Volume 5, No. 2 14—20 January 2005
In the period since 30 December 2004, we have visited five African countries in pursuit of the interdependent goals of peace, democracy, development and African solidarity. Our journeys confirmed that much work remains to be done to realise these goals. They also indicated the resolve of the peoples of our continent to succeed in this regard.
One of the countries we visited was Gabon in Central Africa. When we arrived at its capital, Libreville, we found a city shrouded in a sandy-coloured haze that blocked out the bright African sun and the normally strikingly blue African sky. This had not changed by the time we left Libreville forty hours later.
Our hosts explained that what we were seeing was a continuous shroud of very fine dust that had travelled from the faraway Sahara Desert. It had been carried from Africa's biggest desert by the dry seasonal harmattan winds that regularly pick up the desert dust during the months of December, January and February, blowing it across the Sahel region.
They informed us that normally the dust carried by the harmattan winds travels only as far as the northern regions of Cameroon. But they said that perhaps once in four or five decades, the harmattan winds bear their cargo of fine dust as far south as Gabon, as is the case during the current winter season in Africa north of the equator.
The fury of the harmattan was confirmed by reports we received of its impact in Cote d'Ivoire, which we visited directly from Gabon. There, further north on our continent and closer to the Sahara Desert, the dry fog of harmattan dust was so dense that for a few days, it had cut down visibility to only a few metres.
Among other things, this resulted in the cancellation of commercial flights, since the pilots would not be able to see the airport runways. Indeed, because of the persisting harmattan haze, our own pilots had to abort our first attempt to land at Yamoussoukro airport in Cote d'Ivoire.
They had to draw on their considerable skill and experience as pilots of our Air Force to make a successful landing, expertise that was noted and appreciated by our hosts who watched our plane from the ground, as it manoeuvred to land safely.
Our Ivorian hosts spoke to us about both the harmattan and the steady advance of the Sahara Desert southwards, every year turning yet another strip of Africa into a wasteland. They spoke about the importance of growing trees, as advocated by last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, the African patriot, Wangari Maathai. They talked about the need for them to protect their tropical forests, and expressed their admiration for the extensive indigenous forests they saw as they came to land at Libreville airport in Gabon.
What we saw in Libreville and Yamoussoukro could not but draw our attention, once again, to the powerful forces of nature, and their impact on human societies. This was especially so given the current and correct focus on the enormous tragedy brought to the peoples of Asia by the recent undersea earthquake in Indonesia and the resultant tsunami waves that have cost so much in human lives and property.
The harmattan cloud of dust that hung over much of Africa did not result in the destruction caused by the tsunami waves. Nevertheless, like these killer waves, it also spoke to the additional burdens the poor have to carry as they battle to extricate themselves from poverty, interacting with nature in pursuit of the goal of the sustainable development addressed by the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.
Like the tsunami waves, the harmattan dust made the firm statement that respect for, and a healthy interaction with nature, are of direct and immediate interest to the poor of the world, whose poverty means that they do not have the means to protect themselves from the destructive fury of angry nature.
The dust of the harmattan also drew attention to another cloud hanging over Africa, this time human-made. This is the cloud of conflict, poverty and underdevelopment, and human rights violations which our continent is determined to confront.
This cloud took us to five African countries in a fortnight, driven by the strong spirit of African solidarity that increasingly characterises the relations among the nations of Africa. Inspired by that spirit, Africa's peoples are responding to the imperative that their continent must, together, confront the human-made problems that continue to condemn them to lives of misery.
During the last fortnight, everywhere, interacting with the peoples of East, Central and West Africa, we have experienced among these masses a palpable spirit of hope for a better future. It is crystal clear that at all points on our continent, the peoples of Africa demand peace.
Everywhere they demand an end to violent conflicts based on racial, ethnic, religious and other differences. They are very comfortable with the diversity of their societies, despite the efforts of the mischievous actively to encourage xenophobia. They look forward to the beneficial development of their countries and their continent, Africa, characterised by democratic rule and a shared prosperity.
