Category Archives: Commentary

US President Obama’s inaugural speech 21 January 2013

Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens: 

Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution.  We affirm the promise of our democracy.  We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.  What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.  For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.  The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.  They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. 

For more than two hundred years, we have. 

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free.  We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together. 

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. 

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.  Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.  For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.  No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.  Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people. 

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.  A decade of war is now ending.  An economic recovery has begun.  America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands:  youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.   My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together. 

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.  We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.  We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.  We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own. 

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time.  We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher.  But while the means will change, our purpose endures:  a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American.  That is what this moment requires.  That is what will give real meaning to our creed.  

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.  We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.  But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.  For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.  We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.  We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us.  They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. 

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.  The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.  That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.  That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.  That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.  Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage.  Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty.  The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm.  But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.

We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.  We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.  America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.  We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.  And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes:  tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice. 

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. 

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.  Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.  Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.  Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.  Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm. 

That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American.  Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness.  Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time. 

For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction – and we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service.  But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream.  My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride. 

They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope. 

You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. 

You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals. 

Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright.  With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom. 

Thank you, God Bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.


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President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma appoints commission of inquiry into the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages

President Jacob Zuma has decided, in terms of section 84 (2) (f) of the Constitution, to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages, generally known as the “arms deal”.

In 2009, legal proceedings were instituted in the Western Cape High Court asking the Court to direct the President to appoint an independent judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of wrongdoing or to require him to reconsider his refusal to do so.  It later transpired that the Western Cape High Court was the wrong forum to hear the matter. An application was then brought in the Constitutional Court. The matter is set down for hearing on 17 November 2011.

President Zuma assumed office when the matter was already pending in the courts of law. He had previously taken a view that since the matter was the subject of litigation in a court of law, he should allow the legal process to take its course.

However, he has since taken into account the various developments around this matter and also the fact that closure on this subject will be in the public interest.

The President will soon announce the terms of reference and the composition of the commission including the time frames.

The President has requested the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development to take the necessary steps to implement this decision.

Issued by: The Presidency

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Address by the former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki to the students of Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch.

Chairperson of the SRC,
Chairperson of SASCO,
Vice Chancellor, leaders, staff, students and workers of Stellenbosch University,
Ladies and gentlemen:

I would like to thank you for inviting me to return to this important centre of learning to reflect on what is obviously an important and relevant topic.

In its invitation letter to me the SRC said the Council had “identified as some of (its) goals to stimulate dialogue, encourage critical thinking and reach for a more transformed campus.”

I would like to commend the SRC and the student body as a whole for setting these important goals. I hope that indeed that you have given yourselves time critically to assess the historic events in North Africa to come to some conclusions about what they mean for Africa and for the African Students.

What can we say about these events, restricting ourselves, for now, to Egypt and Tunisia?

We will return later to the case of Libya.

With regard to everything we will say, please remember that the youth constitute the overwhelming majority of the population in all the countries we are discussing. In Egypt, for instance, two-thirds of the population is under 30, while youth unemployment stands at least at 25%.

Given the topic you have asked us to address, I hope you will agree that necessarily we will have to spend some time reflecting on the events in North Africa so that together we are better able to assess the potential role of the African students in this regard.

There is no doubt that what we saw in Egypt and Tunisia were genuinely popular and peaceful Uprisings aimed at the democratic transformation of these two African countries, starting with the overthrow of the ruling groups.

Accordingly, the Uprisings aimed to achieve the fundamental transformation of their societies, and not only their political systems.

It is also clear that in both instances the youth and students exercised leadership by being the first to take to the streets and by their persistence until the first objective of the Uprising, the overthrow of the ruling groups, was achieved.

It is also important to understand that this objective was achieved because the people as a whole joined the youth and students, transforming the rebellion of the youth and students into a National Uprising, which more or less guaranteed its success.

Equally we have to understand that what also facilitated this success was that the Armed Forces in both countries refused to suppress the Uprising and therefore to protect the governments of the day. On their own, the Police and other security organs could not defeat the Uprisings, regardless of the amount of force they used.

It is also clear that the Uprisings were an indigenous affair, carried out without any significant interference by foreign powers to help direct what were authentic African endeavours.

It is also significant that the governments of both Tunisia and Egypt collapsed within a very short time after the start of the Uprisings, marked in particular by the resignation of the Heads of State, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak respectively.

This could only mean that such was the degree of social rot over which these Heads of State presided, and such was the isolation of their governments from the masses of the people that it would not take too much pressure to topple them, as actually happened.

The April 6 Movement was one of the most prominent of the youth and student formations which played a critical role in the Egyptian Uprising, which incidentally named itself after a brutally suppressed workers’ strike which had started on April 6, 2008.

In a Statement this Movement issued on February 6, 2011, and reflecting the extent to which the Mubarak regime had lost the confidence of the people, it said:

“We will complete what we started on the 25th of January. We the Egyptian youth will not be deceived by Mubarak’s talk, which aimed to manipulate the emotions of the Egyptian people and under-estimated their intelligence as he has become accustomed to doing for thirty years in speeches, false promises, and mock election programs that were never meant to be implemented. Mubarak resorted to this misleading talk, thinking that Egyptian people could be deceived yet again.”

The youth and students and the people of Tunisia took exactly the same position with regard to their then President, Abidine Ben Ali.

By the time he was forced to leave office, Ben Ali had served as President of Tunisia for just over 23 years. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had served in the same position for 29 years.

Again as all of you know, both of them held onto these positions through what were described as democratic elections.

The reality, however, is that these elections were not democratic by any stretch of the imagination, and therefore that both Presidents and the groups they led clung to power depending not on the will of the people, but resort to other means which deliberately sought to frustrate the will of the people.

These were fraudulent elections and the maintenance of an extensive machinery of repression. Many in the Arab world claim that Tunisia had the most repressive state machinery of all countries in the region, making it what is correctly described as a police state.

In addition to the monopolisation of political power by a few, this meant that this tiny minority, as in Egypt, had every possibility to abuse its illegitimate power to enrich itself by corrupt means.

In a January 28 article this year, The Washington Post reported that:

“The Ben Ali and Trabelsi families, (Leila Trabelsi being his wife), controlled a vast number of companies and real estate, sometimes taken by force. Even distant relatives seemed above the law. Tunisia was their personal treasure chest.”

It is said that the Ben Ali and Trabelsi families controlled between 30% and 40% of the Tunisian economy.

One commentator, Professor Juan Cole, said “the U.S. leaked cables from WikiLeaks suggest that 50 percent of the economic elite of (Tunisia) was related in one way or another to the president or to the first lady, Leila Ben Ali, and her Trabelsi clan.”

We must expect that in time credible information will also come out which will also demonstrate that the Mubarak family and its associates also accumulated a great deal of wealth by corrupt means.

At the same time as the ruling groups in Egypt and Tunisia were enriching themselves, millions among their people faced challenging socio-economic conditions, characterised by high rates of poverty, unemployment, and an unaffordable cost of living.

