The power is ours

2012-03-31 11:56

The recent publication of Frank Chikane’s book about Thabo Mbeki got me thinking about our great leader and I wanted to share these views.

When Thabo Mbeki first coined the term African Renaissance, it aroused a lot of interest not only in South Africa but in the international community.

I was rather saddened while speaking to a colleague recently to hear her refer to it as a “tainted term”.

My understanding of the term is that it encourages Africans to take pride in their origins, invoking the kind of pride that would empower Africans to take charge of their ­collective destiny and move past the circumstances that induced an almost indomitable inferiority complex.

This inferiority complex threatened to keep them passively blaming the past for their circumstances and not being confident, active partakers in the process that would lead to their emancipation.

Thabo Mbeki was an economist. His role was to bolster South Africa economically. South Africa is a multiracial society but his dominant motive was to empower black people to believe they were indeed equal and had the inherent capacity to be on a par with their white contemporaries.

The seemingly simple logic would be that black people marginalised during apartheid had achieved political emancipation so what was there to fight for?

Indeed, they had attained political emancipation, but this political freedom wasn’t coupled with economic emancipation for the majority of South Africans.

Post-1994 economic power was still dominantly in the hands of white South Africans.

Thabo Mbeki had the insight to foresee that unless black people were equipped to believe in their intrinsic worth, they would never be able to work harmoniously with white people in a way conducive to the transfer of wealth that would be mutually beneficial.

The term Vuk’uzenzele was formulated by Thabo Mbeki and it too was rich in the fibre which encompassed the African Renaissance.

Before colonisation, African people lived self-sufficient lives.

Hard work to black people then was a way of life. It characterised their everyday existence and to them there was nothing out of the ordinary in this kind of life.

The African Renaissance sought to make black people proud of their origins, compelled to proudly claim them as their own.

Vuk’uzenzele embraced this notion. Loosely translated, it is a Xhosa term which means: “Wake up and do it for yourself.”

Over the generations black people have allowed themselves to be conditioned into thinking a laid-back way of doing things, often leading to gross inefficiency, is their culture.

It was important for Thabo Mbeki to get them to realise that this was not the legacy that their forefathers had left behind for them to follow.

The concept of African Renaissance, although coined by an intellectual, is not reserved for intellectuals only.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that its correct application serves a more powerful purpose in those that have yet to find their intellectual greatness than in those who have.

Let me explain. Intellectual people in their majority are not really in dire need of tools to enable them to move forward and claim their economic destiny.

More often than not, their intelligence helps them reach their individual destiny.

The African Renaissance, when perfectly understood, is powerful because it empowers those who are ignorant of the ­power bestowed on them by their heritage.

It reminds them of the richness of their past in a way that is meant to compel them to claim it so that they can develop the kind of confidence that will break the mental shackles leading to poverty and economic insufficiency.

If one takes the time to analyse some of the greatest minds and achievers of our times, one will find that many suffered great personal loss, tragedy or immense struggle.

But there is something about struggle that refines an individual, strengthens their character and brings out their personal ­greatness.

Africans have this legacy of great struggle from the time of our forefathers, who suffered the utter ­devastation of colonisation, to apartheid, not too far away in our history, where black people had to face the humiliation of being subcitizens in their own country, the land of their ­forefathers.

The painful, often gruesome and tragic accounts of struggle heroes who survived apartheid absolutely demand that I shun those who continuously trivialise their experiences by saying that apartheid is over and we should simply forget about it.

Yes, I admit that to dwell on the past is counterproductive, yet not honouring the pain associated with it can only serve to devastate a people.

There is a great deal that can be extracted from the collective pain of African people to bring about our inner greatness on an individual basis.

The African Renaissance encourages Africans not to use their past suffering as a reason to embrace a sense of entitlement, but to use it to unravel their inner reservoirs of strength, which can be used to bring about lasting change in this the land that we love.

­» Mbeki is CEO of the Cinga Uhlume Group. The writer is not related to the former president.

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