On New Year's Eve, we were fortunate to have the possibility to accompany President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori, to Naivasha in Kenya, to participate in the signing of the last two agreements that concluded the protracted peace negotiations between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army. This also ended a war that had raged for 21 years.
It was indeed most heart warming to witness the joint celebration among the few Sudanese who could be at the banks of Lake Naivasha, who had stood at opposite ends of the North-South conflict that was coming to an end. These fortunate few were joined by the larger numbers who rejoiced in Khartoum in Northern Sudan, and others throughout Southern Sudan, at the news of the historic ceremony in Naivasha.
Our presence in Sudan gave us the possibility to visit the troubled western Sudan region of Darfur. Here we found the thousands of ordinary Sudanese who welcomed us similarly inspired by what had happened at Naivasha. They conveyed the unequivocal message to us that their most urgent desire was peace in Darfur and the rest of Sudan.
They hoped and prayed that the Naivasha peace agreement would also mean peace for Darfur. This sentiment was shared by the representatives of the Darfur rebel movements, SLM and JEM, whom we also met during this visit. Truly we could say that the spirit of peace and reconciliation was abroad in Sudan, as this biggest country on our continent welcomed the New Year.
We have also seen thousands of ordinary people in Cote d'Ivoire convey the same message of hope and prayer. In the two months that we have been working with the sister people of Cote d'Ivoire as AU envoys, in the search for peace, national unity and reconciliation, we have been to the country's three major cities. These are Abidjan, Yamoussoukro and Bouake.
The first two are in government-held territory, and the last hosts the headquarters of the rebel movement, the Forces Nouvelles. Despite this division, and however intense the current enmities between these two belligerent areas within one country, there is absolutely no question but that the ordinary Ivorians in both sectors are united in their desire for peace, and therefore the removal of the things that make for conflict and war.
There is also no doubt that the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo share the same sentiment about their own country. They enthusiastically welcomed the agreements reached by their leaders and representatives through the many sessions of the Inter Congolese Dialogue that took place at Sun City and in Pretoria, facilitated by former President of Botswana, Sir Ketumile Masire.
Indeed, towards the end of the negotiations, the Congolese leaders who met in our country repeatedly made the statement that the masses of the Congolese people would not allow them to return to the DRC unless they carried back with them, to the banks of the mighty River Congo, the agreement they had been discussing, which would bring peace, national unity and democracy to the DRC.
Among other things, those agreements provide that that country's second democratic elections, the first after those that led to the independence of the DRC in 1960, would be held on 30 June 2005, historic Independence Day.
Cognisant of the challenges that would face them as they managed the transitional period leading to the elections, the Congolese leaders agreed that, if circumstances made this inevitable, the election date could be shifted by up to two six-month periods.
This time, we arrived in the DRC, the fifth African country we visited, two days after people had rioted in the streets of Kinshasa, resulting in a number of people killed. What occasioned these disturbances was a statement that had been made by the Chairperson of DRC Electoral Commission.
The Chairperson had indicated publicly that the June elections might have to be postponed to a later date in 2005, to ensure that all the necessary conditions had been created to guarantee free and fair elections throughout the territory of the DRC. The people responded to this in anger.
They rioted in the streets of Kinshasa, determined to convey their view that to guarantee peace, unity and development for their country, they wanted to exercise their sovereign right freely to elect a government of their choice as soon as possible.
We visited Gabon to attend a Heads of State or Government meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), of which our country is a member. The Summit had three items its agenda. These were peace in Cote d'Ivoire, peace between the DRC and Rwanda and its impact on peace in the DRC, and peace in Darfur.
Before its internal conflict, beginning with the coup d'etat in 1999, Cote d 'Ivoire had the third largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa. Then, as now, its development constituted a critical condition for the successful development of a number of other important West African countries. It belongs firmly within the region of Africa that gave birth to the proud ancient African kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songay.
