Mo Ibrahim: SA needs to step up to the plate

2013-08-17 17:06

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“South Africa needs to step up and play a better role in working with Africa. Leadership is not about bossing people around,” said a frank Dr Mo Ibrahim in concluding the 11th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Pretoria.

“You are advanced economically, industrially. We admire your struggle for freedom. We expect a lot from you. When we see you wavering and misbehaving, we worry … Climate change, transparency, tax evasion, the illegal flow of money. We’re waiting for you to lead your region. Don’t keep us waiting for too long.”

The billionaire Sudanese philanthropist left the University of Pretoria stage to a standing ovation.

His lecture had been on building social cohesion in South Africa.

He barely touched on race, instead focusing on the uneven distribution of land, the inefficiency of black economic empowerment policies, a “tsunami” of unemployed youngsters, the role of women and the scourge of rape.

Only when these issues were looked at and reassessed, said Ibrahim, would South Africa be able to prosper economically.

On stage, Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, sat in an elegant pale suit keenly listening to every word.

She was flanked by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Professor Njabulo Ndebele, chair of the board of trustees of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

Youth was Ibrahim’s main focus – and he was not afraid to take a jab at Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.

“Half of the population of Africa is under the age of 19. Do you know what is the median age of African presidents?” he asked to laughter from the audience.

“Obama was 47 when he became president, Clinton 46. America has 15 times the gross domestic product of all of Africa combined.”

But the average African leader is in their 60s, he said. “Here we have someone in a neighbouring country at 90 about to start a new term! What is wrong with us?”

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