Statement by Deputy President Mbeki at the African Renaissance Conference
Johannesburg, 28 September 1998

Distinguished participants

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 gay abandon.

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 to us!"

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 "Western" concepts.

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 govern.

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 liberators.

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 lines.

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 begats poverty!

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 indicated.

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 must wage.

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 Renaissance.

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 of Nigeria.

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 antagonisms.

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 so important.

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 us!

Thank you.

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