The DRC has enormous and varied resources and an inestimable development potential, with the best water resources in the world for the generation of clean hydro-electric energy and the tropical forests that, like the Brazilian Amazon, constitute the environmental lung of the world. One of the largest countries in Africa in terms of population and geographic size, the DRC shares borders with nine other African countries, and thus links Central, East and Southern Africa, which regions it can serve as a focal point of development.
Sudan stands in a similar position. It shares borders with nine other African countries, and links North, Central and East Africa, bringing together the Arab and African worlds both within and across its borders. It has the potential to be one of the most outstanding drivers of the African development project. It is traversed by the ancient Nile River, its capital established at the confluence of the Blue and the White Niles, with its indigenous people and territory being the origin, foundation and progenitor of the ancient African civilisation of Egypt.
Without doubt, the transformation of these three African countries, Cote d' Ivoire, the DRC and Sudan, into stable and prosperous democracies would provide our continent with a solid, unequalled and indispensable platform from which we would be able to make a strategic leap forward towards Africa' s renaissance.
The leaders of the 15 member states of the PSC, joined by the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Alpha Omar Konare, and other invited African leaders and international organisations, including the UN, spent twelve hours considering the matters on its agenda. Of particular note is the fact that all the regions of our continent are represented on the PSC.
Chaired by Gabonese President Omar Bongo, this month's Chairperson of the PSC, and attended by the current Chair of the AU, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, it adopted important resolutions focussed on expediting the peace process in all the conflict areas it discussed. Its decisions constitute the all-Africa Road Map for the speedy resolution of these conflicts, which would open the way for the peoples of the relevant countries to pursue the fundamental goals of national unity and reconciliation, democracy and development.
Consistent with its determination to achieve progress in this regard, the PSC will hold its next Summit Meeting three months hence, to review the progress made in the implementation of its Road Map and adopt such new decisions as may be necessary.
This determination of Africa's leaders to succeed was evident throughout the many hours it deliberated on the agenda items. The serious discussion that characterised the meeting covered both the broad goals the AU PSC seeks to achieve, and the details of the actions that have to be taken to realise these goals.
Everywhere the new African masses are making the point very clear that they are no longer willing to be robbed of their right to peace, democracy and development. Everywhere they are making the statement that they are determined to discharge their obligations as the architects of their own and better future.
They are no longer willing to permit those who would be their leaders, cynically to incite them to respond to base passions, setting the poor one against the other, despite their shared wretchedness, sacrificing their lives for the ill-gotten benefit of a small, selfish and corrupt elite.
In action, they are saying that they are resolved to free themselves from the suffocating dust born aloft by Africa's metaphorical human-engineered harmattan winds. The African leaders who met in Libreville, the capital of Gabon, to address the burning continental issues that confront the AU PSC, demonstrated that they have heard and understood the voice of the African masses.
Together, they, including ourselves, are faced with the challenge to use the power they are privileged to exercise at the behest of the new masses, to take our continent yet another step forward towards its genuine renaissance.
The cloud with the silver lining
On 23 November 2004, the Archbishop Emeritus of the Anglican Church, the Rt Rev Desmond Mpilo Tutu, delivered the second Nelson Mandela Foundation Lecture. Whether this was intended or not, this lecture generated perhaps the most intense debate in our country during the year 2004, even more than happened with regard to issues canvassed during the general election of the same year.
Two factors contributed to this outcome. One of these was what the Archbishop Emeritus said in the Lecture. The other was the response of President Thabo Mbeki to elements of the lecture, as reflected in his weekly 'Letter from the President' in the 26 November-2 December (Vol 4 No 47) edition of the online journal, ANC TODAY.
Perhaps there were two other factors that made an intense and heated controversy inevitable. One of these is the public standing of the two protagonists, within the new South Africa. One is the best known and perhaps the single most respected religious leader in our country. The other is the President of the most important political formation in our country, the ANC, and President of the Republic, elected by 70% of our electorate.
It seems clear that many in our country entertained the unstated belief that it was not a done thing that such prominent personalities, supposed pillars of our society-in-transition, should engage in a vigorous public debate, standing in opposition to each other.