This meant that not only were millions languishing in poverty, but also that the situation was made worse by glaring disparities in standards of living between the rich at the top and the poor at the bottom of the proverbial pyramid.

But what about the students and the intelligentsia?

In an article headed, “Students Spark Tunisian Uprising”, and published on January 18, Toufik Bougaada wrote:

“After four weeks of street protests in Tunisia, triggered by angry unemployed university graduates, Tunisians have ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled for nearly a quarter of a century.

“The protests started on 18 December 2010 when Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate working as a street vendor, committed self-immolation in protest after police confiscated his stock of fruits and vegetables.

“This sent ripples through society, with many academics decrying day-to-day life, which is rife with corruption, unemployment and hikes in food prices…

“Unemployment is even higher amongst university graduates, with almost 25% of graduates failing to find work…Despite having a better education system than its North African neighbours, the high rate of graduate unemployment in Tunisia means many young people shun third-level (tertiary) education.”

As you know, and as we have just mentioned, the Tunisian Uprising was sparked by the disturbing event when an unemployed graduate, who made a living by selling fruit and vegetables as a street hawker, burnt himself to death.

In this context we should also note that even in Egypt, in part the Uprising was sparked by the death of yet another university graduate, Khaled Said, who was killed by the police in Alexandria.

Early last month, in an article entitled “Brains unused”, Rania Khallaf of Al Ahram reported on a sit-in by university graduates at the Academy of Scientific Research in Cairo. These were unemployed graduates who were demanding to be taken on as lecturers in the Egyptian universities, with some of them, including PhD’s, having been unemployed for seven years after they had graduated.

So acute is the problem that Khallaf’s article concluded with the words; “What is needed is an in-depth review of the problems facing higher education in Egyptian universities and an ambitious plan to make use of Egypt’s brainpower. Again, if there are not enough job vacancies in Egyptian universities, it is high time for the government to find ways to benefit from this brilliant, highly promising manpower.”

Responding to this situation, a February 4 Communiqué of the January 25th Youth (Movement), named after the day the Uprising began, said:
“Egypt’s youth went out on the 25th of January with a strength, courage, boldness and heroism that had been unprecedented for the people of Egypt and completely unexpected;
“So that there would be no difference between the graduates of professional schools and those with lesser degrees;
“To confront the unemployment that has destroyed the lives of Egyptian youth;
“So that 472 youth no longer drown weekly in the Mediterranean Sea, their only crime (being) that they seek work and food to lessen the burden their families bear;
“We came out to protest the lines for (even) propane (gas) bottles and bread;
“We came out to demand an education that allows us to compete among the nations of the world, not an education that allows the world to mock us;
“We came out for the sake of the 52% of our people that are illiterate;
“We came out for the sake of national goals that unite all of us and would allow us to dispense with idling our time in cafes…”

I hope that what I have said so far is sufficient to indicate, among others, the principal objectives of the Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, including issues relating to the students and the intelligentsia.

As I said earlier, it is clear that these Uprisings had as their fundamental objective the victory of the democratic revolution in both countries. However, as the people who constituted the heart of the Uprisings admit every day, the democratic revolutions have not as yet emerged victorious.

It was therefore always a misnomer to describe the Uprisings as Revolutions.

To indicate the challenges facing the democratic forces in Egypt, concerning the fundamental changes for which they fought and are fighting, I will present to you observations made by some Egyptians, which comments speak for themselves.

What I will present to you henceforth will include relatively extensive quotations by various individuals and institutions. I must confess that I chose to rely on these citations to avoid the accusation that I have sought only to convey my partisan views.

In an article published at the beginning of this month, entitled “Time to get serious”,

Salama A. Salama of Egypt says:

“The brief honeymoon that followed the 25 January Revolution, when the army and the people were said to be “one hand,” has ended in mistrust and misunderstanding that the recent reshuffle of the Essam Sharaf government failed to address…

“As it turned out, Sharaf is now catching flak from all sides, with people blaming him for slowing down the revolution, failing to address security, or failing to speed up the trials of former officials…

“Turning to the revolutionaries, we have to admit that they are still a motley crew of well-intentioned but disunited groups and alliances, hard to enumerate or figure out. They have no leadership to negotiate on their behalf or a set of suggested policies to follow. But what this country needs right now is policies that take domestic as well as external considerations into account. We need a government that knows how to tend to economic and social demands while keeping at bay those powers, Arab and non-Arab, that do not wish to see democracy take root in Egypt.”

Towards the end of May this year, Khalil El-Anani published an article entitled “Egyptian Revolution Reconsidered”. He said:

“Although the Egyptian revolution succeeded in ousting the Mubarak regime, it has not yet managed to uproot the ills of its culture, value system and prevailing modes of behaviour. In this sense, therefore, it remains “half a revolution”, or more precisely, a “revolutionary act” that still needs follow-through towards completion…The “heart”, or foundation, of (the Egyptian) state remains unchanged…Change at both levels – the political system and society – is a prerequisite for the completion of any revolution.

“Of course, there is no denying that the Egyptian revolutionary act was sudden and very powerful. However, its major thrust emanated from and remained largely restricted to a particular stratum of society, namely the middle to upper- middle class. It has yet to spread to other strata of society, which remain essentially the same as they were before the revolution. This phenomenon is not peculiar to Egypt. Other countries have experienced similar popular uprisings that succeeded in overturning regimes but did not go as far as to engender radical change in the prevailing values, culture and structures of society…

“The Egyptian revolution can, therefore, be described so far as a minimal revolution – it achieved the minimal level of the dream of the majority of Egyptians, which was the overthrow of the old regime and the prosecution of its leaders and most prominent figures. However, it remains a considerable way off from the upper level, which involves the transformation of social and institutional structures and value and behavioural systems so as to enable society to regain its health and proceed towards the realisation of human development and prosperity…

“Not every outburst of collective anger and frustration is a revolution. Not every defiance and overthrow of an old regime and its legal edifice is proof of a successful revolutionary act. The sole guarantor of the success of a revolution is society itself. Herein lies the crux of the dilemma: the performer of the revolutionary act (the agent) needs a revolution so that the act and the agent can be brought into harmony, and so that the results are consistent with the beginnings.”

Let me conclude these quotations with one from Fatma Khafagy, a women’s rights activist and a board member of the Alliance for Arab Women, extracted from a February article headed “Now for the Gender Revolution”.

She wrote: “I want to see the opposite of what has always happened after revolutions take place, now in Egypt. History tells us that women stand side by side with men, fight with men, get killed defending themselves and others along with men, and then nurse the wounded, lament the dead, chant and dance when the struggle is victorious and help to manage the aftermath when it is not. However, history also indicates that after the success of a political struggle, women are too often forced to go back to their traditional gender roles and do not benefit from the harvest of revolution.

“I am sure the Egyptian revolution will not allow this to happen…

“The Egyptian revolution, as I witnessed every day and night in Tahrir Square, was not only about getting rid of a political system. It was also about creating another more beautiful and just Egypt that would guarantee human rights to all its citizens. I saw young women discussing with young men what kind of life they wanted to achieve for Egypt. I feel sure that the gender equality that was witnessed in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt will now prevail because we need it to create a better Egypt.”

