BOBBY STEVENSON SPEAKING ON AFRICA DAY: BHISHO LEGISLATURE, 1 JUNE 2O10

Fifty years ago in 1960, 18 African Nations attained their independence from Colonial rule. On May 25th in 1963, in a gesture of unity and committment to the ideal of African liberation, the 32 independent African Nations at the time formed the Organisation of African Unity – today known as the African Union.

Africa Day commemorates the formation of these organisations with the hope that all African states can unite in a common purpose so that the welfare and well being of the people of Africa can be assured.

We are here to remind ourselves of the dream that we have of progress and prosperity for our continent. In South Africa, with the advent of the world cup, we can truly celebrate this magnificent occasion and re-affirm the ability of an African country to host such a prestigous event. It is therefore an achievement, not only for South Africa, but for all of Africa. Today at 9.30am another milestone in this great event was crossed when our final squad of 23 was announced.

It took South Africa a long time to truly become part of a free Africa. Therefore Africa Day is an important Day as it reminds us to reflect on how far we have come and where we are.

It is therefore appropriate to remind ourselves that a free Africa is not just there to replace one elite with another. It is not just there to enrich the few at the expense of many. It is not just there to help a faction at the expense of the whole, it is not just there to ensure service to self before service to the people.

In this context the words of the then Chief Justice, Arthur Chaskalson, at the third Braam Fisher lecture in 2000 are appropriate :

“Too many of us are concerned about what we can get from the new society. Too few with what is needed for the realisation of the goals of the new constitution. What is lacking is the energy, the committment and the sense of community that was harnessed in the struggle for freedom.”

Can it be said that the same energy and committment exists in South Africa today to bring about change in our country that existed at the time when South Africa was struggling to become a democratic state or has it been replaced by greed, factionalism and self service? Has loyalty to a political party been placed higher than accountability to the people?

If those values continue to poison our value system to the extent that they have, then our whole value system will become totally corrupted.

What we need to show to the rest of Africa is how accountability should be entrenched in our country. We need courageous leadership who can act without fear or favour.

In the words of Mao Zedong (Mao Tse Tung) :

“To let things slide for the sake of peace and friendship when a person has clearly gone wrong, and refrain from principled argument because he is an old acquaintance, a fellow townsman, a schoolmate, a close friend, a loved one, an old colleague or old sub-ordinate. Or to touch on the matter lightly instead of going into it thoroughly, so as to keep on good terms. The result is that both the organisation and the individual are harmed.”

In fact, many countries have been harmed. Many countries in Africa have gone backwards economically. 36% of the region’s population live in economies that, in 1995, had not regained the per capita income levels achieved before 1960.

In South Africa we do not want to go the route of failed states. The closest illustration is that of Zimbabwe which has shown how fast an African country can travel from relative prosperity to the state of a basket case. Today, in South Africa, we still have people calling for nationalisation of the mines as if the trillions of rand to do so can be found when we cannot even find money to fund our schools, hospitals and clinics. It is ludicrous and dangerous populism.

Democracy is constantly subverted and under threat in Africa. Human rights abuses are widespread. Poverty, hunger, deprivation and poor education are constant companions to the majority of people.

Civil war, genocide and ethnic violence has spawned a ceaseless tide of refugees across the continent. We cannot go this route.

In South Africa we have a moral obligation to give leadership to the rest of Africa when it comes to securing democracy and human rights as well as a growing economy.

I wish to echo the words of former President Nelson Mandela who said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech :

“We live with the hope that as she battles to remake herself, South Africa will be like a micocosm of the new world that is striving to be born. This must be a world of democracy and respect for human rights, a world free from the horrors of poverty, hunger, deprivation and ignorance, relieved of the threat and scourge of civil wars and external aggression and unburdened of the great tragedy of millions forced to become refugees.”