The other is that both these leaders are known, or presumed, to belong to the same broad political tradition, which was symbolised by the ANC-UDF formation during the years of struggle against apartheid. Even sub-consciously, many therefore assumed that a sharp and public divergence of views between them was not possible.
Despite these considerations, and perhaps others, nevertheless the two leaders publicly expressed different points of view about a number of important issues. The debate was then joined by other members of the South African public, who naturally and understandably took sides in the contest.
In reality, and to be fair, none of the issues tabled by the Archbishop is new or original. In case we are accused of playing the man rather than the ball, we must emphasise that we are by no means accusing the Archbishop Emeritus of incapacity for original thought.
Rather, we are stating the obvious and incontestable truth that all the contentious issues he raised are part of what has evolved into the standard and regular set of issues in the national political and ideological contest that has been joined for some years.
They could not but demand of all and sundry that they should declare where they stand. Inevitably, the question had to be answered - brother and sister, whose side are you on!
Some of these participants decried the very fact of the public expression of differences by the Archbishop and the President, regardless of the merits of the arguments on either side. However, if this public divergence of views between the two constituted a "negative" in any respect whatsoever, we would assert that every cloud has a silver lining.
The silver lining in this context is that the public airing of differences between the Archbishop Emeritus and the President Ordinaire fortunately confronted all our people with the challenge to get accustomed to open and frank public debate of all issues, which many among us claim to be one of the principal and most valued features of the democracy of which we are all proud.
Nevertheless the debate raised various matters beyond the immediate issues raised by the Archbishop and the President, which we believe should themselves be debated. For this reason, we decided to publish the comments in this series under the title - The Sociology of the Public Discourse in Democratic South Africa.
This must indicate to the reader that in our comments in this series, we do not intend merely to engage the substance of the issues raised by the Archbishop and the President.
Rather, we want to discuss the lessons thrown up by the Tutu-Mbeki debate, to the extent that these reflect the manner in which our new democracy deals with and responds to important matters that arise as part of the democratic debate, even if some of these have assumed the character of "holy cows" that, consequently, are not supposed to be subjected to critical public scrutiny.
At this stage we should perhaps present some of the basic elements of the beginning of the story that ended up as an issue of significant national debate.
The controversial assertions made by the Archbishop, resulting in a limited response by the President, were that:
The Archbishop also called for vigorous public debate. He said: "Our diversity (according to him one of the undoubted gifts we bring to the world), which we must affirm and celebrate, is diversity of race, of language, of culture, of religion and of points of view. We want our society to be characterised by vigorous debate and dissent where to disagree is part and parcel of a vibrant community, that we should play the ball not the person and not think that those who disagree, who express dissent, are ipso facto disloyal or unpatriotic."
The President warmly and explicitly accepted the Archbishop's challenge to engage in vigorous debate and dissent. In this regard he said the Archbishop "called for rational discussion of the challenges our country faces, involving as many of our people as possible. I fully agree with this appeal and hope that many of us will participate in this multi-issue discussion."
Writing as the President of the ANC, he responded to six of the issues raised by the Archbishop. These were:
The President prefaced his discussion of these issues with the following observation: "One of the fundamental requirements for the rational discussion suggested by the Archbishop is familiarity with the facts relevant to any matter under discussion, as well as respect for the truth.
In this Letter we will mention some of the facts relevant to some of the issues mentioned by the Archbishop as possible subjects for discussion."
He therefore presented some information on each of the matters he discussed, to make the central point that there was no factual basis to substantiate the assertions made by the Archbishop. In this context, he said that for our country to "determine its agenda.all of us must educate ourselves about the reality of South Africa today, internalise the facts about our country, and respect the truth."
When he commented on the matter of defence expenditure, the President said: "It would be good that those who present themselves as the greatest defenders of the poor should also demonstrate decent respect for the truth, rather than indecent resort to empty rhetoric."
Applauding the Archbishop's plea for a vigorous debate and dissent, the President said: "I support the call once made in China - let a hundred flowers bloom: let a hundred schools of thought contend!"
