ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA, AT THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF BAHIA, Brazil, 14 December 2000
Your Excellency, the Governor, Dr Cesar Borges
Madam Rector, Dr Ivette Alves do Sacramento
Dr Jonatas Nunes Barreto
Mr Joao Jorge Rodrigues
Mr Antonion Carlos dos Santos Vovo
Dr Silvio Humberto Passos
Your Excellencies, Members of Diplomatic Corps
Ladies and Gentlemen
What intelligent contribution does one make to an institution whose very reason for existence is knowledge? An institution whose daily task it is to broaden, widen and move the frontiers of knowledge and narrow the space and scope of ignorance; an institution whose core business is the creation of knowledge.
I am confident that our common approach to knowledge and ideas differ from that of Herr Eugen Duhrring, who offered his views as ordained truths and deemed himself to be in sole and exclusive possession of the ultimate truth, including the scientific method of investigation, thus declaring anyone who dared to differ to be irrevocably lost.
Hence his judgement of Karl Marx, whom he accuses of "narrowness of conception... impotence of the faculties of concentration and logical arrangement... deformity of thought and style... degrading manner of language... barren conceptions, which in fact are only bastards of historical and logical fantasy... buffoonery pretending to be witty... Chinese erudition... philosophical and scientific backwardness."
Unlike the self-styled exalted fountain of knowledge that Eugen Duhrring claims to be, we recognise this institution to be a place of learning and inquiry because I am sure that you make no claims to the sole and exclusive possession of knowledge.
Accordingly, I trust that the strength of this house of knowledge is the space it offers for ideas to be tested, the transformation of abstract thoughts into actual processes, the journey into conceptualisation to take place, for theory to be translated into practice. Thus would we seek to interpret the surrounding environment, and make sense of sometimes intriguing reality.
It is that inquiry into society that gave birth to literary critics such as Silvio Romero (1851-1914) and the historian Joao Capistrano de Abreu (1853-1927). These writers were able to protest the slavish imitation of foreign cultures, and demonstrate intellectual originality.
Joao Capistrano de Abreu argued that the then prevalent attitude of "inferiority, imposed by the unquestioning adoption of the trappings of a temperate - climate civilisation, clamouring to be more European than Europeans", begged for attention. He further argued that imitation of Eurocentric culture would deny Brazil its "national soul". Isolated from its environment, the culture would not constitute the "conscious expression of the people".
In his monumental 'Historia da Literatura Brasileira (1888)', Romero emphasises the same theme of literature being of national expression; he not only laments the exclusion of ordinary people in the then intellectual construction, but also regards the inclusion as being critical to the very integrity of society.
In this effort to link the masses and literature, he published two anthologies of folk poems and songs, repeatedly stressing that Brazil was not the exclusive product of Europe, but the joint effort of Indians, Africans and Europeans, a legacy of modern Brazil, providing it with the diversity, that if well cultivated, would provide us with a proverbial weapon against racism.
These thoughts and expressions are representative of the House of Knowledge that this University epitomises. Of importance is the continuance of this legacy and the challenge of pushing the frontiers of ignorance backward.
This moment is special and significant to us, indeed, we are humbled by it and therefore I accept the honour you are bestowing on us, on behalf of all South Africans. Your invitation, Madam Rector, is an affirmation of the cultural affinity that persist between us, born out of the histories of our societies.
Madam Rector, a long time ago, over 150 million years back, all the different continents of the earth were joined together, into a unified super-continent, known as Gondwana. This, of course we know from the results of the work of different geologists who have studied the minerals, the rocks and the distinctive fossil plants found in South America, Africa, India and other parts of the world.
As we all know, in our own country, South Africa, lies buried the remains of the first human beings on earth - the grandfathers and grandmothers of all humanity.
It was therefore not surprising that when our dungeons were dark and scary, when our eyes could not penetrate the pitchness of the dark, you extended hands of solidarity to our cause, which you selflessly took up as your own, embraced our suffering and offered us hope. This was so because something innate in yourselves urged you to defend an inalienable part of your own humanity.
It is because in the sub-consciousness of many of the people who stood up against the oppression of one human being by another, is the knowledge that we all belong to the same human species.
