Tokyo Sexwale served a total of 13 years on Robben Island as a political prisoner with Nelson Mandela, until both their release in 1990. He was a member of the Black Consciousness Movement in the late 1960s before he joined the ANC in the 1970s. After the 1994 election, he was the first Premier of Gauteng province, later served as Minister of Human Settlements and is currently an Honorary Colonel in the South African Air Force.He founded Mvelaphanda Holdings (Pty) Ltd, primarily a mining and energy house with a range of other business interests. He is also a trustee and founder of the Sexwale Family Foundation and the Desmond Tutu Peace Trust. He is a member of the Brookings Institution International Advisory Council, and of FIFA’s Global Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination, and its Media Committee. He is also the founder of Global Watch: Say No To Racism and Discrimination in All Sport.He was interviewed by reGina Jane Jere
As we celebrate this special son of Africa, let us first remember that we are dealing with someone who always described himself as a commoner. Not because of forced modesty; but he always saw himself as a very small dimension in the story of mankind.
And we are also dealing with a human being who, although an African, was able to reach the global heights that only he – Nelson Mandela – could achieve.
Before I can take stock of how his legacy is being translated into our lives today, I must draw your attention to this vital but often missed point: Madiba is the only human being on this planet who managed to get the full support of the UN – a debating chamber with the most divergent global views, where all types of differences, conflicts and all manner of warfare are discussed.
In the UN chamber they don’t agree on Jesus Christ or the Prophet Mohammed, they don’t even agree about God. But when it came to the values of Nelson Mandela, they all agreed and hence unanimously passed a resolution declaring 18 July the Nelson Mandela Day, to be celebrated by all mankind.
This is one of the key elements that marks the Mandela Centenary, if we are looking to highlight the kind of personality and leader that Madiba was, as we remember him during this milestone.
But to put this celebration further in context, we should also remember that the man we often celebrate as emblematic or as a global icon, always and emphatically said “I am not perfect”; he continuously also reminded us that he was “not an angel” and publicly declared that he “failed as a parent”.
His children, including Maki, your Guest Editor for this edition, will attest to that. So Madiba himself will say a lot about failure. I personally learnt a lot about failure from him in the 15 years I spent with him at Robben Island and after his release. He taught me how to come to terms with failure.
We should also remember that the man we often celebrate as emblematic or as a global icon, always and emphatically said “I am not perfect”; he continuously also reminded us that he was “not an angel” and publicly declared that he “failed as a parent.
That said, how do I take stock of the world, Africa and South Africa in particular, over the 100 years of Madiba? First of all I have to set out Madiba’s Pan-African stance to understand where the great man’s ethos partly came from.
The fact that he was seen as, and still is, a symbol of peace and justice – that alone sets him apart, because that is what defines a great freedom fighter. But most importantly, as a member and leader of the ANC, he was someone who was also a Pan-Africanist.
The ANC’s message of Pan-Africanism, which resounded throughout the world during the freedom struggle, and particularly reverberated on our own continent, was made clear when its original name, the South African Native Congress, was changed to the Africa National Congress.
Even the National Anthem says ‘Nkosi iSikele Africa’, not South Africa. That example and message of the ANC was absorbed and became of one of Madiba’s guiding principles as a Pan-Africanist and it is therefore within that context that we should view the world before Madiba, the world during Madiba’s life and the world we have today as we celebrate his 100th birthday.
Africa’s liberation is not total
But to what extent have we achieved the total liberation of Africa that Madiba promoted and wanted? That is the crux. In my view, yes there has been liberation, but it is not so total.
Yes, we have been able to move from physical colonialism, when the land was completely taken by occupying foreigners and foreign armies – English, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Germans. And yes, that part of the liberation has somewhat been won and we pushed them out, politically, during the liberation struggles. But did they really leave? Not really, they returned using other doors and forms of colonialism – economic and financial.
And when we are talking about progress having been made in the world in the past 100 years of Madiba, which world are we talking about?
There have been two worlds: In as far as the bigger world and in the perspective of freedom and justice and everything else Mandela taught, the tensions have been reduced. Even the immediate threat of a thermal nuclear war has subsided. There is no Soviet Union vs. the United States of America. There are flashes yes, but the tension that could spark a nuclear war today has subsided.
We should also recall that Nelson Mandela became the President of the first country to de-nuclearise. He disempowered South Africa of its thermal nuclear capacity – in so far as research of nuclear weapons, their production, their stockpile and their use is concerned. That is our policy in this country to this day.