I am certain that the observations made by the three Egyptian commentators I have just quoted would apply in similar manner to Tunisia.

Libya was and is of course a completely different kettle of fish.

In this case, it is obvious that the major Western powers decide to intervene to advance their selfish interests, using the instrumentality of the UN Security Council.

I am certain that many of us here will at least have heard of the independent non-governmental organisation, headquartered in Brussels, the International Crisis Group, the ICG, which focuses on conflict resolution.

Its current President and CEO is the Canadian Judge Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former UN Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

I mention all this to make the point that neither the ICG nor its President and CEO were, or are, or can justly be accused of being in any way sympathetic to the Libyan Gaddafi regime.

But yet, in a Report on Libya issued on June 6 this year, the ICG said:

“Much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the (Libyan) regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no real security challenge. This version would appear to ignore evidence that the protest movement exhibited a violent aspect from very early on…

“Likewise, there are grounds for questioning the more sensational reports that the regime was using its air force to slaughter demonstrators, let alone engaging in anything remotely warranting use of the term “genocide”. That said, the repression was real enough, – and I would, as an aside, add, as was the case in Tunisia and Egypt – and its brutality shocked even Libyans. It may also have backfired, prompting a growing number of people to take to the streets.”

Similar observations had been made earlier by Alan K. Kuperman on April 14, writing in the US newspaper, The Boston Globe. In an article headed “False pretense for war in Libya”, he wrote:

“Evidence is now in that President Barack Obama grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military action in Libya. The president claimed that intervention was necessary to prevent a “bloodbath’’ in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and last rebel stronghold…

“Obama insisted that prospects were grim without intervention… Thus, the president concluded, “preventing genocide’’ justified US military action.

“But intervention did not prevent genocide, because no such bloodbath was in the offing. To the contrary, by emboldening rebellion, US interference has prolonged Libya’s civil war and the resultant suffering of innocents…”

Later in its Report, the ICG said:

“The prospect for Libya, but also North Africa as a whole, is increasingly ominous, unless some way can be found to induce the two sides in the armed conflict to negotiate a compromise allowing for an orderly transition to a post-Qaddafi, post-Jamahiriya state that has legitimacy in the eyes of the Libyan people. A political breakthrough is by far the best way out of the costly situation created by the military impasse…

“Instead of stubbornly maintaining the present policy and running the risk that its consequence will be dangerous chaos, (the international community) should act now to facilitate a negotiated end to the civil war and a new beginning for Libya’s political life…

“To insist that, ultimately, (Qaddafi) can have no role in the post-Jamahiriya political order is one thing, and almost certainly reflects the opinion of a majority of Libyans as well as of the outside world.

“But to insist that he must go now, as the precondition for any negotiation, including that of a ceasefire, is to render a ceasefire all but impossible and so to maximise the prospect of continued armed conflict.

“To insist that he both leave the country and face trial in the International Criminal Court is virtually to ensure that he will stay in Libya to the bitter end and go down fighting.”

Bitter facts on the ground, showing the loss of African lives and the destruction of property in Libya, demonstrate that the ICG was absolutely correct.

The naked reality is not that the Western powers did not hear what the ICG said. Rather, they heard but did not want to listen to anything informed by the objective to address the real interests of the African people of Libya.

They were and are bent on regime-change in Libya, regardless of the cost to this African country, intent to produce a political outcome which would serve their interests.

Earlier this year, on March 2, a senior journalist on the London Guardian newspaper, Seumas Milne, said:

“The “responsibility to protect” invoked by those demanding intervention in Libya is applied so selectively that the word hypocrisy doesn’t do it justice. And the idea that states which are themselves responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in illegal wars, occupations and interventions in the last decade, along with mass imprisonment without trial, torture and kidnapping, should be authorised by international institutions to prevent killings in other countries is simply preposterous…

“The reality is that the Western powers which have backed authoritarian kleptocrats across the Middle East for decades now face a loss of power in the most strategically sensitive region of the world as a result of the Arab uprisings and the prospect of representative governments. They are evidently determined to appropriate the revolutionary process wherever possible, limiting it to cosmetic change that allows continued control of the region…

“(Foreign) military intervention wouldn’t just be a threat to Libya and its people, but to the ownership of what has been until now an entirely organic, homegrown democratic movement across the region…

“The Arab revolution will be made by Arabs, or it won’t be a revolution at all.”

Later, on March 23, he wrote: “As in Iraq and Afghanistan, (with regard to Libya, the Western powers) insist humanitarian motives are crucial. And as in both previous interventions, the media are baying for the blood of a pantomime villain leader, while regime change is quickly starting to displace the stated mission. Only a Western solipsism that regards it as normal to be routinely invading other people’s countries in the name of human rights protects NATO governments from serious challenge…

“For the Western powers, knocked off balance by the revolutionary Arab tide, intervention in the Libyan conflict offers both the chance to put themselves on the “right side of history” and to secure their oil interests in a deeply uncertain environment.”

Seumas Milne’s colleague in the same newspaper, Simon Jenkins, wrote only three days ago, on August 23:

“If (British Prime Minister) Cameron wants to take credit for the removal of Gaddafi, then he cannot avoid responsibility for the aftermath. Yet that responsibility strips a new regime of homegrown legitimacy and strength. This is the classic paradox of liberal interventionism…

“Britain remains enmeshed in the Muslim world. It made a mess of Iraq and is trapped in Afghanistan. It hardly needs another costly and embarrassing client state to look after in this surge of neo-imperial do-goodery. We may applaud the chance of freedom about to be granted to a lucky group of oppressed people, but that doesn’t justify the means by which it is achieved, in another fury of great-power aggression. The truth is that Gaddafi’s downfall, like his earlier propping up, will have been Britain’s doing. A new Libyan regime will be less legitimate and less secure as a result.”

In this regard, four days ago, on August 22, the veteran Guardian correspondent, Jonathan Steele, had said: “Thanks to its crucial role in tipping the military scales in Libya, Nato and the rebels are inextricably linked. Gaddafi had few supporters in the Arab world but there is a justified perception on the Arab street that the rebels are over-reliant on Western support and that the overriding Western motive is access to Libya’s oil…

“The best revolutions are homegrown as they were in Tunisia and Egypt. Those who took to the streets in Tunis and Cairo’s Tahrir Square wanted to regain their country’s national dignity after decades of seeing their rulers doing the bidding of France and the United States…

“The new rulers in Libya face a long road ahead in establishing their legitimacy on the Arab and African stage.”

And indeed they do!

At the end of everything I have said, relating to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, what should the African students do, including you, students at Stellenbosch University!

I am certain that the totality of my comments will have confirmed the reality of which you are aware, that the recent and contemporary processes in North Africa are indeed truly complex.

The first suggestion I would therefore like to convey to you is that in order for you to play a meaningful role in this regard, and indeed in the context of all other significant developments in Africa, you must make the effort to study and understand these developments.

