25 May, 2009

Mbeki brings African Unity to Rhodes

We live in a country where by it is important to reinforce academic and democratic ideals and one of the most important ways of making that happen is by taking the time to reflect on our continent and the its history. Do we really unite as Africans or do just prefer to section ourselves within our ethnic groups? This was the agenda on the tray for South Africa’s former president, Mr Thabo Mbeki who gave a speech at Rhodes University about African pride and integrity.

This was an event to start off the Africa week programme which has been planned by students. “They had the courage to summon me here”, Mbeki said with a smirk. It’s the things like this which make one proud to be part of a space of youth with more than enough bravery and initiative to see how far they could make things happen. I would like to thank the students who organised this event- we truly are fortunate to have them amongst us otherwise there would be a time when I'd wonder if I would've ever seen Mr Mbeki.

Besides the exited souls outside the Rhodes theatre thinking,” gosh, I get to see him”; I was particularly proud at the behaviour of my fellow students. No singing of ‘struggle’ songs outside and no spontaneous dance acts. No, “comrades, comrades settle down”. (Thank you) Before he came in, the crowd around was wondering whether he was going to pull a ‘Julius Malema’ or not- i.e. was he going to show up? Unfortunately, phones were to be switched off. But I played the ‘dangerous journo’ and sneaked in a couple of pics. Although they were not the best of quality- they’ll do! I’ve also posted a video which I hope you’ll be able to see.

Mbeki walked onto the podium, looked at the crowd and as he started speaking; his quiet and effortless charisma surrounded the theatre. His slow pauses in between his words kept us in suspense as we waited for the ‘next best quote’ from him. All eyes were in wonder because in actual fact, he was everything we expected him to be and he wore a seemingly familiar grey suit. Breaking the ice; he told us about his new cell phone which he’s been ridiculously trying to get used to- reminds me of my dad!

“It is important to recognise that South Africa is part of Africa. Africa has been forgotten”, he began. Do we as a country associate ourselves with the continent or are we just sitting in our corner? This can cause so many problems for us as a people. Before even touching on the continent of Africa; it was quite annoying to find a couple of students who felt that somehow, Mbeki should’ve addressed the speech in IsiXhosa. Now, I asked myself,” but what about me? - I’m Zulu”. Mbeki even asked, “Is there a Xhosa society?” and all the super-exited students screamed, “Yeah- oh Yeah”. He then promptly asked, “What is that?” That is the question we need to ask ourselves, why is there no African society? It’s ok to realize ones pride in their language, but to be convinced that the crowd should know isiXhosa- which is only one of the official languages- is just stirring up a debate of disaster. The truth is that more than half of Rhodes students are not Xhosa and by an implication that one needs to spoken in one of the mother tongues to be African, many of us Zulu, Sotho, Venda and even English students were offended. Its thoughts like this which causes assumptions of exclusion by South Africans in relation to the continent.
On the issues of development, Mbeki went on to talk about what the youth can do ‘from the grass-roots’ in order to change what is happening. “Don’t make an excuse of being a ‘normal’ person unable to do anything- just to avoid making change”, he said. We need to understand that Africa is not incapable of helping itself. If anything, we have the right organizations and unions; however, Africa always feels that it needs to seek help from other continents i.e. Europe for help. Mbeki says that we need to make an effort and refuse to be defined by the rest of the world.

After the speech, the question and answer session started and the most distinctive issue was that of HIV/AIDS. A woman in the crowd asked Mr Mbeki to explain his earlier comment about the disease not being an issue in South Africa. His diplomacy was more than pleasing as he explained the issues of the disease and its importance. “They said I must not say anything”, he joked. “But the issue of the disease being an immune virus is important” he continued. He meant that in other words, we need to find solutions to strengthen the immune system of our people as health and education are the most important issue in Africa. He ended saying that, “We would respond better if we understood the questions”. Meaning that we need to ask questions as what the problems are so that we can face the issues in a better way.

I wish that this did not sound like a report, but there are so many things which were important about Mr Mbeki’s address that there is no other way of saying things better than he had. There was a large amount of unfortunates that missed this historic event. It’s as if he didn’t come to Rhodes to redeem himself as a political image; but rather to move on up and lead a legacy of leadership.



Bongani-09 said...

Thank You!! Anele I have been waiting for an update on that one because I heard that the man was coming down. And I have to say that you guys are lucky and you must use opportunities like that because there are people out there who can kill to get a chance to see our Former President Mr. Thabo Mbeki. Please keep it that way and to all the Future Journos, See you soon.

Ongezwa-09 said...

WOW! Im sure a lot of people were left feeling inspired, I know I would. Its so unfortunate that we dont all get such opportunities.
But we have the Anele's of this world who are willing to share with others.

Limpopo said...

How blessed I those that can still have the opportunity to be an audience to our philosopher-king!

Anele-09 said...

It was so much fun guys! But these opportunities were made by young people amongst us. It just goes to show that anything is possible if you give it a try!

I hope we'll all be attending press conferences together one day... yayness!

Chwayitisa 09 said...

Big ups Nele for keeping up informed about that amazing, I felt so honoured to be in his presence mcwa...

Nadi-09 said...




Jane-09 said...

That was well written Anele. You really captured the moment and I felt like I was there my self . I imagined every line infact I felt like I was also in front of Mr Mbeki and listening to his entire speech.It's good to note that even our leaders do indeed seek to reinforce Africanism and the importance of our mother tongue languages. however, it's a pity that some people stil fail to recognise the diversity of languages that define us as Africans.

Future Journalists Programme said...

This is what I call multi-media story telling! Great work Anele!

Thanks a lot, especially for those of us who missed it.

Masebe-09 said...

Thanks Anele I am sure you were loughing all day there because of happiness hey. Wonderful experience indeed sisi!

Simm said...

Well I'm one of those who was going up and down ending up missing this. Usiscoco Anele ne!