On September 22, 2016 – It is time to reflect on South Africa’s leadership deficit. This was the word from Prof Wally Serote during the launch of The Thabo Mbeki I Know book at the University of Mpumalanga.
The University of Mpumalanga played host to the Thabo Mbeki Foundation as part of the Foundation’s national book launch road show.
Students and staff at the new university, which is nestled in the tranquil and picturesque countryside, showed great enthusiasm to critically engage with the substance of the book and to interrogate issues affecting the country in general.
During the discussions, the students got an opportunity to understand the work of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, the importance of Africans writing their own history, nation building and the crucial task of South Africans building a common identity.
The CEO of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation (TMF), Mr Max Boqwana, outlined the important work of the Foundation, including the engagements of the Patron, former President Thabo Mbeki. He stressed the urgent need for Africans to write their own history saying, “The reason history is unkind to us Africans, is because we do not write it”. Mr Boqwana also lamented the demobilisation of Africans post-independence that has led to society outsourcing its responsibilities to politicians. He pointed out that the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute (TMALI), which is a partnership with Unisa, and other programmes of the TMF, seek to contribute to the development of a new generation of change agents, which will provide the necessary leadership Africa needs to address her challenges.
Professor Sifiso Ndlovu, a co-editor of The Thabo Mbeki I Know book and Executive Director of the South African Democracy Education Trust (SADET), explained the necessity of such a book. He located it in the broader mission of contesting the dominant narrative, not only about President Thabo Mbeki, but about the liberation struggle as well. Drawing from this years’ bicentennial anniversary of the formation of the Zulu Kingdom by King Shaka, Prof Ndlovu made an example of the blatant distortion of King Shaka’s by British historians in order to justify the conquest of Southern Africa and the rest of the continent. “The story of iMfecane was about conquest and painting King Shaka as a savage…but unlike King Shaka, President Mbeki is writing back so that his story is not distorted like that of King Shaka”, Prof Ndlovu said.
As a friend and Comrade, Professor Wally Serote spoke about the Thabo Mbeki he knows, describing him as a “tactician and strategist par excellence”. He noted the importance of these qualities in the work President Mbeki has been involved in for decades and urged the students that are engaged in the #FeesMustFall campaign to draw some lessons on handling delicate negotiations.
Prof Serote also spent some time dealing with the question of nation building and the country’s leadership deficit, stressing that South Africa needs to critically reflect on the past 20 years and begin to craft a new social compact. This must include, among other things, the restructuring of the economy and crafting a common identity. However, according to Prof Serote, “The creation of an identity that will empower those who were oppressed in this country rests with Black people…In defining this identity, we must be informed by objective reality”.