SMANGALISO MKHATSHWA | Economic freedom central to making Africa a world player in all respects

Continent should no longer be a conveyor belt for colonialism

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There was ululation when visionary African leaders launched the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1963. The message was loud and clear – Africa will be liberated and will no longer be conveyor belt for colonialism.  

On the contrary, it would support movements who fought for the interests of the total liberation of Africa. To some extent, this was the culmination of Kwame Nkruma and Patrice Lumumba’s dream of a seminal United States of Africa.

When the 21st century dawned on us, we realised that economic freedom was central to making Africa a world player in every respect, especially in a globalised environment.  

SA was given the honour of hosting the launch of African Union (AU), a successor to OAU, in 2002.  

As we celebrate Africa Day this week, we need to ask ourselves some critical questions: What political, social and economic progress has Africa made during this honeymoon period?  

Some analysts think that while Africa has made some positive strides. It has also retrogressed.  

One only has to look at economic and political stranglehold that some European countries still have on their former colonies.

Without romanticising Africa’s contribution to global civilisation, it is only fair to refer to an aspect of that glorious history.  

When ancient Roman scholars spoke about Africa they did so in glowing terms, such as “ex Africa semper aliquid novi” – loosely translated, out of Africa there is always something new.  

They were aware of Africa’s contribution to ancient civilisations, especially in science, mathematics, medicine, architecture, engineering, philosophy and the arts.

Ancient Egyptians invented mathematics and divided it into arithmetic, algebra and geometry. This knowledge was later passed on to the Greeks.  

Egyptians also engaged in engineering, construction, shipbuilding and architecture. They then imparted their vast knowledge to the Greeks, most of whom became very famous, such as Plato, Pythagoras, Eudoxes the mathematician and astronomer, Hippocrates and many others whose work reflected the great and pervasive influence of the black Africans.

The great Egyptian civilisation was followed by some millennia later, by the civilisations of Nubia Aksum, Mapungubwe, Ghana, Mali and Great Zimbabwe.  

In contrast, the European “pseudo historians” of the 19th century argued that there were no human beings on earth who were divinely endowed with intelligence, fortitude and wisdom except them.

About blacks, they were absolutely sure that these were not only incapable of making any significant contribution to human civilisation, but were in fact sub-humans.

In this regard, historian Basil Davidson observed: “None of this rather fruitless argument, as to the skin colour of the ancient Egyptians before arrival of the Arabs in the 7th  century AD would have arisen without the eruption of modern European racism during the 1830s.  

“It became important to the racist, then and since, to deny to Africans any capacity to build a great civilisation. We should dismiss all that. What one needs to hold in mind is the enormous value of ‘African Genius’.”

Pixley ka Isaka Seme also added his voice when he addressed Columbia University students in 1906: “Come with me to the ancient capital of Egypt. Thebes, the city of one hundred gates. The grandeur of its venerable ruins and the gigantic monuments of other nations. All the glory of Egypt belongs to Africa and her people.

“It is not through Egypt alone that African claims such unrivalled historic achievements. I could have spoken of the pyramids of Ethiopia, which, though inferior in size to those of Egypt, far surpass them in architectural beauty; their sepulchres, which evince the highest purity of taste’ and of many prehistoric ruins in other parts of Africa.”

Ongoing archaeological excavations reveal an ancient and pre-colonial Africa of considerable achievement. The Mapungubwe society, once situated in parts of Limpopo and considered the foundation of Zimbabwe culture, has been associated with the Iron Age, with iron, copper and gold smiths among its artisans. The Mapungubwe people traded with India and China, among other civilisations.

Then followed the ruthless plunder and subjugation of Africa through slavery, colonisation and imperialism. These vicious manoeuvres did not go unchallenged. The challenges to European supremacy culminated in the emergence of African movements for liberation.  

After SA achieved freedom in 1994, discussions got under way to create an organisation to focus primarily on Africa’s development in its various forms. That led to the launch of the AU in 2002.

  • Mkhatshwa is chairman of the Moral Regeneration Movement, former ANC MP and former Tshwane mayor

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