Responding to the President's comments, and obviously convinced that the President had played the man, rather than the ball, the Archbishop said:
"Thank you, Mr President, for telling me what
you think of me, that I am:
Although the ANC statement did not say this, as the ANC we appreciated the fact that the Archbishop showered God's blessings on our President. Similarly, we were moved that the Archbishop would pray daily for the President and the government he leads, by name.
We were puzzled by the statement that the Archbishop considers the democratic government for which he fought as equivalent to the apartheid regime he had opposed. We took it that, for whatever reason, the ANC, for which the President spoke in his Letter, fell outside the ambit of the daily prayers of the Archbishop.
It was all this that set the stage for the media debate that then ensued, which, in our view, makes it possible to engage in the larger project of drawing some lessons about the sociology of the public discourse in our country.
One of the first public assessments of the Tutu-Mbeki debate was made by Willem Jordaan writing in the December 1, 2004 edition of the newspaper, Die Burger. He said:
"Mbeki does methodically answer several of Tutu's points of criticism, but of some significance is the fact that he leaves the cleric's questions on Aids and Zimbabwe unanswered.
"Tutu did not take kindly to this rebuke from Mbeki. He may be a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a respected cleric and international icon, but his reaction was wrong.
"Instead of carefully and judiciously weighing the contents of Mbeki's response, and in so doing further nurture the embryo of debate, his emotions took over and he snuffed out any chance of a much-needed discussion.
"But at the same time, South Africans have every right to be disappointed in Mbeki's actions, because he, as President, has a duty to keep the national debate in a state of good health.
"Although a significant part of his response was a factual one, he undid all that in a single sentence by implying that Tutu had no right to criticise the ANC because he has never been an ANC member. The effect has been that Mbeki, with his own actions, has in fact confirmed Tutu's view that there is lack of debate and very high levels of intolerance within the ANC.
"The only conclusion one can draw from Mbeki's reaction is that no one has the right to criticise the ANC - no one outside the organisation and no one inside it."
To be continued.
Local action to advance the vision of the Freedom Charter
Structures of the ANC and democratic movement will embark on community-level mobilisation throughout the course of the year to help realise the vision contained in the Freedom Charter, which was adopted 50 years ago this June.
In its annual January 8th Statement, released in Mthatha last week, the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) outlined a programme in which each quarter would be dedicated to a different area of national challenges and local tasks.
Work in the first quarter of the year, from January to March, will focus on social development, including housing, service provision, education and health. In the second quarter, from April to June, structures will implement programmes around the challenge of creating work and fighting poverty.
In the third quarter, from July to September, programmes will educate communities about their rights, how they can be exercised, and what recourse they have if their rights have been violated. In the fourth quarter, from October to December, programmes will place emphasis on good governance, participatory democracy and the advancement of the batho pele principle in all spheres of government. They will also work to ensure victory for the ANC in the local government elections. Each of these programmes will be linked to the relevant clauses of the Freedom Charter.
Throughout the course of the programme, ANC structures will organise public meetings, seminars and political discussion groups in each quarter to discuss the relevant clauses of the Freedom Charter, and the political and policy challenges of working to realise each of them. This is intended further to deepen the level of understanding and commitment to the tasks of the national democratic revolution not only within the democratic movement, but also in society more broadly.
Opening the doors of learning
In line with this programme, the work of the first quarter has already begun, to coincide with the opening of schools and other educational institutions. Programmes will focus, in the first instance, on ensuring that effective schooling begins from the start of the school year; that all eligible learners are enrolled and in attendance; and that all schools have the necessary learning materials and other resources. The inland schools began their school year this week, while coastal schools open next week.
The campaign will extend to institutions of higher learning, to ensure, in particular, that issues of student funding are effectively dealt with, so that all eligible students can begin their academic year with minimal disruption.
Once the school year has begun, and schools and institutions are functioning effectively, structures of the movement and the Alliance will continue work to mobilise communities to access government assistance in the form of housing subsidies, service provision - free basic water and electricity, in particular - health care, social grants and identity documents. Local structures will be expected to undertake an audit of service provision, including the quality of service, and engage with local, provincial and national government to ensure backlogs and other problems are addressed.
