Thabo Mbeki: South Africa And Its Challenges
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI, PART 2
By Toyin Falola
Ideas rule the world, and no matter the level of modernity associated with a nation, ideas are the bedrock of such modernity. Despite the conventional understanding that ideas are crucial to enhancing developmental initiatives, innovations and inventions, they usually emanate from the pool of thoughts and mental gymnastics carried out by certain individuals and codified in some accessible materials. Humans have done exceptionally well from one generation to another, not strictly because they have leapfrogged the numerous accomplishments, progress, and success that have been achieved hitherto but because they can consolidate on previous successes.
To this extent, as people, we are who we are because we mostly depend on the success of preceding generations while trying to make sense of the complex and complicated world they found themselves in. How people access these ideas is the most logical question that anyone should ask since it is improper to allow our contemporary familiarity with various agencies of information preservation and dissemination to deny us the honour of acknowledging that accessing information has not always been an easy task. For a long time, these pieces of useful information were stored in the oral archive of the people, especially in Africa.
In essence, the younger generations only have access to their predecessors’ beautiful ideas by listening to talks and stories from the elderly, who are considered the living library of the civilisation. These stories are usually accompanied by evidence of success in innovations associated with these past individuals. However, there is a more important agency of all the information coded by people in our current world. And that is the book. Books are hard and sometimes soft materials that record ideas in writing forms. Thus, people access books to get important information, especially about what the books promise to offer on particular subjects. For instance, people who want knowledge about how political science and world experiences have been from time immemorial would not look in books written by medical professionals whose subject matter is endoscopy. Technically, anyone reading a book is consulting others; therefore, books are written with a specific audience. An important advantage of reading is that it does not limit an individual on what they decide to achieve with their lives from the ideas gathered from reading and consulting.
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In our recent world and collective history, individuals are shaped by the number of ideas they have access to through reading, and Thabo Mbeki is living evidence. A one-time President of South Africa, Mbeki has experienced geometric success as a political figure in the continent, banking on the strong foundation he had built as a child. The culture of reading was imparted to him by his well-versed parents, which introduced him to ideas and ideals, issues and values that he inculcated as a child growing up in politically convoluted South Africa. The importance of getting used to books is undeniable, as this tradition introduced Mbeki to the fact that a leader who would make a maximum impact has garnered different amounts of useful information in the course of reading.
Records abound that Thabo Mbeki was very successful in the South African political arena, specifically and in Africa, because he championed the act of distributive leadership and purposeful representation while in office as President. But then, South Africa is a country that has a deep-seated history of political problems engineered by the fact of colonisation and apartheid. Of course, every African country, especially the colonised ones, faced and still faces the backlog of challenges inherited from their imperial invaders who doctored the institutions to ultimately satisfy the whims and caprices of their imperialist aspirations. However, the issue of South Africa is different, almost in character and operationality, for colonisation attained a different height of dehumanising experience that would haunt the aborigines of the place for a long time. We must clarify that their problems are aggravated by the unholy colouration or imperialism that brought apartheid and its many indignities.
To a considerable length, colonisation can be excused by those who engaged in the exercise of domination on the account that humans in different parts of the world always nurse the ambition to lord over others, using their advantages as the instrument of subordination and destruction. While that is a general thing, what is not general and deserves to be carefully considered is the manufacturing of hate on creatures of the same species for no particular reason but their skin colour. The hatred of human beings constitutes the raw description of what Frantz Fanon called “othering.” The South African people were conceived as an impossible creation that did not merit a slot in the community of humans because they were regarded as inferiors by the European imperialists.
Given the predatory ambition to encroach on the natural and, by extension, human resources of the people in that geographical space, associating less than human qualities with the people aggravated their relationship in every ramification. Colonised people were theoretically or ideologically seen as a group whose assumed primitivism warranted some immediate humanitarian ambition to save them from themselves. Based on this assumption, they needed to establish that the moral reason for colonisation was because the indigenous people were mentally inferior, justifying the imposition of the West on them to run their government and overtake the economies linked to that government. However, the desire to establish such apartheid systems is underscored by a more benightedly beguiling mindset founded on a philosophy that anyone who looks different does not deserve to be treated decently. Coupled with the seizure of power through the forceful imposition of government on them, using guns and other sophisticated technologies, the South African people became helpless in the hands of their oppressors, who appeared to have come to displace them from their ancestral homeland. This continued for a protracted period, but the people endured.