You have the unique advantage that you are students. As a former university student, I know that your principal task is to study. If you do not do this, it would be incorrect to describe, respect and honour you as students!

Further, as my second suggestion, I would like to believe that you will seek to understand African reality not for the pleasure merely of knowing, but because you would want to do what you can to help change our Continent for the better.

In this regard you would, of course, be inspired by what your peers have done in Tunisia and Egypt, who took the lead in the popular Uprisings in their countries, which have served to advance the African democratic revolution.

At the same time you will have been motivated to follow the heroic example set by your South Africans predecessors, such as those who participated in the 1976 Soweto Uprising, and others of our students, before and since.

Quite correctly, you see yourselves as part of the greater family of the millions of students in Africa, determined to act together with your colleagues to reshape our Continent into the kind of homeland you wish to inherit.

In this context, and as my third suggestion, I would like to propose that you make a determined effort to study various documents which constitute all-Africa policy by virtue of having been adopted by the OAU, the Organisation of African Unity, and its successor, the African Union, the AU.

In the context of the topic the SRC asked me to address this afternoon, I would suggest that you give yourselves time to study and debate, among others:

• the Constitutive Act of the African Union;
• the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
• the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa;
• the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption;
• the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union;
• the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance;
• the African Youth Charter;
• the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance;
• the various documents on Human Resources, Science and Technology;
• the NEPAD Founding Document (2001); and,
• the African Peer Review Mechanism.

I mention these particular documents, all of which have been adopted by all the African governments, because they address directly the many political, economic, security and social issues which have arisen in the context of the North African struggles we have convened to discuss, and which, if implemented, would have addressed the concerns of our North African brothers and sisters.

As you study and debate these documents, as my fourth proposal, I would suggest that you ask yourselves and strive to answer two important questions:

• what should be done to position the African Union so that it has the ability to help ensure that all our Member States actually respect the objectives defined in these documents; and,

• what should the African student movement do to help achieve this outcome?

The fifth suggestion I would like to make relates to what has happened in Côte d’Ivoire and what is happening in Libya.

Specifically, in this regard, you should debate what Africa should do, and what Africa’s students should contribute in this regard, to defend and advance our right as Africans truly to determine our destiny, as a sovereign people.

I have been told that some of the intellectuals at our Universities reject the claim we make regularly – to find African solutions to African problems!

The only way I can explain this very strange posture is that these are Africans who have lost respect for and confidence in themselves, as Africans, and who therefore feel obliged to adopt positions which question ours and their right and capacity to solve our problems.

Certainly I have never come across any Europeans or Americans or Asians who would even so much as find it odd that they should assert that they have every right to find solutions to their problems!

I am also convinced, and as I said earlier, that the Stellenbosch University SRC was correct to set as one of its tasks the achievement of what it called “a more transformed campus”.

As a member of the Convocation of this University, I know that certainly under the leadership of our Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Russell Botman, you have been discussing what this means.

Placed within the larger African context, this must surely mean that we strive to ensure that this University does its best not to produce the “Unused brains” to which an Egyptian commentator referred, and that our country, as well, “finds ways to benefit from (the) brilliant (and) highly promising human power” of those who graduate from Stellenbosch University.

Thus should you, the students, together with the rest of the University community, which is my sixth suggestion, continue to engage the critically important issue of how the University should persist in the effort to transform itself so that as an African centre of learning, teaching and research, it also serves as a vital intellectual centre for the progressive fundamental transformation of our Continent, and therefore its renaissance.

I am also very pleased that as students here at Stellenbosch you see yourselves as having shared obligations towards our Continent with the larger collective of other African students.

As my seventh suggestion, I would therefore like to suggest that through formations such as SASCO and other societies, and indeed through the SRC, you should do everything you can to strengthen your links with your African peers, including through a strengthened and more active and correctly focused All-Africa Students Union.

The recent and current events in North Africa have confirmed that Africa’s students remain one of the most vital and courageous forces for the progressive transformation of our Continent, which entirely healthy reality we also know from our own history.

To conclude, and as my eighth proposal, I would like to appeal to you always to remember that you have an obligation to take advantage of the opportunity you have as university students, and therefore Africa’s nascent intelligentsia:

• to empower yourselves to become the quality intelligentsia our Continent needs, by diligently applying yourselves to the exciting task of studying;

• to act to ensure that as you inherit the future as leaders of the peoples of Africa, you will have done your best to help build a better Continent;

• always to honour the truth, to respect ‘the great unwashed’ who are our mothers and fathers, and to have the courage fearlessly to stand up for what is right and just, ready to present reasoned arguments in this regard;

• always to question and challenge even what is conveyed to you by all and sundry as established truths, including what I have said today, acting both as young people and as students who have the opportunity to re-discover anew all truths about the human and material worlds we inhabit;

• never to abuse the fact of your greater access to knowledge to position yourselves as a corrupt and parasitic segment of African society; and,

• never to be tempted to use your learning to sugar-coat a deadly virus of false knowledge you can impart to the Africans, in what our Nigerian fellow Africans would describe as giving poisoned kola nuts you offer to friends, pretending that these were but the traditional African gifts of friendship.

The eminent Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, once said – Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children!

By their actions, your peers, comrades and friends, the youth and students of North Africa, have challenged this provocative observation.

Through your own bold and principled actions, please continue to challenge it!

Thank you.

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‘You’ve got to find what you love,’ Jobs says

This is a prepared text of the Commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

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Address by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe at the Annual Ruth First Memorial Lecture

Programme Director;

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Loyiso Nongxa;

Director of the Wits School of journalism, Professor Anton Harber;

The family of the late Anton Hammerl;

Members of the Ruth First Committee;

The Community of the University of Witwatersrand;


Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am humbled by your invitation to join the list of luminaries who have delivered the Ruth First memorial Lecture before me.

I also wish to thank the Wits School of Journalism for creating this public platform, so that our nation can continue to have a free interchange of different views and draw lessons from our past to chart a way forward.

Before proceeding, I would like to acknowledge the presence of the family of the late South African photographer, Mr Anton Hammerl. It is probably ironic that Ruth First, the person whose life we are honouring tonight, wrote about the Libyan Revolution and its possible pitfalls! Then, 29 years after her murder at the hands of an illegitimate regime, a South African journalist (Hammerl) is killed in the “Second Revolution” in Libya.

Ruth First was such a remarkable human being who made a lasting impression in almost all areas in which she immersed herself.

Such was her commitment to and level of brilliance in her work that I dare say it will take volumes to capture her life and its meaning for us today.

Because the present is but the synthesis of the contradictory forces of the past, learning to reflect on our past helps inoculate us, as far as possible, from the malady of repeating past follies.

So it is all the more advisable to pay heed to the generation that shaped the character and value system of the struggle for justice based on morally commendable claims as we build a people-centred democracy. There could be no sufficient understanding of modern day South Africa and hence the future we are constructing if such understanding does not proceed from the historical consciousness set off by earlier generations.

