Remarks by Dr Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations at the Seminar to mark the 20th anniversary of the African Union, hosted by the University of Cape Town, on 18 May 2022
Acting Vice Chancellor,
Members of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation,
The entire leadership of the University, Alumni,
Guests from outside the University, Students, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to deliver these remarks as part of our celebration of the birth of Africa’s premier organisation, the African Union (AU), the successor of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the AU this year we are reminded of the foundational philosophy that influenced African political ideology – Africanism. I cannot over emphasise the relevance of the theme of this Seminar to the renewal of Africa: Pan-Africanism in the current times.
I look forward to the panel discussion on this theme and on how this philosophy can be sustained in contemporary times and bequeathed to future generations.
Pan-Africanism was born out of an intellectual contestation of ideas by Africans on both the continent and the diaspora during the 19th century. These contested ideas evolved from reflections about racism, empowerment and then become a global movement. It was initially a response to the evil of slavery, imperialism, colonialism and racism, which were visited upon African people both in the continent and the diaspora.
The development of intellectual reflections on Pan-Africanism began to circulate in the mid-19th century in the United States, led by thinkers such as Marin Delany, Alexander Crummel and Edward Blyden. These thinkers held the view that black people could not prosper alongside whites and they therefore advocated the idea that African Americans should separate themselves from the United States and establish their own state in Africa.
In the early 20th century, these ideas were embraced and further developed by influential thinkers such as W.E.B Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. Garvey championed the cause of African independence with an emphasis on the attributes of Black people’s collective past. As for Du Bois, he was credited as the true father of modern Pan-Africanism, to the extent that his name became synonymous with this movement. He spent much of his life studying in Africa. His famous speech, “The problem of the colour lines in the 20th century,” articulated his thinking on these matters. The Soul of Black Folks, was an extensive account of the condition of black people in slavery and after slavery. The challenging legacy of racism was a key focus.
Du Bois was an academic at Fisk University, and later at Wilberforce and Atlanta University, where he ended up teaching. As a thinker who understood the importance of transforming theory into practice, he was one of the organisers of the first Pan Africanist conference that took place in Paris in 1919, which was followed by a second Congress two years later which convened sessions in London, Brussels and Paris.
He believed in black action to address the residue of racism and believed the educated African could play a great role.
Amongst the participants in these conferences were African students based in these countries, and the deliberations had a profound impact on their political consciousness. Most of them became leaders of liberation movements in their own countries on their return to Africa.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Amongst the earliest proponents of Pan-Africanism from the continent were prominent South Africans Charlotte Makgomo Maxeke and Dr Pixley Isaka Seme. Seme was also one of the founding fathers of the African National Congress. During their academic sojourn in the United States as young and impressionable students, Seme and Maxeke were amongst some of the first Africans to interact with the intellectual movement of Pan-Africanism.
As a student in Wilberforce University, at the time when W.E.B Dubois also graced the corridors of this great institution of African-Americans as a lecturer, Maxeke could not escape the infectious pull of Pan-Africanist ideals propagated by her mentor and teacher, Du Bois and those who shared his ideals.
Seven hundred kilometres away from Wilberforce University, at the hallowed halls of Colombia University in New York, a 25-year old South African student, Pixley Isaka Seme delivered a seminal speech entitled: The Regeneration of Africa. The speech was so impressive that it won him an oratory award – the Curtis Medal, from the University. In essence the philosophy promoted a belief in self, in Africaness and posited taking charge of Africa’s destiny. Also called for our own institutions, curriculum and teachers.
It was in this speech that the young Pixley ka Seme articulated the ideas of Pan-Africanism, echoing his influencers such as W.E.B Du Bois. It is important to mention that Pixley’s speech later inspired African revolutionaries such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. In fact, in December 1962, at the First International Congress of Africanists in Accra, Nkrumah quoted Seme’s oratory work in its entirety.
