THE AFRICAN RENAISSANCE: FROM VISION TO REALITY ADDRESS BY DEPUTY PRESIDENT ZUMA

LONDON - 23 NOVEMBER 1999

Master of Ceremonies
Director of The Africa Centre, Dr A. Bing
Minister of Finance in Namibia, Mr N. Mbumba
Chairperson of the African Diplomatic Corps
Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to begin by thanking all of you for giving us this opportunity to meet with you and share ideas on this very important issue, "the reconstruction and development of Africa". It is now an established fact that the concept of the African Renaissance is not only a matter that is so close to our hearts but is also a matter of life and death without which the pain and suffering of Africa will continue.

The question that confronts all of us today as we are about to end the old millennium and enter a new one is: can Africa as a continent rid itself of this long period of pain, suffering and dehumanisation in every respect of its life experience? Can Africa make real for itself the notion of the African Century? The first question that we need to answer Ladies and Gentlemen is: Why has the need arisen for Africa to be reborn and the call made for an African Renaissance?

I have no doubt that all of you gathered here today will already have formed some notion of what this African Renaissance is about. There are indeed many interpretations. What I hope to do today is to map the path that the "dehumanisation of the continent of Africa" has taken over the last century and beyond, where it is currently and where it is headed. I hope to outline and make clear in all our minds why the need has arisen for Africa to be reborn and the form that this rebirth should take.

Ladies and Gentlemen the very notion of rebirth implies a prior existence that is now being rekindled.

Africa, as we all know was once a very vibrant centre of civilisation. Many discoveries of ancient sites bear testimony to this. They give rise to the idea that at some point in our history there came about a period of a distribution of all that was progressive in our civilisation.

The rebirth of Africa as a concept can best be understood by us as Africans revisiting this history and analysing the various phenomena that have led to this dark period in our continent.

The first major event undoubtedly has to be the advent of slavery. This was to change the course of the African people's lives irrevocably for generations to come. The dehumanisation of the people of our continent cannot be matched by any of the later events in the history of mankind. From very early in our history the best of our people were transported to lands hitherto unheard of to work in the fields of newly discovered lands beyond the seas.

Sadly some of our own people co-operated with slave traders as much as some have and still are co-operating in the degradation of Africa in the 20th century. These forces undermined any development that had previously taken place therefore.

The abolishment of slavery gave rise to a new wave of degradation in the form of colonisation of African countries that substituted abduction to foreign lands with subjection of our people in their own lands. This further thwarted the development of the continent of Africa along principles that were in line with the value systems of its people.

Countries from Europe in a frantic quest to own a piece of Africa demarcated the continent creating politico-economic boundaries in places where non existed previously. The homogeneity of Africa was thus thoroughly undermined and the continent was cut into small pieces that divided tribes, clans and at times, even families. These boundaries totally and deliberately ignored the role played by social structures in any civil society and ensured their destruction.

Highly developed forms of administration were systematically destroyed, and Africa was administered and owned by foreign forces.

The point of this narrative ladies and gentlemen is that Africa as a people and as a continent played no part in its own shaping that turned its people into subjects of the so called mother countries in far away Europe. What followed from there was the well documented destruction of the existing forms of African Societies and the taking away of the political and economic power from the hands of the African people.

In my country South Africa, slavery was not as extensive as it was in countries to the north but the heavy hand of colonialism was and is still being felt in all spheres of the lives of our people, particularly the black people. There are a number of laws that were passed over a long period of time that served to constitutionalise the subjection of our people. This marked their total dispossession of land, of economic, political and social independence.

One of the key tools used by colonisers in their guest to totally annihilate the people of Africa was religion. It was misused to carry out the so-called mother countries' agendas. Missionaries, were made to work hand in hand with the colonisers, and played a large role in ensuring that black people did not retain their way of life. African customs and cultures were attacked and this led to the destruction of the very core of the moral fibre and values of the people of our continent. As a result at the time of decolonisation our true Africanness had been almost lost.

The irony however is that some of the black people educated by missionaries and sometimes even sent abroad to study, came back with a new consciousness and thus were created the beginnings of the anti-colonialism struggle. Many of the leaders who led the struggle for liberation in the early were born of this system.

Ladies and gentlemen it is important to trace this history so that we may better know what it is exactly that we need to rid ourselves of.

It is important for us and for our brothers and sisters who live in other continents to understand this history so that they may better understand the role that they are required to play by virtue of the ancestry that they share with us, in the reshaping of the destiny of our continent.

We need to understand why, after Africa's struggle for freedom has been completed, the people of our continent still number amongst the poorest of the poor and we are still unable to complete the freedom that we fought so hard for. We need to understand the bitter truth that only political power has been returned to the African continent.

Our people are now free to govern their own countries but the joke is on them because economic and religious power still eludes them. The so-called mother countries still retain control over the continent by controlling the economies of its countries. From the time of liberation they have resisted relinquishing their hold over the continent and, in post colonial Africa.