In this connection, a peek into Ruth First’s biography affords us an opportunity to grasp the permissive conditions from which she emerged to become a titan of our struggle for justice and democracy.

Ruth First was a communist born to communist parents. Her parents were Marxists who became active in the formation and life of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), later the South African Communist Party (SACP).

Continuing with the family tradition, Ruth First joined the CPSA, which was beginning to forge tentative but steady ties with the African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress, the African People’s Organisation and the trade unions. This turn of events signalled the beginning of the CPSA’s long and tested commitment to the fight against national oppression.

So, at an earlier stage in her life as a young white South African woman, Ruth First would have developed a clear if nascent conception of the race/class nexus in the developing South African capitalism. Her grasp of national oppression would have been enhanced by her own family background. Her parents had come from Eastern Europe, a region reeling under the noxious conditions of religious and ethnic persecutions.

This made it possible for Ruth First to develop a heightened sense of justice. Her developing moral universe was thus based on the concerns of international solidarity and exalted humanism. In consequence, coming from an activist family predisposed her to cultivate a sophisticated understanding of the historical process as it unfolded in South Africa, manifested in this symbiotic relationship between race and class.

It is worth remembering that like all key leaders within the Congress Alliance, Ruth First’s thought processes occurred within the ideological parameters of her political home, the SACP.  She was first and foremost a communist who saw, read, and comprehended external reality in Marxist categories.

Be that as it may, being part of a collective did not mean forgoing her individuality; at any rate, her rugged, independent intellectualism could not countenance the culture of conformism and parrotry.

This made it possible for Ruth First to flourish as a thinker, a researcher, a writer and an activist, contributing to the intellectual growth of the organisations she served, just as these organisations created the social milieu propitious for her development. This and other exceptional qualities that Ruth First possessed should inspire us to take a leaf from her copybook today.

Programme Director

For the purpose of focusing our discussion I would like to direct us to the question: what is the meaning of Ruth First’s thoughts in post-apartheid South Africa and post-colonial Africa?

I hope this way of framing the focus of this address will help us identify some of the lessons we can learn from her life with the view to advancing her vision in the present tense.

Since Ruth First’s life was versatile, I will therefore attempt to identify at least three areas which seem relevant to her contribution. These are:

·         Post-apartheid democracy;

·         Journalism and Academic work; and

·         Internationalism.

Programme director,

In whatever we do, our strategic goal as a nation is the building of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, just and prosperous society. This is no mere rhetoric. This vision galvanised the life of Ruth First and her contemporaries in the struggle. It remains the political framework guiding all our efforts in post-apartheid South Africa.

In keeping with this vision, post-apartheid South Africa has brought about meaningful changes in the lives of many South Africans who had been previously excluded from the benefits of the South African nation-state. While the many difficulties we still confront cannot be underplayed, there is universal acknowledgement that South Africa today is better than it was before 1994.

Such is the importance of the relationship between the quality of life and democracy that if we fail the first time in this regard there is virtually no chance of recovery. Without palpable, material changes in the everyday lives of the people, democracy is reduced to a pro-forma status. In substance, we cannot claim to be free when we are only enjoying freedom to vote but not freedom from poverty or the freedom to educate our children and to also extend effective health services to our families; in sum, to create a better life for all South Africans.

A passing glance at history shows that conditions of socio-economic stagnation breed social malaise and discontent. In itself, poverty is antithetical to social cohesion and has the propensity to tear the social fabric apart, creating feelings of insecurity and marginalisation, especially among national groups and the poorest of the poor.

Scarcity of resources leads to social fissures based on a subjective understanding of social conditions, in turn impacting negatively on the process of mobilising our people behind a common vision of equality and justice. As a result, a nation with such a brittle historical identity as South Africa can ill-afford to neglect growing the economy  to address the basic needs of its people while working to deepen common national consciousness.

Conditions of want in societies with a history of fragile social relations are bound to undermine the process of social cohesion, which is often manifested in perceptions of racism, feelings of group marginalisation and pronounced ethnic consciousness. Our case in South Africa is not made any easier by the fact that we are still nursing wounds from the past as a people. As you know it is easier for wounds to hurt than to heal.

In this regard, and given our aforementioned strategic goal, I am disposed to admit that government could have used national symbols more effectively than it has been doing till now in weaving this fabric of social cohesion. At a symbolic level, the enthusiasm with which the people of a country accept and react to national symbols constitutes a useful barometer of how united a country is in its diversity. Going by the experience of the last 17 years, one would be hard put concluding that at this level we have hit the mark.

Nevertheless, even though a room for improvement still exists, from its side, government remains amenable to partnerships that seek to assist in building a united country driven by the values of solidarity and progressive humanism; a society with a clear understanding of the history that has shaped its present character.

And yet if unity of our people is pivotal, the pestilence of corruption menacing the soul of our democracy is a life and death matter on which our future depends. I would contend that after racism, corruption is the second most serious malady staring humanity in the face today. Corruption is cancerous; it eats away at the vitals of society, since it ultimately chokes off key societal institutions.

With this concern in mind government has over time put together a battery of anti-corruption systems. However, in the end it is up to individual members of society occupying positions of trust to heed their conscience. No matter how effective the laws of the land are the fight against corruption boils down to the individual’s sense of right and wrong.

It follows that we need a conscious intervention at the level of education to enable our nation to appreciate the devastation corruption is causing in the long term. We may need to begin exploring creative ways of introducing subjects related to ethics into our school curriculum very early in the development of the learner.

In the end corruption is not a matter of government alone; it concerns all of us, since it affects society at large. It takes political leaders, the media, business leaders, civil society, public intellectuals, academics and communities to identify the root causes of corruption and to mount a sustained struggle to liquidate it from society’s system of thought.

Once again we know that during her lifetime, Ruth First fired consistent broadsides at all defaulters on principles. We know that she rejected the creeping Stalinism of the 20th century with the same gusto that she castigated corrupt, autocratic post-colonial African states. Her forthrightness, eloquence and ability to research issues of social concern with the object of identifying appropriate remedial action would have made a notable difference to the quality of our public discourse on challenges such as the insidious culture of corruption.

Programme director,

Ruth First spent her life fighting censorship. She had envisaged a South Africa where freedom of expression was as essential as the air we breathe. Today’s democratic South Africa stands as a monument to her quest for this noble goal. Accordingly we must commit never to betray these ideals, now or in the future.

South Africa is a constitutional democracy, based on the principle of separation of powers. As you know, the principle of separation of powers means that the legislators make the laws which the executive implements and the courts interpret. As a constitutional democracy, South Africa has as one of its pillars the principle of judicial review.

All her life Ruth First steadfastly held on to the notion that the people are the prime movers of history and therefore believed in their ability to change their own conditions.

So she clearly understood that people are not just passive recipients. She viewed organisations, institutions, leadership and publications as raising agents and not a substitute for the people in the course of the struggle.

Therefore she played the role of an organiser in the media context, using media space to empower ordinary people.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In addition to her journalistic prowess Ruth First is also known for her exceptional academic work. She was an engaged, empirical and activist intellectual both as a journalist and as an academic. Opposed to ivory tower academia, she carried out research with the intention of making a difference in the lives of the people.

