Motlanthe on South Africa and the Africans in the Diaspora

South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe addressed the New York University last month in a Public Lecture themed “South Africa and the Africans in the Diaspora”. The event was attended by, among others, the University President, Professor John Sexton, University Students and some of the South African delegation, to mention but a few.

Motlanthe drew “attention, to history, or at least to some memorable aspects of history that the United States and Africa share”. He said this history went back to centuries and revolved around the practice of slavery. This was at the time the United States was the “recipient of slaves from Africa while South Africa was also a recipient of slaves from Asia, especially Malaysia and Africans from the north of our country”. This experience, said Motlanthe, shaped the “political consciousness” which left a mark on the political systems in Africa and the United States. He said “through struggle”, people of both countries “continued to win back their humanity and dignity”.

“In time this struggle has steeled our resolve as a people and continues to enable us to overcome many formidable challenges that confront us today. Today we are standing here interacting with each other as free people who enjoy human rights thanks to the sacrifices of those countless, unknown heroes and heroines who came before us.”.

He said the interaction between the two countries [South Africa and the USA] reflected their “historical seamlessness”, continuing “what was started by the early leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) who came to the United States, to study and to mobilise international solidarity against the increasing tide of oppression back home”. It its leaders used their “international exposure to enrich human experience in the struggle for freedom” and it was after this “exposure” that a flow of “ideas continued to find expression and to bloom over time”, said Motlanthe.

Motlanthe described South African as a “cosmopolitan society as a result of the historical contribution of people from all corners of the globe who over the centuries have made our country their own home”. He said the country’s “strategic goal” was that of a “non-racial, non-sexist, just, democratic and prosperous society”. As a result, the country has since established institutions that supported democracy and protect the rights of its citizens, said Motlanthe. He went further to touch of the free and fair elections held about five years ago, saying this “democratic practices” had enabled its citizens to choose a government of their choice. Motlanthe further delved on the country’s “vibrant” Parliament that held the executive “accountable”. He said SA had a “constitution which guarantees basic human rights such as freedom of association, freedom of the press, and the independent judiciary”.

Motlanthe also made the following remarks:

  • A progress has been made on the social infrastructure and basic amenities as shown in the country’s 2010 Millennium Development Goals Country Report submitted to the United Nations,
  • A solid foundation has been laid on a “developmental state which includes the extension of social security to the poor”, that macro-economic fundamentals are in place, a critical ingredient for a stable and growing economy.
  • That Infrastructure development is the mainstay of the country’s reconstruction, development and growth while adding that banking system is “well-regulated” and that the tourism section and the internet connectivity were “growing”.

Given the country’s past, Motlanthe said strides were made towards building a “social cohesion that will manifest a non-racial society stated above” although this was not enough, he however acknowledged that “more still needs to be done to combat poverty, unemployment, and under-development”. He said the country played a “recognizable role” internationally in as far as “fostering peace, security, a human rights culture and promoting multilateralism as well as fair trade”.

The deputy President said the country was “determined as a nation to play our role not only in the building of a better Africa but also, and equally critically, the building of a better world”. “We consider it our historical and moral duty, and indeed obligation, to join forces with the rest of the continent in advancing the cause of African development. There are certain historical variables that necessarily thrust us into the forefront of this continued struggle for a better African condition”, he said.

While South Africa was only 5% of the population of Africa, said Motlanthe, the country accounted for 50% of trade in Africa. He said the continent had long being perceived by investors as a “difficult place to do business, charecterised by slow and complicated business requirements, widespread regulatory obstacles, inefficiency, poor infrastructure, a high degree of uncertainty and risk brought about by macro-economic and political instability, poor governance and corruption”.

Quoting the World Bank ‘Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?’, Motlanthe said: “Making matters worse, Africa’s place in the global economy has been eroded, with declining export shares in traditional primary products, little diversification into new lines of business, and massive capital flight and loss of skills to other regions. Now the region [Africa] stands in danger of being excluded from the information revolution.”

“These negative perceptions of Africa,” said Motlanthe, “are at least partly occasioned by the post-colonial history of our continent, which was replete with coup de’e tats, often instigated by the hidden hand of the former colonial master”. He said a new “breed of African leadership” was “emerging, driven by a vision of progress and development and committed to democracy, peace and stability”. This is thanks to the onset of the African Union (AU) which is “a clear signal to this progressive development, where increasing emphasis is put on constitutional democracy and fundamental human rights”.

“Consistent with this vision, the Constitutive Act of the African Union expressly rejects any government that comes into power through undemocratic means. And thus steadily the winds of change continue to blow in Africa, sweeping away political oppression as the people’s yearnings for fundamental freedoms grow with each generation”.

Motlanthe said SA “puts a premium on peaceful resolution of conflicts and post-conflict reconstruction, a role we have been playing over the years since our re-acceptance into the international community of nations”. He said the country’s foreign policy in the continent was guided by support for: Support for political stability and security, Support for post-conflict reconstruction and development, coordination at multilateral economic level to adopt common positions, cooperation around macroeconomic stability, Support for finance for development, and support for debt forgiveness. “By way of an example, we are championing conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction in countries such as Sudan. In fine, let us re-emphasise that political stability and democratisation have asserted themselves on the African political landscape, thus laying the foundation for growth and development”.

Among other issues that he touched, Motlanthe said:

  • The country sought to “make a constructive contribution to Africa’s economic revival and socio-economic development by supporting the continental efforts to diversify and strengthen economic capabilities”,
  • The South Africa, like the world over, faced a number of challenges “on a daily basis” and was steadily work(ing) towards developing a more prosperous society. The challenges, among others, include: world faced a number of challenges (extreme poverty and hunger, huge differentials between the rich and the poor, unemployment, access to quality health and education, and issues related to sustainable development in the context of climate change”,
  • There is a “need to reverse emigration of much needed and strategic [strategic] skills” for the African continent,
  • The government threw down the gauntlet to our higher education and training institutions to ensure that the education and training programmes are accessible, relevant, and of high quality, leading to economic productivity and decent work. In order to achieve this, the government “prioritised education, training and skills development as a critical priority”. There has been increase in the “intake into and the quality of our further education and training system. We are increasing access, improving quality and throughput in our higher education sector”,
  • A bursary scheme youth in the vocational and higher education and training institutions was introduced. This is an investment in the country’s “human capital in the knowledge that a “skilled citizenry drives research, development and innovation, and ultimately spurs the economy to higher rates of growth”. And both universities and Colleges “play a critical role in this regard” and the New York University can help too with the “necessary intellectual apparatus to manage… developmental challenges”.
  • The country called upon the American people in different fields of human endeavour to once again join hands so that together we can contribute to the achievement of these important goals of reconstruction and development. The development in the African continent offered opportunities for academics and intellectuals in the United States and elsewhere in the developed world to make a meaningful contribution in this regard. This is called a “win-win partnership with ripe opportunities” which brought “invaluable capital investment that stood to “gain in terms of healthy returns”.

Quoting Pixley ka Isaka Seme speaking for his generation back in 1906 here in the United States, Motlanthe said:

“The African already recognises his anomalous position and desires a change. The brighter day is rising upon Africa. Already I seem to see her chains dissolved, her desert plains red with harvest, her Abyssinia and her Zululand the seats of science and religion, reflecting the glory of the rising sun from the spires of their churches and universities. Her Congo and her Gambia whitened with commerce, her crowded cities sending forth the hum of business, and all her sons employed in advancing the victories of peace – greater and more abiding than the spoils of war. Yes, the regeneration of Africa belongs to this new and powerful period!”.

Click here for Motlanthe’s full public lecture.

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