Drawing on the experience of previous years, and in the spirit of Letsema, structures will mobilise volunteers to assist in improving the general environment and functioning of schools, clinics and hospitals, community centres, and other places of public service.
The challenge to these local structures is to ensure that by the end of the first quarter, when the focus moves on to the next programme area, mechanisms are in place to continue the work of ensuring community access to services and information. A central task for branches is to sustain all of the programmes undertaken this year into the following year and beyond.
A deliberate misjudgement?
Last Saturday, ANC President Thabo Mbeki, addressing a mass rally of over 30,000 Eastern Cape residents, outlined a programme for the democratic movement for 2005 which included community-level mobilisation to help realise the vision contained in the Freedom Charter.
But the readers of the country's main Sunday newspapers would not have known this. Because instead of carrying the main thrust of the ANC's annual January 8th statement - which looks at the immediate tasks the nation faces in overcoming its most pressing challenges - most of the papers limited their coverage to three paragraphs dealing with the transformation of the judiciary.
With headlines like 'ANC threatens judges' and 'ANC targets judiciary and local government for purging', these papers not only ignored the main aspects of the statement, but sensationalised and misrepresented those sections they did cover. As so often happens, where the Sunday papers lead, the Monday papers and the other media follow - helped along by some rather predictable sniping from opposition parties.
It seems clear that most of these papers made a decision to focus on those parts of the statement that could generate most controversy and sensation. It is unfortunate that in doing so, the paper missed out on an opportunity to inform its readers on the ANC's plans for 2005.
It may be the case that one does not sell newspapers by reporting on the important tasks required to improve the lives of South Africa's poor. But nor does not provide one's readership with an informed perspective by ignoring them. The Sunday papers may not think that these tasks are terribly important, but the majority of South Africans do, and would probably not mind an opportunity to find out about the ANC's views on them.
It is particularly disappointing that the ANC's position on the judiciary was then misrepresented both in the media and by the comments that followed. The comments in the January 8th statement were neither a "threat" to judges nor an "attack" on white judges. They were instead an honest assessment of the state of transformation within the judiciary, consistent with the long-standing policy objectives of the ANC and the requirements of the Constitution.
Most of those who responded publicly on this matter still refuse to accept the need for transformation, not only in the judiciary, but in all other spheres of public life.
The comments on the transformation of the judiciary in the January 8th Statement are consistent with the long-standing policies of the ANC, which have time and again received the support and endorsement of the South African electorate. The need for the judiciary to reflect broadly the racial and gender composition of South Africa is explicitly referred to in the South African Constitution.
For example, in its document, 'Constitutional Principles for a Democratic South Africa', adopted in April 1991, the ANC said: "Without interfering with its independence, and with a view to ensuring that justice is manifestly seen to be done in a non-racial way and that the wisdom, experience and judicial skills of all South Africans are represented on the bench, the judiciary shall be transformed in such a way as to consist of men and women drawn from all sectors of South African society."
In 'Ready To Govern', the ANC's policy guidelines for a democratic South Africa adopted in May 1992, it said: "The bench will be transformed in such a way as to consist of men and women drawn from all sections of South African society. This will be done without interfering with its independence and with a view to ensuring that justice is manifestly seen to be done in a non-racial and non-sexist way and that the wisdom, experience and competent judicial skills of all South Africans are represented."
At its 2002 National Conference in Stellenbosch, the ANC resolved to ".expedite the transformation of the judiciary, to create a more representative, competent, sensitive, humane and responsive judiciary."
The comments contained in this year's January 8th Statement therefore represent an assessment of the progress made towards the objective of transforming the judiciary, and highlight the need for this process to be attended to with greater vigour. Those who are honest enough to acknowledge the reality of the apartheid legacy would find no fault with the accuracy of these comments.
|Click here to receive ANC Today by e-mail free of charge each week|