LETTER FROM PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI -
STATEMENT ON XENOPHOBIA

ANC Today, Volume 1, Number 18, 25-31 May 2001


Today, May 25, we celebrate Africa Day, proclaimed as such to commemorate the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963.

In many African countries, May 25 is celebrated as a public holiday, reflecting the commitment of the Continent to its unity. Unfortunately, in our own country, preoccupied as we have been with the challenges of transition from apartheid to democracy and non-racism, we have tended to ignore Africa Day.

Happily, this is now being corrected more vigorously. Today, an important celebration of Africa Day will take place, thanks to the initiative of Tribute magazine, which initiative enjoys the support of our Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Department as well as the African diplomatic corps in our country will themselves also host different events to commemorate Africa Day. All these activities express our collective determination to correct the virtual omission of Africa Day festivities from our national calendar, since 1994.

This corrective action takes place during the year when our Continent has taken the critical step to build on what the OAU has achieved, further to promote the advance towards African unity.

With the Constitutive Act of the African Union coming into force as a result of its ratification by the requisite number of African countries, the process will begin this year to phase out the OAU and phase in the African Union.

Undoubtedly, much effort will have to go into the process of effecting this transition, as a result of which, among other things, the African Parliament will be established.

This parliament will, for the first time, give the possibility to popularly elected representatives of the peoples of Africa to come together to set indicative objectives, the signposts that should help our Continent as it fights to overcome the problems of poverty, underdevelopment and instability.

The adoption of the Constitutive Act of the African Union is itself something we should celebrate. It is right that we honour Africa Day, as will happen today, and thereby restate our determination as a country and a people to participate in the process of speeding up the movement towards the greater unity of our Continent.

We are also proud of the fact that during this same year, our government is involved with other African governments in preparing the documents for the Millennium Partnership for the African Recovery Programme (MAP).

This critically important political and socio-economic programme is central to the achievement of the goal of African unity and progress. It visualises united African action to ensure that ours becomes a Continent of democracy, peace, prosperity and friendship among its peoples.

It will encompass specific proposals about these matters, including the strengthening of the institutions to promote democracy, human rights and peace, as well as specific plans on such issues as infectious diseases, poverty eradication, infrastructure development, information and communication technology, agricultural and industrial development and the urgent debt question.

The critical and unique feature of MAP is that it will be a product of the efforts of the peoples of Africa. Africans conceived it of. Africans are elaborating it. Africans are leading the process of discussion with the developed countries and the multilateral institutions to secure their support for and involvement in the Programme.

This is the very first time that this is happening.

We say all this not to assert African pride but to make the point that it is this feature of MAP that gives it the greatest possibility to succeed. Because we own it, as Africans, we have the responsibility to ensure that it succeeds. It is Africa's commitment to act in unity to solve the problems confronting the Continent that has inspired the developed countries and the international organisations warmly to welcome MAP and pledge their support.

All these developments, including the African Union and MAP, emphasise the point that the issue of our relations with the rest of our Continent is central to the future of our own country. Accordingly, it requires that all our people in all their organised formations should work out their own programmes further to strengthen our links with other sister African countries and to encourage our Continent's progressive social transformation.

As we have reported in earlier issues of ANC Today, naturally our government is very actively involved with the rest of our Continent, acting in partnership with other African countries to promote the renewal of Africa.

Our business community has also been very active in expanding cooperation with many African countries in the economic field. Accordingly, the Continent is becoming an ever-growing destination for our investment, trade and technology transfers. It is also clear that we must attend continuously to the issue of balanced trade relations between ourselves and many African countries.

Our trade unions are also active members of the continental Organisation of African Trade Union Unity, working in this organisation to promote workers' rights and the general advancement of our Continent. Undoubtedly, the possibility exists further to expand united action among the African organised workers, who are an important component part of the social forces committed to the progressive social transformation of Africa.

The African Renaissance Institute is yet another important initiative that seeks to mobilise the peoples of Africa behind a common programme for the success of the African Renaissance. It is a matter of pride that the South African chapter of the Institute is one of the strongest on the Continent.

Work is also going on among other sectors of our society, including the religious communities, the youth and students, women, arts and culture, science and technology and sport to strengthen our relations with the rest of our Continent.

It is a matter of concern that our level of knowledge about our own Continent is not as high as it should be. This is partly the result of the many years of the international isolation of South Africa and the fact that, historically, a significant part of our international relations has focused on interaction with the countries of the North, especially Europe.

Our mass media has also done very little to inform our population in general about the Continent in a balanced way. As happens with news in general, what tends to get reported are the negative things that do, indeed, occur on our Continent.

But the Continent also has a very rich culture to which we are not exposed, except, perhaps, in the area of popular music. Nevertheless, a better understanding of these cultures would help us greatly to understand both ourselves and the sister peoples of Africa, with whom we are bound by a common destiny.

At the same time, difficult work is being carried out in many African countries to address the important challenges of democracy and human rights, poverty eradication and social upliftment. Indeed, we would find that we ourselves could learn many things from these experiences as we grapple with the same challenges in our own country.

It would therefore seem necessary that we pay some attention to improving teaching about Africa in our schools and institutions of higher learning. This should relate not only to such subjects as history and geography, but also to the matters to which we have referred, of culture and current political and socio-economic activity, as well as languages.

Our youth should grow up knowing that they are African first before they become citizens of the world. This should help further to strengthen the commitment of the new generations to active involvement in the promotion of friendly relations of cooperation and solidarity with the peoples of our Continent and the achievement of the objectives of the African Renaissance.

The public broadcaster, the SABC, while continuing to report African news objectively, should also make a special effort to educate our broad population about the Continent, to address the historical bias according to which our population in general would be more familiar with countries of Europe and North America than with their own Continent.

Apart from anything else, our intimate relationship with the rest of our Continent is illustrated by the significant numbers of fellow Africans who have sought to settle in South Africa since 1994. Undoubtedly, this trend will continue, adding a new richness to our own society.

Many of these new immigrants bring with them important skills that our country needs. Many of them are also people who are creative, full of initiative and driven by an enterprising spirit. The more they impart these characteristics to us as well, the better we will be as a people and a society.

Necessarily, we must continue to be vigilant against any evidence of xenophobia against the African immigrants. It is fundamentally wrong and unacceptable that we should treat people who come to us as friends as though they are our enemies. We should also never forget that the same peoples welcomed us to their own countries when many of our citizens had to go into exile as a result of the brutality of the apartheid system.

To express the critical importance of Africa to ourselves, both black and white, we should say that we are either African or we are nothing. We can only succeed in the objectives we pursue if the rest of our Continent also succeeds. We sink or swim together.

It is for this reason that we too must celebrate Africa Day and thereby commit ourselves to work for African unity and African renewal. Accordingly, on this day, we extend our best wishes to all the peoples of Africa, of all colours, cultures and races, convinced that the African Renaissance will succeed.