ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI, AT THE UNIVERSITY OF HAVANA, Cuba, 27 March 2001.
Your Excellency President Castro;
Your Excellencies the Ministers;
Your Excellencies Ambassadors;
Comrades and friends:
In 1940, the Office of Public Opinion Research in the USA conducted a nation wide poll and asked Americans to indicate those words that seemed to describe best the people of Central and South America. The results were the following:
When asked whether people in Central and South America were dark-skinned, 80% said yes. When asked whether they were quick tempered and emotional, about 50% said yes.
Asked whether people in these areas were intelligent, only 15% said yes; and if they were honest, only 13% said yes. Asked whether they were imaginative, 23% said yes; and whether people in Central and South America were efficient only 5% said yes.
(Thomas E. Skidmore & Peter H. Smith, Modern Latin America, page 4, Published 1984, 1989 by Oxford University Press.)
The stereotype about the Central and South American people according to this survey was that they are dark-skinned, quick-tempered, emotional, unimaginative, unintelligent, dishonest and inefficient.
If the same survey about Africa today was conducted in some countries of the North, I would not be surprised if we got exactly the same outcome.
The critical matter however is that we have a duty to define ourselves.
We speak about the need for the African Renaissance in part so that we, ourselves, and not another, determine who we are, what we stand for, what our vision and hopes are, how we do things, what programs we adopt to make our lives worth living, who we relate to and how.
Our discussion of the African Renaissance here today is very appropriate for two reasons. Central and South America and the Caribbean have so much in common with Africa that, indeed their fortunes seemed, over time, to be intertwined.
Secondly and of importance, Cuba occupies a prominent place in the history of the struggle for, and the achievement of freedom on the African continent.
Accordingly, the Renaissance of our continent is inextricably interwoven with this country that has sacrificed so much so that, Africans can stand tall as equals amongst fellow human beings.
It may well be that the close affinity of the peoples of Africa and the Central and South Americas is bound by our common history and heritage not just in times that can be captured by humanity's ability to record, but in such distant times whose preciseness is captured by the evidence donated to us by nature itself, hidden in seemly innocent rocks and trees.
Thanks to scientific advancement, we are able to decipher what these rocks and trees, buried for millions of years, tell us about our origin, evolution and adaptations over time.
Some of the fossils that assist us to have a better understanding of ourselves have helped scientists to explain the link that the greater part of Central and South America had with Africa for millions of years before what is generally referred to as the continental drift separated our two continents.
The Historian John Reader writes about this link between Africa and the Americas:
"If we look at a terrestrial globe or map of the world, we shall perceive that the projection of the western coast of Africa nearly corresponds with the opening between North and South America, opposite to the Gulf of Mexico; that the projection in South America, about Cape St. Roque and St. Salvador, nearly corresponds with the opening in the Gulf of Guinea; so that, if we could conceive the two continents being brought into contact, the opening would be nearly filled up, so as to form one compact continent".
(Africa - a biography of the continent, page 21, published Penguin Books 1997).
The compact super continent, which was in existence 250 million years ago of Africa, South America, the Indian sub-continent, Australia and Antarctica, has been called Gondwanaland.
Beyond that, we have many similarities as if our histories have been painted on the same canvas, as if our different odysseys had a common navigator, as if we hunted the same beasts, cooked and feasted from the same pot.
Perhaps, like the true descendants of Gondwanaland, the super continent, we had no choice but to journey together.
We have inherited a common colonial legacy, according to which, upon their arrival, the colonialists destroyed indigenous communities, almost to a point of extinction.
In Central, South America and The Caribbean the many indigenous communities, including the Maya, Aztec, Inca and many others, had their cultures and languages trampled upon and themselves as a people, almost exterminated.
In our part of the world, the Khoi and the San had their cultures, traditions and languages destroyed, and whole communities virtually wiped out such that only pockets of these proud Africans remain today.
The indigenous people in the Americas were termed 'Indians', because when the Spaniards arrived on their land, they mistakenly thought they had arrived at the spice-rich India. It is and error' we still perpetuate today. The Khoi and the San were derogatorily called Hottentots and Bushmen.
One of the colonialists' declared intention in the Americas was, as they put it, to save the souls of heathen Indians. They said the same thing in Africa: they wanted to save the pagans from themselves.
And so the ideological programme of forcing people to renounce their cultures, languages, beliefs and identity began.
We are also tied to you and the Americas because inhuman greed resulted in the transportation of millions of Africans out of Africa as slaves. No longer slaves, these millions today constitute an important part of what makes up the population of the Caribbean and the Americas.
For their part, the colonialists wanted nothing but complete ownership and control over the important minerals in the Americas, in particular, gold and silver. Across the Atlantic, the colonialists' rapacious appetite for wealth just could not get enough of the Africa's gold, diamonds and other natural resources.
We both had numerous heroic struggles against colonialism and later its offshoot neo-colonialism - struggles that are defined by ups and downs, heroes and traitors, triumphs and reversals.
