Former President of South Africa, Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki has bemoaned what he referred to as a drastic reduction in commitment of leaders of African countries to pan-Africanism. He bemoaned that the sharp drop in the sense of cohesion, togetherness towards pursuing pan-Africanism is evident in the operations of the African Union (AU).
Pan-Africanism is a worldwide movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all indigenous and diaspora ethnic groups of African descent. Based on a common goal dating back to the Atlantic Slave Trade, the movement extends beyond continental Africans with a substantial support base among the African diaspora in the Americas and Europe.Pan-African thought influenced the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) in 1963.The African Union Commission has its seat in Addis Ababa and the Pan-African Parliament has its seat in Midrand, Johannesburg.
According to Mbeki, “One of the painful realities on the African continent is there is a sharply reduced commitment to pan-Africanism. That sense of cohesion, togetherness that we must pursue the following outcomes has reduced drastically. I don’t know why pan-Africanism has declined. It may be because our political leaders on the continent have focused on their own countries and responding to their national challenges. It is unfortunate, the loss of pan-Africanist commitment. You see it in the functioning of the African Union.”
He expressed this frustration while being a guest on the Toyin Falola Interview series put together by Africa’s foremost historian, Professor Toyin Falola. The virtual interaction had a panel headed by Professor Falola with Professor Paul Zeleza and Naledi Moleo, a journalist. In previous engagements, the Toyin Falola Interviews had featured political heavyweights, renowned academics, captains of industries, celebrities, cultural enthusiasts, among others. This edition was aired on various social media platforms, television and radio stations and had a viewership of well over 20 million.
The former president also used the platform to encourage young people to be particularly relevant in the political process of their countries. Beyond simply lamenting about the wrong things happenings in their various countries, Mbeki said the voices of the youths can only be effective if they build up strong youth movements. He said youths must not continue complaining but provide answer to the various challenges facing the continent through virile, conscientious and upstanding youth organisations.
Mbeki said: “It is critically important that our young people should be organized. You need a very strong youth movement, very conscious, very deliberate not only to complain about the wrong things that they can see but to answer the question of what to do. A lot of us in South Africa spend a lot of time bemoaning our reality. But, at the end, we must have an answer to these challenges. What is critically important is the building up of a strong youth movement. To make their voice effective, they need to be organized. To improve the possibility of entering these positions of leadership, that organization becomes important.”
Addressing the importance of a political consciousness from a young age, Mbeki recollected how he had joined the ruling African National Congress at a young age. According to him, “My generation was fortunate in that we joined the African National Congress (ANC) at a young age. For instance when I joined, I was thirteen and a half years old. From then on we had engaged with these issues of apartheid, development of Africa, policies and many others. We grew up in the movement. By the time the members of the youth league elected me to part of the executive which was part of the leadership of the youth league. So it was not a handing over from somebody; it was part of the natural process of growing in the youth league. After you get elected, some may say that this one is good enough to be a part of the executive committee. Much later in our lives, we were given more responsibilities like say being the ANC’s representative in other countries. For instance in 1975 when I was told that I had been co-opted into the national executive of the ANC, it was because I had been working in the ANC right from time. A vacancy opens and I was asked to fill in. there was a time when eight leading members of the congress left and their departure left a major vacuum in the ANC. But there were certain tasks that had to be done. We were the next group of people. We were approached by the leadership to fill the slots. We resisted that. But there was nobody else and the leadership insisted. Again it was not a handing over but a matter of progression through the ranks of the movement.”
He also recalled that while in office he had pushed for the establishment of a formidable public health care system which was capable of responding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. “On the issue of HIV/AIDS, we responded very properly, in a manner that helps us to escape these deadly outcomes. We are to do our best to understand this because of its gravity. In our discussions, we said the matter is important. What causes the immune deficiency? Some immune deficiencies are genetic. But some deficiencies are acquired. There are a number of things that can cause immune deficiency. Therefore, we as South Africans must find a way to make sure that the public health system must address those causes of immune deficiencies. The AIDS virus is the cause of the immune deficiency.
“People popularly say that there is a disease called AIDS. It is not a correct expression. Syndrome is a group of diseases. We got to find ways of interacting with whatever it is that causes these immune deficiencies so that once you strengthen it, then you don’t have a syndrome. Diseases like TB have their known causes. They are curable. But till today there is no vaccine to deal with the HIV virus. As a government, we wanted to have a health system that deals with this comprehensively, not just the antiretroviral. We need other medical interventions to do these. That caused the controversy with people saying that we said HIV does not cause AIDS. We never said that. But we said that you cannot say that immune deficiency only occurs because of one virus,” he said.
At the forum, he insisted that cases of xenophobia in South Africa had premeditated motivations and were not at the instance of the black population.