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Confronting the aborigines of South Africa are the combined compulsive problems of self-hate, identity politics, epistemicide, and political hara-kiri, all of which somnambulate them for a very long time. Living for centuries with dignity, they did not experience such hateful relationships occasioned by their skin colour. The most basic question many South African under apartheid asked themselves was if truly they were humans. This question was unavoidable, especially with the idea that humans’ genetic neighbours, the chimpanzees and their kindreds, when seen, are treated in the same way to send a message that even though humans share a compelling similarity in their composition, they have a different sense of development. Therefore, many South Africans were justified to rethink their identity and meditate if they truly were in the same category as these whites. If they were doubtful of this reality, the common fact that the white exhibited similar characteristics was an indication that they were both in the same human category. Therefore, the need to rapidly disengage and dissociate from the actions leading to their treatment came from their inferiority complex.
South Africa’s problems do not mandate a quick fix, no matter how much the people anticipate developmental changes. Thabo Mbeki tenaciously believes that the foundation of any form of change that would be erected should be based on communication, which is a viable and vital solution to the myriad of problems that confront the country. This is underscored by the understanding that for people who have undergone that painful process of self-abnegation and integrity erosion, there is the need for the restoration of sanity first before any other thing. Thus, they must be communicated with by governments representing their skin colour and by people from the same racial circle so that they would immediately begin to unwrite the series of self-hate inscriptions that they have carved in their minds. They must be communicated with the immense greatness that lurks in their skin and the almost inexhaustible potential they carry as Black people. Meanwhile, the agencies for passing this communication are numerous. While they can be communicated with in speech situations, Mbeki believes that the generationally haunted South Africans can be communicated with through other effective means that are specifically highlighted in this great interview.
Establishing credible institutions that would re-engineer fairness and justice in the relationship between classes of people in the South African society is the first indication of communication dissemination to the people of the new dawn and the beginning of a different socio-political condition that gives them back the power to exist as humans. Institutional development is necessary as the first instance of communication between a messianic government in South Africa and the haunted ones because apartheid and its racial inclinations were built through these institutions. With a racialised bureaucracy, many indigenous South Africans could not have access to jobs that could put food on their table. They could not secure employment that matched their human status, apparently caused by the narcissistic evaluation of their skin. As earlier stated, the colonial imperialists assumed that people with a skin of their type did not deserve a decent lifestyle, which was the foundation of the woes that consumed the South African.
In essence, the older system that took away their food and means of survival would take a different outlook on communicating based on the new system of power. It is necessary to consolidate this communication strategy in other areas of the country’s leadership, as that would restore sanity. It is a commonplace that the victims of colonisation are being denigrated on account of the political systems they operated on before the invasion of the colonial power. The understanding that people were colonised is hinged on the assumption that they have inferior systems, including their system of government. To this extent, the poor colonial subjects were mesmerised and ridiculed by an inordinate system of government imposed on them by those who would later speak of democracy.
Although it would later be discovered that democracy was a reasonably fair system of political engagements, the fact that the oppressors did not embrace it during apartheid indicates that they were diabolical and unreliable. Even if the new government installed by the people would embrace democracy as a system of governance, it goes without saying that the colour of South Africa’s democracy would be different for reasons not unconnected to the post-apartheid realities. For one, the invading colonisers were not reneging on the aspirations to remain in South Africa, which would create difficulty as it is ideologically difficult for them to live in genuine peace with the people against whom they have violated their fundamental human rights.
In all of this complex interplay of democratic culture, which was expected to stand erect in the new South African environment, with the emotionally belaboured population that has witnessed a series of negative experiences that have damaged their psyche, one would genuinely ask what the takeaway, the moment of joy, and the course for happiness in the lives of the South Africans will look like. To the once tormented citizens of South Africa, the most important thing is that even with the overwhelming totalitarian values imposed on them and the overweening character of these invaders, they were able to grind their ways until they become liberated. Freedom, it appears, can be underrated when nothing has ever come to threaten it. Humans who have not experienced physical or emotional confinement would find it difficult to understand what it means to access freedom as their social and fundamental right. They often assume that their ability to work in places and, in some cases, decide on who they associate with comes with being free. For example, not many South Africans would say they experienced freedom under the European systems. Apart from being challenged to re-engineer their social and cultural behaviour based on the ideas that they would shift for the white in the country to rule, they were confronted with the challenge of being mentally sane under a government that continues to frustrate their mental health.