This gave rise to a new phase of coups largely engineered by those seeking to retain control over Africa often putting in power people with no leadership skills to enable them to govern effectively. Often copying from the colonial rulers they ruled harshly never allowing opposition to their rule. The current problems in Africa are partly a continuation of this phenomenon.

In this regard the current towards the marginilisation of undemocratically elected leaders can only be seen as a positive development.

The move is a correct one if we are to achieve stability and democracy in our continent, which are cornerstones to economic development. Political systems should allow the economic involvement of Africans in Europe and elsewhere. There is a need therefore to consider the eventual amalgamation of all the regional economic blocs of Africa into one.

Existing economic organisations in Africa, such as ECOWAS in West Africa and SADC in the South to name a few, can begin to explore the possibility of co-operation amongst all African countries for the betterment of the continent.

To achieve this ideal, the fragmentation that exists must be addressed as a matter of urgency. At the political level this has been achieved through the OAU. As result of the divisions created by foreign forces amongst us, we have developed negative attitudes to one another. At times these escalate to war and mass destruction.

Africans in Africa and the Diaspora must now have an extraordinary consciousness about Africa as a home for all the people of Africa. They should, through action rather than sentimental attachment, contribute to the revival of African pride.

This could take the form of information transfer, intellectual inputs, patriotic investments, the promotion of Africa and things that are African.

A revival of Africa requires that its people should have a longer life span. This is being threatened by the scourge of AIDS that cuts across the continent. We need then to actively engage in finding solutions to the HIV/AIDS problem. To wait for a solution from others when it is mostly our people who are dying will mean that we have truly forsaken our own.

We are therefore calling on all business people, particularly of African origin, to play a bigger role in Africa. African people conducting businesses all over the world, should do so with Africa in mind. Wealth accumulated in Africa often finds its way out of Africa. We are saying that we need to find ways to ensure that the wealth accumulated in Africa stays in Africa. We encourage all Africans to have confidence in, and encourage the development of a sound banking system that is user-friendly in Africa that eliminates the need for financial flight.

Ladies and gentlemen, the rebirth of Africa will not occur overnight. It has to take time. We each have to work at it in whatever profession we are in. We need our intelligentsia to re-interpret the story of Africa, to make Africans to understand how and why they came to be where they are, to better enable them to contribute to the African Century. We need our musicians to promote Africa in their music, poets to sing the praises of Africa through the outstanding quality of their work. Writers must write the story of Africa, its plight and where it is going.

The very notion of the African Renaissance requires that our writers should analyse and interpret it so that they can better define it for the ordinary people of our continent. We need as a continent, to begin to take more seriously the issues of women and children's rights, to campaign more vigorously against the unscrupulous degradation of the environment in Africa and the eradication of the drug-trafficking trade.

This we need to do ourselves as Africans. Ladies and gentlemen each and every African has a role to play in the realisation of this vision.

Those of us in positions of power and those of us who have the personal ability to do so have a duty to lay the groundwork in order for it to take hold.

One of the main ingredients, however has to be good political systems in all African countries that uphold the principles of democracy at all costs. We therefore need constitutions to promote good values and promote the dignity of our people. In the absence of these, it is easy to thwart development, intellectual thinking or any other form of forward thinking. It is therefore obvious that delaying the democratisation of Africa also delays the African Renaissance.

The decision by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to exclude military regimes from the year 2000 is the first building block towards laying the groundwork for the realisation of the African Renaissance. Perhaps we need to consider the exclusion of some democratically elected leaders who have tended to stray towards undemocratic methods of governance.

What we need is the capacity to coherently co-ordinate this rebirth. We therefore call on all Africans in the Diaspora to return to Africa, to bring back to the continent their expertise, to use the knowledge and experience they have gained to rebuild their motherland and know that they have made the greatest contribution.

This then is the reality of the African Renaissance - an international movement of all people of African descent that extends beyond borders, to renew a sense of pride in being African. It is a movement that seeks to make Africans to feel that they have a past that is terrible, that they need to change. It seeks to make realise that there is a future to look forward to and that we have the capacity to indeed bring about this future. Ladies and gentlemen it seeks to conscientise people in other countries so that they too may hear the sounds of the rumblings of the African Renaissance so that, in their own countries they may join with us in rebuilding our economies through calls for debt relief, greater investment, skills transfer etc.

In conclusion I would like to thank the people of The Africa Centre for organising this conference. I would like to thank all of you for having taken the time to come here to discuss and attempt to interpret the concept of the rebirth of the continent of Africa. I believe that this is an excellent step towards owning it and thus making it a reality for each and every one of us.

I am saddened that I cannot be with you for the duration of your conference as I have to attend to other duties elsewhere. I trust however that we are on the right track and that this conference will go some way to bringing the African Renaissance closer to the ordinary people for it is they at the end of the day who should be the true custodians of the rebirth of their own continent.

I thank you.


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