Her conception of the role of a university in society leaves us today with some notable tasks. An obvious one among these is the dire need for the African university to be at the heart of African development by leading the charge in the continental efforts to seek African solutions to African problems, while contributing to new forms of knowledge systems. That is the legacy that Ruth First has bequeathed to us and posterity. .

Her academic and journalistic endeavours reflected her political orientation. A prolific writer, some of her works include:

·         117 Days-an account of her imprisonment in South Africa;

·         South West Africa – a study of colonial oppression by Germany and South Africa;

·         The Barrel of the Gun – a study of military rule and political power in Africa;

·         Libya – a profile of colonel Gaddafi and his objectives;

·         Black Gold, the Mozambican miner – a study of the lives of Mozambican migrant labourers in South Africa.

In addition she assisted with other works, such as Kenyan leader Oginga Odinga’s Not Yet Uhuru, Nelson Mandela’s No Easy Walk to Freedom, Govan Mbeki’s Peasant Revolt and also co-authored South African Connection and Olive Shreiner.

Beyond being an academic Ruth First was also a teacher, she dedicated part of her life to teaching so as to empower others.

As her colleague at Eduardo Mondlane University Bridgette O’ Laughlin said in testimony at the TRC:

“In Mozambique (they) started work at seven thirty, Ruth was religious, she got into that car at seven thirty she was at the centre…. She didn’t have much time… Occasionally (they) went to the beach…She wrote the Olive Schreiner book, she wrote most of Black Gold, she learnt Portuguese and did lectures in Portuguese, prepared teaching….she continued to say that besides this she had little time for anything else.”

Again we are inclined to use Ruth First’s labour of love approach to teaching and her other qualities not only as a way of benchmarking our teachers today but also, as a source of inspiration.  We need the selflessness and commitment of Ruth First in putting the interests of our country before anything else. We continue to remind our teachers that they are expected to be in class, on time, everyday, teaching at least seven hours a day.

Inversely, Ruth First and her generation epitomised the ideal teacher; self-motivated and always eager to impart knowledge or to help learners find knowledge themselves.

She valued the inherently transformative impact of education on human development and growth. Similarly, education will play a catalytic role in changing the lives of ordinary South Africans if all of us join hands and launch ourselves into the task of educating society. In this task, one expects our teacher unions to take the lead, equally inspired by these ideals.

Strengthening democracy presupposes an informed citizen with the ability to make sense of their world, to penetrate the interplay of political dynamics and be able to understand the democratic process and their place in it. We know by now that freedom, human rights, democracy and development are better guaranteed in an educated society.

We should remember that at the time she was killed, the most potent weapon in Ruth First’s armoury was ideas and her urge to use them so that they bear on social life. As it later turned out, Ruth First’s death was a cold, calculated murder motivated by the perceived effects of her thoughts on intellectual and political centres in Southern Africa.

As her husband and comrade, Joe Slovo, said: they knew that the whole thrust of her teaching tended to counter some creeping illusions and wishful thinking about PW Botha; that he might be ready to retreat from the essence of apartheid towards a policy of true reform….’ He goes on to say ‘And Ruth was not working in an ivory-tower; the students at the Centre were cadres from the Party and the government, and the dynamism and vigour at the Centre were beginning to influence researchers and scholars from other institutions of learning in Southern Africa.’

Those who work with ideas today face a similarly weighty task of helping bring about positive changes in the lives of people through the medium of a pen. It remains an indictment of historical proportions that despite our democratic space today our public discourse is still bedevilled by the poverty of ideas. Again I think Ruth First would have had a few choice words for this situation.

Programme director,

In substance, South Africa’s foreign policy today is not inconsistent with the internationalism of Ruth First. Although the changing geo-political make-up of the world has imposed certain imperatives both on our country and our continent since Ruth First’s demise, the character of our foreign policy remains consistent with the progressive vision of the world that Ruth First heartily embraced.

In this regard, the preface of the White Paper on South Africa’s Foreign Policy, entitled ‘Building a Better World’, The Philosophy of Ubuntu, says:

‘This philosophy translates into an approach to international relations that respects all nations, peoples, and cultures. It recognises that it is in our national interest to promote and support the positive development of others. Similarly, national security would therefore depend on the centrality of human security as a universal goal, based on the principle of Batho Pele (putting people first). In the modern world of globalisation, a constant element is and has to be our common humanity. We therefore champion collaboration, cooperation and building partnerships over conflict.

This recognition of our interconnectedness and interdependency, and the infusion of Ubuntu into the South African identity, shapes our foreign policy.

South Africa therefore accords central importance to our immediate African neighbourhood and continent; working with countries of the South to address shared challenges of underdevelopment; promoting global equity and social justice; working with countries of the North to develop a true and effective partnership for a better world; and doing our part to strengthen the multilateral system’.

In addition to this humanism, we are also driven by the reality that South Africa cannot make headway in terms of development surrounded by conditions of under-development, which, as it turns out, constitute a dead weight on the development of the whole region.

We should also emphasise that South Africa’s foreign policy is not a government possession; it is a policy for all South Africans. What follows from this view is that, as Ruth First did, South Africans of different backgrounds have to interact with the rest of our region on business and social levels.

The free movement of people, goods and services in our region is the goal we want to see achieved, because at the end, a strong regional economy will provide us with the opportunity to attract much needed direct foreign investment so that ultimately we are able to improve the quality of our people’s lives.

On the international front, much still needs to be done in terms of transforming the institutions of global governance. The recent examples of Libya and Coire d’Voire point to challenges of unequal global power relations and how the developed North continues to ignore the yearnings of the rest of humanity in the developing South, with impunity.

Notwithstanding this scarred global political landscape, we will, together with the nations of the South, and using such vehicles as BRICS, continue to press for reform of the global institutions of governance and raise up the voice of the downtrodden South, and in this way strive to achieve an equal, peaceful and better world that Ruth First envisaged.

Ladies and gentlemen,

On a different note, history has taught us that even the most glorious liberation forces are no exception to what in most former liberation movements across the world have come to be known as ‘the sins of incumbency’.

It is easier to mobilise the masses of oppressed people behind a common vision than to hold them to higher ethical standards once the goal has been reached. This is a challenge that has faced all post-colonial societies over the years.

The humanist vision that held us together under the rubric of social justice can very easily deteriorate into individualism, greed and selfishness that go against the grain of our ideals as a people.

Ruth First saw this deformity of principle playing itself out in some post-colonial nations on the African continent and spoke out against it with a rare clarity of mind.

But she also understood that the creation of national states on the African continent was an outside imposition often not reflective of local realities. Present day African states did not evolve as socio-historical entities defined by internally coherent subjective consciousness.

Unlike European nation states, they were designed from outside to suit external interests. In Africa ethnic communities were separated by this contrived political process, leading up to unmanageable post-colonial socio-political difficulties.