Chief Albert Luthuli said the following when receiving the Nobel Prize Award in 1961 in Oslo, Norway:
This Award could not be for me alone, nor for just South Africa, but for Africa as a whole. Africa presently is most deeply torn with strife and most bitterly stricken with racial conflict. How strange then it is that a man of Africa should be here to receive an Award given for service to the cause of peace and brotherhood between men. There has been little peace in Africa in our time. From the northernmost end of our continent, where war has raged for seven years, to the centre and to the south there are battles being fought out, some with arms, some without.
Our continent has been carved up by the great powers; alien governments have been forced upon the African people by military conquest and by economic domination; strivings for nationhood and national dignity have been beaten down by force; traditional economics and ancient customs have been disrupted, and human skills and energy have been harnessed for the advantage of our conquerors. In these times there has been no peace; there could be no brotherhood between men.
Ninety-years later, the opening lines of Seme’s speech “I am an African, and I set my pride in my race over against a hostile public opinion,” were echoed by the then South African Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki during the occasion of the adoption of the new South African constitution in our Parliament right here in the city of Cape Town.
The same ideals underpinned the African Renaissance philosophy which was later adopted as central to South Africa’s foreign policy towards the African continent. Working towards the renaissance of the continent continues to be the lodestar of our diplomatic activities in Africa.
The intellectual influence that the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism had on South African students was so profound that they later transformed these ideas from theory into practice. When they eventually returned to South Africa after completing their studies abroad, they fought the horrendous injustice of the system that treated black people as foreigners in their own land.
Seme later became one of the first conveners of the famous conference that founded the ANC in Mangaung in 1912. As some of you are aware a strong African nationalism informed that initial formation later to be transformed to a national movement that had a broader identity and membership.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The end of apartheid in South Africa ushered in new energy and bolstered the ideals of Pan-Africanism, both theoretically and practically. The new democratic government sought to articulate a new vision of Africa informed by the notion of an impending African Renaissance.
The OAU and later the AU portrayed the organisation as a pan-African one, ready to fulfil the Continent’s destiny through all available means. It was this resolve that found expression in the Constitutive Act of the AU which reads as follows:
We are inspired by the noble ideals which guided the founding fathers of our Continental Organization and generations of Pan-Africanists in their determination to promote unity, solidarity, cohesion, and cooperation among the peoples of Africa and African States. Pan-Africanism here meant integrated efforts to advance Africa’s development.
Nkwame Krumah at the launch of the OAU in Addis Ababa in 1963 said,
“The resources are there. It is for us to marshal them in the active service of our people. Unless we do this by our concerted efforts, within the framework of our combined planning, we shall not progress at the tempo demanded by today’s events and the mood of our people. The symptoms of our troubles will grow, and the troubles themselves become chronic. It will then be too late even for Pan-African Unity to secure for us stability and tranquillity in our labours for a continent of social justice and material well-being. Unless we establish African Unity now, we who are sitting here today shall tomorrow be the victims and martyrs of neo-colonialism.”
Just five years before the launch of the OAU, George Mills Houser wrote in his report on the outcome of the All African Peoples’ Conference held in December 1958 in Accra, Ghana,
“A genuine Pan-Africanism was given expression throughout the Conference […] a new important dimension has been added. Whereas until recently Pan-Africanism has always been a racial concept (“Africa for Africans”-meaning black Africans), now a residential element has been added. Anyone living in Africa, white or black, could be part of the Africa of the future so long as the basic principle of democracy (“One man one vote”) is accepted.
There is no question that the South African struggle was inspired by Pan-Africanism, and that philosophy heavily influenced the liberation movements in our country. Pan-Africanism as a philosophy always found expression in what the African National Congress believed, and our former President Nelson Mandela espoused the vision of Pan-Africanism in many of his speeches. Our first democratic government was quick to adopt the symbolic “Nkosi Sikelela i-Africa” (God bless Africa) as our national anthem. Today we enjoy a principled foreign policy which is also inspired by the ideals and values of Pan-Africanism, and it now our challenge to ensure that the ideals are translated into tangible action so that all of Africa’s people enjoy a better life and a prosperous future.
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