It is because of this knowledge of being the products of the same earth, of shared ancestry and common origin that we have over centuries fought slavery, racism and any form of oppression.
Accordingly, it is natural for many of us to identify with Castro Alves from this State when, in one of his celebrated poems, The Slave Ship (Tragedy in the Sea) written in the 19th century, he said:
"It was a dantesque dream... the deck
Great lights reddening its brilliance,
Bathing it in blood
Clang of irons...snap of whip...
Legions of men black as the night
"Black women, holding to their breasts
Scrawny infants whose black mouths
Are watered by the blood of their mothers
Others, young, but nude and frightened
In the whirlwind of spectres drawn
From the anxiety and vein resentment!
"Prisoned in the bars of a single jail
The famished multitude shudders,
And weeps and danced!
"One is delirious from rabies and another is going mad,
Another brutish from martyrdom
Sings, groans and laughs."
Madam Rector, it is our joint responsibility to ensure that we banish forever the nightmare of the Slave Ship, where the great lights redden the brilliance of the deck bathing it in the blood of slaves.
Together we are faced with the challenge of defeating the political and economic conditions that, as we speak, condemn the majority of our fellow humans, particularly in poor countries, to the conditions similar to the ones on the Slave Ship. We have to fight this state of existence where people live as though they are 'prisoned in the bars of a single jail', where our people seem to be 'delirious' from malaria, TB, AIDS and many preventable and curable diseases.
We need to ensure that none amongst our people goes mad, none sings, groans and laughs to ease the pain of hunger and poverty, or to mediate the indecency of war and violent conflict.
Nobody can do it for us. Only ourselves - we who know the debilitating effects of the pangs of hunger - should marshal our energies, harness our resources and use our comparative advantage strategically for our own development. This is what the African Renaissance seeks to achieve.
We think we are recording progress in key and fundamental areas of the reconstruction process, and contrary to populist pessimism that is being spread about Africa, something good is coming out of that continent:
* As part of our commitment to consolidate the wave of democratic process that took root especially in the past ten years, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has adopted a resolution that ensures the banishment from the OAU of those leaders, and regimes whose ascendancy to power is contrary to accepted democratic practices.
* In the past decade, the majority of the African people have participated in countless democratic elections, making sure that the right to vote and choose candidates of one's preference is a right taken for granted and not a privilege.
* Although there are still many problems that need to be resolved, efforts by the leadership on the African continent have seen the end to the war between Ethiopia and Eritria, and there is substantial progress in resolving the conflicts in Burundi, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
* Several regions in Africa such as Southern Africa have witnessed impressive economic growth in the last decade.
* There are steady and appreciable investment flows into our respective countries. These Foreign Direct Investments, whilst certainly showing some imbalances, with Africa accounting for the smallest share, are a positive affirmation and recognition of the stability that our governments have created.
* A casual audit of our public expenditure patterns suggests that most governments recognise that in order to be globally competitive we have to ensure a literate skilled base. National budget appropriations seem to show a tendency in which a significant portion of social spending is geared towards education.
It is also true that against this bouquet of promising indicators, there are serious challenges. These challenges are considerable but are not insurmountable obstacles.
It is our conviction, Madam Rector, that a solid base of peace and security for all of citizenry is central to our agenda of the African Renaissance. Our efforts must not only be geared towards creating conditions in which there is absence of war, but must also focus on the fundamental improvement in the quality of life of all our people.
In this regard, our challenge is to ensure that our economies grow sufficiently so as to create the necessary employment for all our people, that we increase the skills base, provide adequate housing, raise health standards and encourage the freedom of choice in all areas of social activity.
Once more, I would like to say that we are delighted to be amongst all of you and again reiterate what we have said in the past visits to your country: that the 1994 victory of the people of South Africa is also your victory. This occasion is in a sense, a chance again to celebrate our solidarity, for it was in that victory that it was affirmed that bigotry, prejudice, rampant racism, discrimination and injustice can and must be defeated.
Madam Vice Rector, please permit me to pay tribute to you in particular. Your ascendance to this position as the first Black woman rector in this state and country augurs well in our on-going international struggle against all forms of discrimination.
