We can do more as Africans

2018-07-29 10:28
Professor Patrick Lumumba

Professor Patrick Lumumba

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At the centenary celebrations of the birth of former president Nelson Mandela at the Walter Sisulu University last week, one of Africa’s foremost intellectuals and orators, Professor Patrick Lumumba, delivered what I believe was one of the finest lectures on our late icon.

Lumumba reminded us of the racism and oppression of the apartheid state. Were it not for their efforts, Africans would have not been liberated from colonialism and near-slavery. South Africa, he said, has an unmatched record in producing leaders of the calibre of Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Pixley ka Seme, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, enabling the country to liberate itself.

Economic emancipation, argued Lumumba, remains important. Africa’s success depends on visionary leadership, which should be given, for example, by the African Union.

There can be no peace in Africa, he asserted, unless the land question is resolved. He urged Africans to unite against a range of social ills, such as corruption, poverty, disease, ethnic cleansing and the slave trade that is raising its ugly head in Libya. Failure to unite, he warned, would result in the
recolonisation of the African continent.

Reflecting on this, I asked myself what the meaning of this watershed lecture meant for our country and our beloved continent. Most importantly, what needs to be done to uphold the legacy of Mandela?

Many issues come to mind. They are my own views and should not be seen as the 10 Commandments.

. We need to emphasise the teaching of history. The history of our heroes and heroines, such as Mandela, Ka Seme and Charlotte Maxeke, was not taught under apartheid. Subjective historians producing subjective history played to the apartheid gallery. That history will now be compulsory for Grade 10 to 12 pupils affords South Africa an opportunity to bring objectivity to the discipline. After all, decolonisation, as the illustrious Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o pointed out, begins with the decolonisation of the mind.

. This brings us to the role of African intellectuals. They should focus on the transformation of our society, bedevilled with many social ills, rather than being caught up in theoretical point-scoring. Among other aspects, the country’s policymaking and job creation strategies require their input. However, some countries are known for sidelining or even persecuting intellectuals, enabling corrupt leaders, as Lumumba puts it, to be dealers instead of leaders, helping themselves to public resources. A case in point is that of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an arch critic of the Nigerian dictator, executed in 1995 by the regime of General Sani Abacha.

. Considering the bouts of racism engulfing our country even today, long after apartheid has been defeated, the national question remains crucial. Debates on race and class are still relevant and heated in South Africa. We need to rise above racism, xenophobia and tribalism, striving for a nonracial country as espoused by Mandela. We need to remember that Africa was once a borderless continent, subsequently partitioned by European governments for exploitation in the Berlin conference of 1884. Thus social cohesion characterised by, for example, sports, national events and other forms of meaningful interaction are necessary ingredients for a nation once divided along racial lines.

. As a country we should strive against the scourge of what amounts to neo-Nazism in all its forms. The recent display of the old apartheid state flag in public, a symbol of oppression and racism by the verkrampte, during a march organised by AfriForum, is an insult to the democratic dispensation, notwithstanding Mandela’s ideals of a rainbow nation geared towards reconciliation, nation-building and healing. In fact, South Africans should rally around national symbols such as our coat of arms, national anthem, the national flag and our acclaimed Constitution and national holidays, in line with Mandela’s dreams.

. Not only should citizens rally around national symbols but they should also interact with heritage sites, such as the Robben Island, Hector Pieterson and District Six museums, enabling them to see for themselves the damaging effect of apartheid. A great deal of brainwashing and indoctrination has damaged the psyche of apartheid beneficiaries to the extent that many cannot fathom the deadly effects of apartheid. Indeed, there should be a real effort to encourage and urge all our citizens to become aware of it and if possible visit institutions where the full history of our country is evident. The Liberation Archives at Fort Hare is a good example.

. Poverty and accompanying problems such as disease should be fought with the utmost determination. The proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme should be a well-oiled machine, enabling the poor and the less fortunate to have access to high-standard treatment. No longer should we witness undignified and traumatising deaths merely because our people do not have access to state-of-the-art health services. It is from the saved lives that future leaders of Mandela’s calibre can emerge.

. The country’s resources – mines, farms and various industries – should benefit us all. Our citizens should be properly skilled, saved from the morass of Bantu education, enabling them to access economic opportunities. This brings us particularly to the thorny issue of land redistribution, arguably the bedrock of radical economic transformation.

. The question of land distribution cannot be avoided any further. Fair and equitable distribution of this natural resource is necessary. Not only will our people reap the benefits associated with liberated South Africa once the land is returned, but also their dignity, taken away by colonial and subsequently apartheid masters, will be restored. For some communities, getting their land back will enable them to visit the burial grounds of their ancestors, a right denied them because of land dispossession.

. We call upon our government, working with concerned stakeholders such as unions and civil society, to act decisively on modern day slavery and child labour on farms and at other work places. Similarly, human trafficking, child and women abuse has no place in African society.

. Government’s efforts to encourage entrepreneurship, the creation of black industrialists and the revival of the township economy should be applauded and encouraged, especially considering the unemployment rate of 26.7% in the first quarter of 2018. This will enable our citizens, particularly the youth, to be self-sufficient and productive, and we would no longer have to ask Lumumba’s question about “why Africa produces what it does not consume and consumes what it does not produce”.

. Our justice system, flowing from our world-acclaimed Constitution, should be fostered and supported. As a new democracy, we do not want a mediocre and a selective justice system. Neither do we wish for vigilante groups and kangaroo courts, masquerading as street justice. All those involved in criminality should be brought to book, irrespective of social standing.

As South Africa and the continent we should, in the spirit of Mandela, strive to achieve and live by ideals of this nature. We will fail, to paraphrase Lumumba, only if we indeed consider ourselves and allow ourselves to be considered children of a lesser god.

Mancotywa is the CEO of the National Heritage Council

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Read more on:    racism  |  xenophobia  |  tribalism

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