In essence, what was important to them was the sound of liberation successfully fought by their freedom fighters. The invaders were unprepared for losing the political power they enjoyed to wreak emotional havoc on the innocent people. They could not board the same train as the white people, and they had to embrace a nascent identity to secure some economic opportunities. In some extreme cases, they could not go to the same hospital as their white counterparts, and all of these have shaped the hostile minds they constructed. There is, therefore, the need to conduct some forms of political sanitation so that the negative areas would be successfully addressed.
Mbeki is aware that the most encouraging and greatly stimulating gift that people of his age and generation would achieve collectively was that they got the liberation that their succeeding generations could keep. Even when they did not see their predecessors’ horrible experiences, they would understand that they have done exceptionally well to take the country on the right trajectory. Liberation is related to their future because their economic and political future would be threatened without it. All of these prompted the people of Mbeki’s age to accept that attaining liberation was an enormous success associable with them. Thabo Mbeki understands that part of the challenges that consumed South Africa would become strictly corrosive if they had difficulty getting the assistance of other African countries in their quest for freedom.
When one is tormented, the possibility of being negatively affected by the situation will only be aggravated when individuals, acquaintances, and kindreds who would have persuaded and provided the moral support refuse to give their anticipated support. However, this was not the case with the other African countries. They stood solidly behind the country, imbuing the people with a spirit of perseverance and resistance, giving them the moral encouragement to continue. Due to the availability of supportive countries, victims of apartheid and political oppression were able to stand strong and weather the storms. It means that their freedom did not come on a platter of gold. They enjoyed the spirit of friendship, camaraderie and togetherness from other African countries, and since that combined voice produced a more audible agitation, the prospect of securing freedom became especially brighter. In all of this, the Thabo Mbeki generation made significant contributions across Africa.
Before the attainment of freedom and the foregrounding of South African politics to suit the contemporary realities of the people, it has often been imagined what the present generation of this great man would do in terms of handing over the baton of political leadership to the coming generation so that the latter would have a substantial impact in the enhancement of their freedom agenda that will cover all. However, Mbeki believes that the challenge confronting the country is a general one that leaves no one any comfort of reasons to isolate themselves in the struggle for freedom. He is convinced that the generation in place would have to understand that there lies a burden of responsibilities on them, which they cannot shy away from. No generation of freedom fighters has been called by individuals or groups to assign them the responsibility of taking over the course of justice for their people. They have always identified that their contributions are critical for continuing the struggles; thus, they take the bull by the horn. They would accept the challenges that come with it, and people would identify with them in no distant time.
Essentially, generations coming would have to demonstrate their readiness and begin to represent the voices of their people. There was pressure for change when they came into power. The people became agitated for a different reason this time around. They were concerned about the kind of leader they would erect in the new system that would send the message to the people that they had truly transitioned from the oppressive government. The Pan-African world is also concerned as it became clear that attaining freedom would pressure the African people to make the right decisions. Of course, at that moment, they had the moral right to drive the oppressive white government away, and in cases where they would not be that harsh, they could have changed the system to something that would torment and also pit them against the imperialists. But they could make effective decisions governed by the desire to be fair to all. To avoid another round of problems was necessary so that they could enjoy a measure of peace and stability to continue with their lives. Even when critical decisions were made and necessary sacrifices were given, the reality of the contemporary South Africans continues to be dominated by the experience of long-term apartheid.
This is the first interview report with President Mbeki on June 19, 2022. Viewership figures on television, radios and over a dozen platforms reached over 35 million by June 20, 2022. For the transcripts: YouTube: https://youtube.com/watch?v=KoRTpv6lEfA Facebook: https://fb.watch/dL9miB2tHc/
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Conversation With Kunle Afolayan
Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.
The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?
This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.
Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.
In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.
In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.
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For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.
The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.
Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda
The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.
The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?
Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.
Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.
The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.
In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.
- *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
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