Our own renaissance as a people, who have been marginalized and oppressed for centuries, cannot succeed unless all women are liberated and afforded equal opportunities in all fields of life.
A society that continues to oppress any section of its population denies itself the invaluable resource that human beings are to the development of society.
We are humbled by the historic nature of this occasion and the generosity of your invitation, being chosen to receive Doctorate, Honoris Causa, the first awarded by this University.
We recognise that your desire to be involved in the Renaissance of Africa, as it aspires to face the challenges of the 21st century, is one to which we must respond.
One of the fundamental conditions for the realisation of the African Renaissance is that we, as Africans, must be fully conscious of our history, culture and tradition, celebrate our rich historical legacy and ensure its preservation. We have to proceed from the understanding that if properly retained and nurtured, this legacy can and must instil in all of us the pride and confidence necessary to confront the many challenges facing us.
Clearly, Africa cannot achieve its Renaissance unless it celebrates its Africanness.
South Africa cannot achieve its Renaissance unless it celebrates its Africanness.
We have referred earlier to some of the most distinguished Brazilian writers who have argued against the slavish and blind imitation of cultures that are alien to the many people of this great country. They have argued specifically about the need to recognise that the present Brazil is not just a creation of Europe, but a product of Africans, Indians and Europeans.
Accordingly, Brazil cannot achieve its full identity unless it celebrates, also, its historical and cultural connection with Africa. When we recognise and celebrate our common heritage, it is not because we are against anyone; rather, we do so as a fulfilment of everyone.
I am certain that Brazil would not realise its full potential if there are no Afro-Brazilian scientists, if we have insufficient economists amongst Afro-Brazilians and if there are no educational and business opportunities for the many black Brazilians.
I am certain that we will all agree that when Brazil is able to meet all these challenges, the African Renaissance will benefit in many ways.
Let me further emphasise the importance of our visit and our choice of this State of Bahia. This being the heartland of African presence, the umbilical knot which links our historical legacies, it is only correct and inevitable that we shape our future and take on the African century with you. The challenge to combat racism and bigotry, to restore to society its hitherto arrested potential must be a joint effort.
We have to share in the construction of the future. Ours cannot just be to present endless complaints. We too must confront the world with plans to eradicate poverty and inequality. These concrete plans will ensure the victory of the struggle of Zumbi and Quilombos, the struggles of Shaka and Moshoeshoe. When this is done, perhaps then we shall join Castro Alves in his poem a "Salute to Palmares":
"Palmares! To you my shout!
To you, granite boat,
Which, in the infinite shipwreck,
Opened the sail to the thunder.
"And you caused the blast
Over the trembling flag
At the howling of seamen
On the tides of slavery!
"Sing, debauched eunuchs,
The marble palaces of kings
And kiss the iron laces
That dares not to shake...
I sing your beauty,
Half naked hunter...
On which leg, the red skin of a tapir floats.
"Creole! Your dark breast
You never gave it to an impure kiss...
Bright, firm, hard
You have kept for a noble love...
Black wild Diana
Who hears voices under the branches?
Those which bring the winds,
Of your strong hunter!
"Hail"! Warring horsewoman
Who in the rocks of the opening
At the shouts of the waterfall
You know how to drink and fight
Hail! - Built up on the hills -
Your nest, in a bold dream,
The condor sleeps... and the bandit!
Freedom... and the jaguar!"
Let us hold hands across the Atlantic and work together, share our thoughts about the best possible ways of ending hunger, poverty and homelessness, let us continue our solidarity and treat the artificial divide of the Atlantic ocean like that of the river across our common village.
Together, let us demonstrate in word and deed that the continental drift that curved up the once unified super-continent has not had an impact on us.
We are still from the same mother-earth, from Gondwana. We still owe our existence to the same grandparents of all humanity. The grandparents that started their tentative human steps and practised their earlier civilisation in Africa. They who left their footprints in the grasslands and sands of Africa and donated their images to us, on the many rocks of that continent.
I thank you.
Issued by: The Presidency, 14 December 2000