See: 2013 budget speech
Category Archives: Politics
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.
Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward.
It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.
Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come.
I want to thank every American who participated in this election… Whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time.
By the way, we have to fix that.
Whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone… Whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference.
I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign.
We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honour and applaud tonight.
In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.
I want to thank my friend and partner of the last four years, America’s happy warrior, the best vice-president anybody could ever hope for, Joe Biden.
And I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. Let me say this publicly: Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you, too, as our nation’s first lady. Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes you’re growing up to become two strong, smart beautiful young women, just like your mom. And I’m so proud of you guys. But I will say that for now one dog’s probably enough.
To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics… The best. The best ever. Some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning.
But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together and you will have the life-long appreciation of a grateful president. Thank you for believing all the way, through every hill, through every valley.
You lifted me up the whole way and I will always be grateful for everything that you’ve done and all the incredible work that you put in.
I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late in a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.
You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift. You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse whose working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.
That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.
That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.
But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future. We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers. A country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation, with all the good jobs and new businesses that follow. We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this – this world has ever known.
But also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war, to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being. We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag.
To the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner. To the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president – that’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go – forward. That’s where we need to go.
Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin. Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over.
And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you, and you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.
Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual. You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do.
But that doesn’t mean your work is done. The role of citizens in our Democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.
This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores. What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth.
The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.
I am hopeful tonight because I’ve seen the spirit at work in America. I’ve seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbours, and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job.
I’ve seen it in the soldiers who reenlist after losing a limb and in those SEALs who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them watching their back.
I’ve seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm.
And I saw just the other day, in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his 8-year-old daughter, whose long battle with leukemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for health care reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care.
I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father, but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd listening to that father’s story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes, because we knew that little girl could be our own.
And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That’s who we are. That’s the country I’m so proud to lead as your president.
OBAMA: And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future.
I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.
I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.
America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.
I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.
And together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.
Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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;
4. Sechaba (Obituary of Ruth First), 1982;
5. The African Communist, 1982.