Post-colonial Africa suffered this congenital affliction, which, in turn, shaped the nature of African political relations. The notion of a one party state is an offshoot of this reality. In many cases the political leadership took the decision to impose a one-party state with the stated aim of managing the complex poly-ethnic dynamics.

As you know a one party state has a limited life-span, invariably marked by civil wars, revolutions or other forms of social upheavals. The situation in Libya and many other African countries today typifies this history.

This is a perspective that is often ignored outside the academic environment in trying to make sense of modern day Africa and its unique difficulties.

In conclusion, I am convinced that this legacy that Ruth First has left us, is imperishable.  It also throws up a number of lessons.

First, the killing of Ruth First was ‘an act of ultimate censorship’, to cite the memorable words of Ronald Segal. And yet ideas do not cease to exist just because their thinker is no more. In fact ideas attuned to the needs of the age tend to assume a life of their own.

Ruth First’s ideas are immortal because they come out of and speak to the human condition. Her empirical orientation meant that she would focus her research on the material conditions of the oppressed. We recall here her investigation into Namibian conditions (then South West Africa), the series of reports exposing these conditions to international and national readers which galvanised international pressure on South Africa to give up its control of Namibia. All along she was doing all this work in service of a vision, which ultimately materialised when Namibia attained freedom as a sovereign state.

The life of Ruth First reminds one of the words of Che Guevara, the South American revolutionary, that ‘if you tremble with indignation at every injustice, you are a comrade of mine’. Not only did Ruth First quake with anger at the injustices visited on fellow humanity, she made an effort to change them.

Secondly, our social background should not prevent us from criticising others with the aim to correct or build.

Her social provenance as a white woman on a continent under European colonialism did not limit nor inhibit her desire to speak her mind, all along bolstered by the primacy of principle. She would not be silenced, and for that earned the respect of all her comrades, including those from African nations to which she had made a contribution.

Thirdly, basic humanistic precepts should prevail on us to volitionally acknowledge that colonialism and apartheid have wrought damage to our nation at all levels.

If we accept the history of our present conditions we may be well-disposed to accept that some conscious action is needed to undo the damage we have suffered. More than anything admitting to mistakes of the past promotes a climate of reconciliation and helps us move on.

Fourthly, no government is perfect; mistakes will always happen. Accepting criticism and conceding to our errors without imputing evil motives to those committed South Africans who point out our mistakes with the best interests of our nation at heart should be as normal as voting for any party we choose.

Lastly, if we are to make anything at all from the life of Ruth First, and if we are to learn lessons that can serve our current needs, we need to learn to appreciate her in totality, the inter-connection between her politics, her activism as well as her journalism and academic orientation.

After all it was this unique combination that equipped her with the strategic orientation that enabled her to better appreciate the particulars and universals of human experience, and to act accordingly.

As the American Civil Rights leader and the universal icon of freedom, Dr Martin Luther King, would say, ‘…when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodyness – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait’! None of our people should be expected to wait.

I thank you


1.    First, Ruth (1965) 117 Days;

2.    Building a Better World: The Diplomacy of Ubuntu, (2011)Government White Paper;

3.    Guevara, Che,;

4.    Sechaba (Obituary of Ruth First), 1982;

5.    The African Communist, 1982.

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Statement on the meeting of the South African National AIDS Council ( @SANAC )

The South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) on Friday, 12 August 2011, met in a plenary session in Bloemfontein, Free State Province.  The meeting was chaired by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and attended by ministers and deputy ministers, representatives of civil society sectors as well as the Premier and MECs of the Free State Province.

Policy in Action

The plenary was convened under the theme “Policy in Action”, which aims to deliberate on a wide range of interventions towards scaling up interventions to tackle the dual epidemic of HIV and TB.

In 2009, government made far-reaching policy changes to expand access to treatment, care and support to groups identified as critical to efforts to reduce morbidity and mortality. These include pregnant women, people who are co-infected with HIV and TB and HIV exposed infants who test positive at birth.

Recent studies point to some encouraging signs that reflect the impact of these policies.   According to the Medical Research Council studies on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the rates of transmission from mother-to-child has been reduced  from 10% to 3,5% nationally. The decline in AIDS related deaths is also an encouraging reflection of the expansion of the treatment programme in South Africa.

Progress on HCT Campaign

In April 2010 the country embarked on a massive HIV counselling and testing campaign seeking to test and screen 15 million people for HIV and other chronic diseases.  The campaign has been a tremendous success with millions of people responding to the call to know their HIV status. 

Over the 15 months of the HCT campaign, 14 million people have been counselled and more than 12 million have tested for HIV in the public centre. In addition, 1.5 million were tested in the private sector. This reflects a 6 fold increase in the number of people testing for HIV over the previous year. Of those tested, 2 million people were found to be HIV positive and were referred for further care.

The campaign also highlighted that fewer men have tested than women, and that there are still important sectors, such as religious and private sector, that need to demonstrate more visible leadership in testing for HIV. It was agreed that SANAC will embark on a targeted campaign to encourage more men and people at high risk of contracting HIV to present themselves for counselling and testing.

The Deputy President also urged all South Africans who tested positive to go back to return to theirlocal clinic to receive care.

While the campaign period was April 2010 – June 2011, the HCT programme is continuing to encourage all South Africans to know their HIV and TB status.  The HCT campaign will be continue to work in in farming areas, hostels, factories, construction sites and institutions of learning as part of the new NSP.

New criteria for eligibility to ARV treatment

Government has increased capacity to care for people living with HIV and require antiretroviral treatment.  The number of public facilities now providing comprehensive ART has increased from 490 to 2001.  More than 1750 nurses have been trained on Nurse Initiated and Managed ART (NIMART), making it possible for professional nurses to put people onto treatment.

In a further boost for our treatment programme, SANAC has endorsed the National Health Council (NHC) policy to initiate treatment for all those who test positive with a CD4 count of 350 or less.

Consultation towards a new Strategic Plan for HIV and TB

The current National Strategic Plan on HIV, AIDS, STI and TB (NSP) 2007 -2011 comes to an end in December 2011.

SANAC today officially launched the first Draft of the next NSP and announcedthe process that will lead to the development of the new National Strategic Plan on HIV, AIDS, TB and STi’s 2012 – 2016. The NSP development process will culminate in the launch of the NSP 2012 – 2016 on December 1, 2011 – World AIDS Day.

The objective of the NSP development process is to ensure that all people in South Africans have the opportunity to participatein the development of the plan that will guide South Africa’s response to HIV, TB and STI’s over the next 5 years.

The process will be coordinated through the SANAC secretariat and overseen by the Programme Implementation Committee (PIC) of SANAC.

Copies of the plan can be obtained from- to allow the public to provide feedback on the process.

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Of foolish black middle class & race

The most important lesson blacks must learn from the Chinese is that whites will take them seriously the day blacks distinguish themselves in the field of knowledge production, technology and wealth creation.

DIFFERENT GOALS: Pupils of all races write examinations. But, says the author, their goals are different. Black pupils are aiming at comfortable government jobs and rampant consumerism, white pupils are aiming at economic independence by starting their own enterprises and make money in the private sector.