We speak here today as people born of those victorious struggles. Contrary to the survey we cited at the beginning, we speak not emotionally and I must assume not unintelligently.
We are able to do this, in good measure because of the heroic sacrifices that the people of Cuba made to help speed up the defeat of colonialism and apartheid in Southern Africa.
Even today, your actions continue to give practical meaning to the wise words of that Cuban revolutionary, poet, writer and visionary, Jose Marti, when, in the 19th century, he said that:
"Man has no freedom to watch impassively the slavery and dishonour of fellow men, nor their struggles for freedom and honour."
(Collection of Thoughs of Jose Marti, vol. II D-G, page 20)
Through your sacrifices, together with those of your brothers and sisters on the vast expanses of the African continent, you jointly laid a firm foundation for the African Renaissance.
The battle and triumph at Cuito Cuanavale and the subsequent tripartite accords between Angola, Cuba and apartheid South Africa, which dramatically changed the political landscape in Southern Africa and thus ensured the completion of the important and necessary phase of the total decolonisation of the continent, remain etched in the collective memory of all African patriots.
We agree with the observation made by His Excellency the President of Cuba, Comrade Fidel Castro, when he said in 1988 that the history of Africa will be divided into before and after Cuito Cuanavale.
The Africa Renaissance is and will be an outcome of the constellation of events of which the military defeat of the apartheid forces in Angola is amongst the most prominent.
This constellation of events, particularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s could not have happened at a more propitious time, a decade before the end of the century and millennium and the dawn of a new century and millennium.
The last decade of the 20th century prepared the conditions for us to claim the 21st century as the African Century, that must be characterised by the all-round advance and development of the African continent, during which, through its own efforts and in the context of a new internationalism, it must catch up with those described today as developed.
Indeed, this declaration of an African century, born of the confidence and determination of a free and independent people, is an aspect of a continuum, of which Cuito Cuanavale is an integral and an inalienable part.
To advance this perspective, the African continent is currently working on the Millennium Partnership for the African Recovery Programme (MAP).
Among others, the elaboration and adoption of this programme will result in the conscious and deliberate engagement of all our people in the important work of the self-definition of Africans by the Africans themselves.
In this process of self-definition we will strike a blow against the prejudices and stereotypes prevailing in many parts of the world, particularly in the developed countries of the North.
A central feature of this self-definition is therefore the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, sexism and other intolerances.
For this reason, among others, we consider the International Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and other Intolerances, to be held in Durban, South Africa, this year, is being of the greatest importance.
Furthermore, the African Recovery Programme must have both as an integral part and a condition for its success, an end to coups d'etats and the imposition of military governments on the peoples of Africa, an end to destructive violent conflicts and the defeat of elites that corruptly enrich themselves at the expense of the people.
It must sustain the process on course on our continent focused on realising the objective that the people shall govern.
This programme is based on a common determination to end poverty and ensure sustainable growth and development in all the countries of Africa.
It is based on a common resolve to end the marginalisation of Africa and the global social exclusion of her people.
It is based on a common view, informed by objective reality, that resources necessary to eradicate poverty and the scourge of under-development exist within the global economy and society.
The programme will be driven by our common conviction that bold and imaginative leadership, inspired by the need to build caring and people-centred societies, is a necessary pre-condition if we are to succeed in the struggle to achieve sustained human development.
In this regard, among other things, we have to reverse the outflow of the highly skilled labour from Africa to the countries of the North.
In 1998, for instance, 250 000 African professionals were working in the United States and Europe. About 30 000 African professionals with PhD's live abroad, while the continent is left with only one scientist and engineer per 10 000 people.
(UNDP: Human Development Report 1999, p32)
Despite all the odds we make bold to say that we must and can move away from measures that further entrench the dependence of Africa on aid.
As we are all aware, Africa is endowed with large and most diverse natural resources. These precious resources have benefited people other than Africans.
We have to end the situation according to which Africa remains an exporter of primary products and an importer of manufactured goods.
The result is that the continent's apparent integration in the world economy is actually as such a producer of primary commodities, an exporter of skills and capital, through the fact of a heavy debt burden and a recipient of ever-diminishing volumes of foreign aid.
The Millennium Partnership for the African Recovery Programme seeks to change this unacceptable situation.
We say that this is the time when by freedom and independence our people must know we also mean development, genuine empowerment, self-reliance and a qualitatively better life for all.
We want our people not to be overwhelmed and continue to be marginalised by the advances in information and communication technologies.
Instead, we seek through this programme, to ensure that our people master this technology such that we increase our knowledge and skills, improve our productive capacity, increase access to goods and services and in time, begin to be at the cutting edge of advances in human development.
Modern societies have become information dependent and information driven. One of the challenges we face in this context is to avoid being overwhelmed by the powerful cultural imperialism that seeks to penetrate our societies through films, television, the Internet and other mass media.
As part of our response to this challenge, we have to cultivate our value systems through the production and sharing of literature, films, and the products of creative art and the outcomes of sport that portray us correctly and differently from the dominant cultures conveyed by today's mass media.
