities to free ourselves from backwardness
and subservience. They should say to us that if we dare
to win, we will win!
I am convinced that a great burden rests on the shoulders
of Africa's intelligentsia to help us to achieve these
objectives. That is precisely why this Conference is
From it a message should go out to all our intelligentsia,
those who work in Africa and those who have located
themselves in the developed countries of the North,
that we have arrived at the point where the enormous
brain power which our Continent possesses, must become
a vital instrument in helping us to secure our equitable
space within a world affected by a rapid process of
globalisation and from which we cannot escape.
In the end, what we are speaking of is the education,
organisation and energisation of new African patriots
who, because to them yesterday is a foreign country,
who join in struggle to bring about an African Renaissance
in all its elements.
As every revolution requires revolutionaries, so must
the African Renaissance have its militants and activists
who will define the morrow that belongs to them in a
way which will help to restore to us our dignity.
The country in which you are meeting has a Government,
political and other social formations and masses of
the people who see themselves as part of the motive
forces for the victory of the African Renaissance.
Our first task therefore is to transform our society
consistent with this vision. Our second task is to join
hands with all other like minded forces on our Continent,
convinced that the peoples of Africa share a common
destiny, convinced also that people of goodwill throughout
the world will join us in the sustained offensive which
must result in the new century going down in history
as the African Century.
Yesterday is a foreign country - tomorrow belongs to