Once blacks have collectively reached higher levels in this regard, whites will be forced to think of them in the same way they respect the Chinese.

They will see blacks as people who are worthy of genuine respect, not the current pretence by many whites in South Africa.

If blacks want to get to this stage – where they are taken seriously by whites – they need to stop playing marbles and begin to take intellectual work seriously.

The aim, though, must not be to please whites, but to register their presence and make a contribution to the world of scientific knowledge and technological innovation.

When the black elite begin to do this, they will in turn improve the socio-economic development of their poor brothers and sisters.

In South Africa, the vast majority of poor blacks still look up to a white man for a job and if the black elite do not wake up from their slumber, this could still be the case in the next 100 years.

We know by now that Kwame Nkrumah’s call for blacks to seek the political kingdom in the hope that the economic kingdom would follow was grossly misleading.

To this day, the economic kingdom has yet to be added unto the African countries that gained independence in the 1960s, including Nkrumah’s own country, Ghana.

While they have political power, their “power” is meaningless since it fails to bring food to the tables of millions of poor Africans. As such, freedom is nothing more than an eviscerated animal.

Indeed, WEB Du Bois was correct in his cynicism: “The most piteous thing amid all this was the freedman who threw down this hoe because the world called him free. What did such a mockery of freedom mean? Not a cent of money, not an inch of land, not a mouthful of victuals – not even ownership of the rags on his back.”

How can the millions of blacks in South Africa think they are free when they still languish in poverty?

How can the millions of blacks see themselves as free when they still kneel before a white man for a job?

How can the millions of blacks call themselves free citizens when the white man from whom they seek work tells them to go and tell Nelson Mandela to give them jobs?

How can the millions of blacks feel like freed men when they have not an inch of land, not a mouthful of victuals, and not even ownership of the rags on their backs?

Parallel to the poor conditions of black people are the opulent conditions of a minority of white citizens whose situation makes it possible for them to have a more vivid imagination of heaven. They live blissfully here on earth.

When you visit the best restaurants in the most up-market suburbs, you find the restaurants always brimming with whites having a good time.

You only count one or two black heads that look like lost goats in a herd of sheep.

To these millions of cruising white South Africans, the idea of black freedom is more comical than a joke. They are very happy that apartheid spatial planning continues to shield them from hordes of poor blacks who live in shanty towns, rural areas and in the townships.

So determined are whites not to share public spaces with poor blacks that they have literally moved out of the city centres.

To a visitor the Johannesburg CBD creates the wrong impression that there are no whites in South Africa.

They now have their shopping malls in the middle of their suburbs. But because it is illegal to have whites-only public spaces, blacks find ways to go wherever these plush malls are.

Thanks to the much-hated taxi industry, there is no stylish white shopping mall that a poor black person cannot reach – even if they go there to spend their last dime on basics like mealie meal.

If blacks wish to change their economic conditions, they must disregard Kwame Nkrumah and seek the economic kingdom now.

The black middle class will have to wake up from their collective slumber and begin to work hard and be productive.

They will have to stop hankering after big cars and expensive alcohol as their ultimate purpose in life. Worse, the flashy cars they drive and the snazzy fashion they wear are not made in Africa – they are made in Italy, France or China.

So foolish are the black middle class that they detest clothes that are made locally and they do not drink alcohol that is brewed by a local brewer.

If blacks are to make a move towards economic liberation, they must first learn an important lesson from history: that no nation ever achieved greatness on the basis of hedonism.

Countries that chase consumerism without limits – such as the US – are periodically prone to calamitous bubbles.

The Chinese are not respected by whites because they wear expensive clothes or drink expensive whisky, but because they produce and innovate.

For the black middle class to begin thinking like this, they need to be shaken out of the comfort zone of government jobs and to be imbued with a new spirit – a brave spirit that does not fear risk.

The fear of risk is the killer of initiative.

In post-colonial African states, the black middle classes mainly dream of government jobs.

You find thousands of university students studying social sciences, especially the disciplines that are related to the work of state departments.

On acquiring their first degrees, they all clog government departments with applications.

Their first employment signals the end of learning for these people. The spirit of learning dies an instant death, and the fear of books takes over their lives like a powerful demon.

To assuage their collective guilt, they develop and support each other in spreading public aversion for intellectuals.

In other words, they hold hands in their blind agreement to roll down the abyss of darkness.

In this self-defeating and dangerous mentality, the black middle class is not alone; it is supported by politicians who are themselves entrepreneurs of ignorance.

As Chinua Achebe wonders: “For how else could you account for the fact that a minister of culture announced in public that he had never heard of his country’s most famous novel, and received applause – as indeed he did again later when he prophesied that before long our great country would produce great writers like Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen, Bernard Shaw and – raising his eyes off the script – Michael West and Dudley Stamp.

In their comical attempt to project themselves as knowledgeable, the black politicians are, ironically, leaders in ridiculing those who are educated.

The drunkenness of political power blinds them into thinking that everything that has life must kneel before the judgement seat of politics.

Thus these politicians see themselves as omnipotent super-beings that are in control of every aspect of life.

They think they know everything and that they are the most powerful animals under the sun.

Thus does a constructionist outlook emerge in most African societies, a mentality that is based on the belief that politicians are builders of society and that citizens sit like passengers on a bus whose destination is known only to the driver – the politician.

This is an oppressive rather than a liberationist attitude.

Parallel to the black middle class stands a white middle class in South Africa.

These are descendants of grandfathers who engineered the economic and political disempowerment of the African majority.

Unlike its black counterpart, the white middle class has real wealth, inherited from the grandfathers of racial oppression.

More importantly, these white grandsons and granddaughters have inherited good education; an education that taught them the direct opposite of Kwame Nkrumah’s misleading lessons to blacks.

As white parents and other supporting institutions foresaw the impending collapse of the political edifice of apartheid, they intensified their focus on the economic content of their children’s education.

Economic freedom became the core of white education.

Children were told that blacks would take over political power and that white kids must work hard to retain economic power.

While there are publicly vigilant associations of white interests that constantly raise the alarm about the dangers of affirmative action policies, most white youths do not want government jobs.

They want to start their own companies and make money in the private sector.

Those who worry about affirmative action are mainly concerned about its application in the private sector, not in government.

While both the black and white middle classes share the same public spaces – dine at the same restaurants, live in the same suburbs, drive the same cars, etc – there is still a social distance between them.

They hardly know each other; they hardly ever intermarry; and, indeed, they hardly trust each other.

The mistrust between whites and blacks has very deep roots.

Generally, whites have accepted that blacks have the political power, although they do not think blacks are capable of governing.

The daily stories of corruption and maladministration in black-run municipalities are interpreted to validate the perception of most white South Africans.

On their side, most blacks think whites have an agenda against blacks in general and their government in particular.

This is an excerpt from Prince Mashele’s new book: The Death of our Society.You can order it from:

Originally appeared in The Sunday Independent


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