Africa, together with the other developing regions of the world, is a victim of the skewed distribution of the benefits of the global economy, a situation that is characterised among others by the absence of a fair and just global order with regard to such important matters as trade, finance and technology.
Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, humanity is faced with the huge challenge of the ever-widening gap between poor and rich people between and within countries.
The United Nations Development Programme report of 1999 states that:
* The assets of the three richest people are more than the combined GNP of all the Least Developed Countries (LDC's);
* The assets of the 200 richest people are more than the combined income of 41% of the world's people;
* Nearly 1.3 billion people do not have access to clean water;
* A quarter of the 4,5 billion people in developing countries do not live beyond the age of 40, have no access to knowledge and minimum private and public services;
* One in seven children of primary school age are out of school;
* About 840 million people are malnourished and 1.3 billion people live on incomes of less than One Dollar a day.
(UNDP: Human Development Report 1999, pages 28 & 38)
Despite these massive levels of poverty, the world has sufficient resources successfully to address the challenges posed by the scourge of underdevelopment.
For instance, a yearly contribution of 1% of the wealth of the 200 richest people, which would amount to $7- 8 billion, could provide universal access to primary education for all.
Since the majority of poor people live in developing countries, there is clearly an urgent need for us to adopt extraordinary measures that will give us the necessary capacity to address these deep levels of poverty.
As developing countries, we are faced with insufficient flows of resources into our economies.
The same UNDP Report from which we have quoted states that:
* In 1997, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) increased to $ 400 billion, but 58% of it went to industrial countries;
* More than 80% of the FDI in developing economies in the 1990's went to just 20 countries, mainly China;
* The top fifth of the world's people in the richest countries enjoy 82% of the expanding export trade and 62% of FDI.
* The bottom fifth of the world's population enjoy barely more than 1% of the export trade and FDI.
(UNDP: Human Development Report 1999, pages 31 & 38)
Clearly, these figures demonstrate the urgent need to restructure the world economic order, and the huge challenge facing all of us is to increase the co-operation between our countries and ensure that we turn around this process that seeks to condemn us permanently to deeper levels of poverty and marginalisation.
To address all these problems, we need to strengthen South-South co-operation. It is important therefore, that we work out sustainable programmes around the development of our human resources, sharing of skills between our countries, stronger trade relations, co-operation in science and technology, cultural exchanges and mutual assistance in the development and strengthening of our industries.
This is important in itself, but also constitutes an important part of the African Recovery Programme whose success would also make an important contribution to the progress of the developing world as a whole.
Cuba has played and continues to play a seminal and exemplary role in international solidarity, trans-frontier endeavours in education, health and other areas of scientific advancement.
Again, in this regard, Jose Marti guides us when he said that:
"Every man must feel on his cheek the blow struck against any other man's cheek."
(Collection of Thoughs of Jose Marti, vol. III H, page 18)
The scourge of poverty and underdevelopment felt by the overwhelming majority of humanity must be a concern of all humanity. At the UN Millennium Summit last year, the world's political leaders committed themselves to work together to address this scourge as a common challenge.
For us, this is the orientation that informs the African Renaissance.
Our country, South Africa, is one of the beneficiaries of your internationalism. Your doctors are ensuring that the pain of disease among our people is lessened by their selfless work and dedication.
I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the government and people of South Africa, to thank you for your willingness to work together with us to confront the health challenges that are a result of poverty and underdevelopment amongst our people.
The governments of Cuba, South Africa and Mali are collaborating in assisting with the health needs of the people of Mali.
Clearly, this is one of the practical expressions of programmes that would change for the better the living conditions of our people, and in time, would make the African Renaissance the success that it surely must be.
I think we owe it to the sacrifices that our people have made over many years, to better co-ordinate our efforts and collaborate amongst ourselves so that these initiatives bring immediate and visible benefits to all our people wherever they may be.
We have to do all these things so that we defy the myopic and self-serving views of those who wish us to fail, to defeat the millennium old negative stereotype that was expressed by the results of the survey of the Office of the Public Opinion Research.
The success of the African Renaissance will be the success for all the developing countries. It will certainly be a success for the heroic people of Cuba.
We say this because although our habitat is Africa, we are part of humanity and when we triumph over poverty and underdevelopment that will be a victory for all humanity.
We have ourselves learnt this important lesson from the words that came from this Island in the 19th century, from Jose Marti:
" Not only are we Cuban, but part of Humanity, and we fight for the honour and well-being of all Humankind."
(Collection of Thoughs of Jose Marti, vol. III H, page 16)
The spirit of internationalism and solidarity that drove your sons and daughters to lay down their lives in Angola so that the peoples of Southern Africa should be free is what must inform our actions as we wage the new struggle for the all-round emancipation of all humanity from everything that denies anyone of us our human dignity. Again, this is wise counsel from that outstanding son of Cuba, your own National Hero, Jose Marti.
I thank you.
Issued by The Presidency
27 March 2001