Across Africa, wherever you go these days in the majority of countries on the continent, there are signs of “development,” meaning skyscrapers in the capital cities especially, or blocs of new buildings with tens of floors, and in some rural areas, hectares of plantations for crops aimed for export, which were absent one decade or so ago, on one hand. Many factors have contributed to such development: increase of commodities’ prices, globalization with easier flows of direct foreign investments across the world, among others. The signs have made many to say of Africa as emerging. However, there are cases of extreme poverty where conditions of living have widely diminished compared to what they were two or three decades ago on the other hand. The visible signs are delusional because the majority of the present African wealth is in the hands of foreigners. Inspired by the Zimbabwean model of indigenization, former South African president Thabo Mbeki sees in the latter a good example to emulate for Africa to become more prosperous for all its people, not the very few working with foreigners to exploit national resources.
Excerpt from the lecture of Thabo Mbeki, former South African president, at UNSA delivered on 23 August 2013
The full document is an objective critic about how Africans let themselves be seen by the rest of the world.
Many years ago and as part of the leadership in this region, we engaged the Zimbabwean leadership — President Mugabe and others — in a very sustained process to discourage them from the manner in which they were handling the issue of land reform. We were saying to them, ‘Yes indeed we agree, the land reform is necessary, but the way in which you are handling it is wrong.’
We tried very hard, ‘No, no you see all of these things about the occupation of the farms by the war veterans, this and that and the other, all of this is wrong’, that’s what we were saying. But fortunately the Zimbabweans didn’t listen to us, they went ahead. The consequence of it is that, I have looked at least four books that have been written about the land reform in Zimbabwe, all of which say in fact the process of land reform in Zimbabwe has given land to at least 300 000 — 400 000 new land owners, the peasants of Zimbabwe at last own the land.
The programme succeeded and has this direct benefit on these huge numbers of Zimbabweans. And so I found it very strange that this intellectual friend of mine could say the MDC would win the elections in the rural areas. They couldn’t, essentially because they were identified by that rural population to have opposed land reform, rightly or wrongly, we can discuss that.
The point I am making is that we still have a challenge to understand our own reality, and I am using the example of Zimbabwe to say that I have a sense that even with regards to this issue, which for some reason for years has been a major issue in the international media and politics and so on, that even we as Africans still have not quite understood Zimbabwe. I think it’s your task to change that, so that we understand ourselves better.
I think we should also ask ourselves the question: Why is Zimbabwe such a major issue for some people? Zimbabwe is a small country, by any standard, there is no particular reason why Zimbabwe should be a matter to which the New York Times, the London Guardian and whoever else . . . why are they paying so much attention to Zimbabwe? Why?
I know why they pay particular attention to us, because they explained it, they said ‘You have too many white people in South Africa. We are concerned about their future. They are our kith and kin. We are worried about what you would do to them, so we keep a very close eye on what happens.’
So we understand, we may not agree with the thinking, but we understand. But I am saying why this focus on Zimbabwe?
Towards the end of last year they asked me to speak at a conference on Zimbabwe diamonds. So I went, and what surprised me about the conference held at Victoria Falls was that everybody and anybody who has anything to do with diamonds in the world was there. From America, from Israel, from India, from Brussels — everybody. It was not about diamonds in the world it was about Zimbabwe diamonds. So I was puzzled, saying but why have they all come?
Maybe two hours before we left the conference to come back, we sat in a session which was addressed by one of the Indian diamond people. In the course of his presentation he explained why, he gave an answer to this query in my head. He said in a few years’ time, Zimbabwe will account for 25 percent of world production of diamonds.
So I said I now understand, I understand why everybody is here. But I think the reason there has been this kind of focus on Zimbabwe is that for many years now the political leadership in Zimbabwe have been communicating a message which many among the powerful players in the world find unacceptable.
I was saying earlier we opposed, we tried to discourage Zimbabweans from taking the particular steps they took with regard to land reform, acknowledging that it was indeed necessary to have land reform, and I was saying they ignored us. It is I think exactly the manner in which they came at that question of land reform that offended other forces in the world who said, ‘This is wrong, we don’t like it’. And unlike us who said, ‘Well, they are not listening.
They have done what they want to do about their country, we have to accept that’, these others said, ‘They have set a bad example which we don’t want anybody else in Africa and the rest of the world to follow, so they must pay a price for setting a bad example.’ Bad example, bad in the instance of the interests of these other people, not bad in terms of the interests of the people of Zimbabwe.
So, I think this is part of the reason that there is so much attention, globally, to a country on the continent which is actually in itself — never mind the diamonds — is not that particularly important, but is important because it is setting in the minds of some, a bad example which must be defeated.