Thermal nuclear weapons can end humanity; the entire history of mankind can end with these weapons. Therefore when Madiba did that, it was a telling message and he followed it up with his message of using the language of dialogue – a Madiba legacy that is finding itself more on point in the current world order, in which we have people like President Donald Trump coming in. But knowing the Madiba I knew, he would still have engaged Trump in dialogue. He would engage him because he has engaged with some of the worst people in the past for peace’s sake. And even in prison he engaged with the fascists, the very jailer who put a key in the lock of his cell for 27 years – if he could engage with those people, he would engage with a President of America. Madiba was able to engage anybody on any issue because he was fearless. And on any issue affecting us today or during his life, Madiba would be the last person to throw out his toys.
As such, dialogue is what we are piloting each day at the Nelson Mandela Foundation – where his legacy is being promoted with an emphasis on dialogue, peace and reconciliation. That is the bigger worldview we should be remembering Madiba for.
Better is not a cure, Africa is still ill
Is Africa a better place today or have we let Madiba down? Well, as far as peace, justice and economic development in the world as a whole and on this continent in particular are concerned, we can argue that we are better off.
But the word ‘better’ does not solve problems. When someone is ill and the doctors tell you that you are better, what they are saying is that you are still ill. So when we are saying Africa is better today, we are saying so philosophically and practically. We are better off in the sense that we don’t have the colonial political yoke around our necks any more. That is gone, but we shouldn’t forget that we also passed through another stage; no sooner had we removed these colonialists than they came back by engineering coup d’états, proxy governments, and other means and still stayed on the continent.
We can give many examples, such as what happened to Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba etc. But now with the African Union decrying coups, no one can do that any more, so in that sense, Africa is better.
Is Africa a better place today or have we let Nelson Mandela down? Africa is better off in the sense that we don’t have the colonial political yoke around our necks any more.But the word ‘better’ does not solve problems. We are still ill economically, because our economies are still tied to the colonial masters. The foreign financial system has its hands on the African throat and the dollar can make or destroy an African country in a day.
However, not much economic development has been achieved since political freedom, and although strides are arguably being made, the truth is that we are still stuttering economically. It is the low level of economic development, the poverty and inequalities, that we should crucially take account of as we take stock and look at Madiba after 100 years.
Africa is better, but she is still ill economically. And Africa’s ill-health is poverty – precipitated by very low levels of economic development. Why is this? Because our economies are still tied to the colonial masters. Although they left with their armies, they came back in through another door – which is financial. The foreign financial system has its hands on the African throat and the dollar can make or destroy an African country in a day.
But while we are grappling with making inroads economically, and tackling financial colonialism, a new and in my view the most dangerous form of colonialism is emerging – technological imperialism.
I personally think this is even worse than what we have seen before in many ways. My growing fear, as we celebrate the milestone of one of Africa’s greatest sons, is of this technological threat.
The lack of our own technological development should be Africa’s greatest fear right now because this new threat is affecting Africa and all that Madiba stood, for at a very frightening speed. We have become the technological have-nots.
As we remember Madiba today, and how his values impacted the world, my greatest fear for his motherland is our lack of technological know-how and ownership, and the fact that unless we do something really quick, Africans will be technology-dependent slaves of other people for a long time. And if we continue to remain technological have-nots, Africa will continue to serve other people forever – and that is not an ideal Madiba fought for.
Let’s look at it this way, as an example – which African country has ever produced its own aircraft since the Wright brothers first invented the first successful aircraft in 1903?
Which African car is out there in the world, being driven on global roads? Why is Africa mainly known for just assembling cars made in other parts of the world? We do that here in South Africa, but there is not a single ‘Made in South Africa’ car. Not even a scooter is made in Africa, before I even talk about the large machinery that drives power stations, or that you find at African airports or harbours.
Additionally, technology today is getting more and more micro. The world is now in the 4th generation of these technologies, yet as technology moves on, which computer desktop or laptop is widely made in Africa? In the meantime, things are moving at the speed of nanoseconds. Decisions made in the Pacific realm, resonate in California within seconds.
So as I remember Madiba today, and how his values impacted the world, my greatest fear for his motherland is our lack of technological know-how and ownership, and the fact that unless we do something really quick, Africans will be technology-dependent slaves of other people for a long time.
But of course there is also the issue of education – which Madiba was profound about. Because whatever we do in Africa is all going to depend on our children developing skills such as those that my friend Steve Jobs developed, what Bill Gates has developed, what Huawei is developing in China, what Japan has done with Samsung.
There are some desert countries now that have more technology than Africa has. Therefore to fight back, we urgently have to start with building advanced technology and consolidate that. To do so, the correct kind of education needs to be taught. We cannot keep up with this fourth-generation technology, by teaching our people and children stuff like theology or geography.
And if I can narrow everything down to the country of Nelson Mandela, which has the most advanced industry on the continent, the land of Madiba has clearly not been able to remove the economic shackles.
Yet it is here, in South Africa, where you find most of the former imperialist and foreign institutions. The G7 are all here, the G9 are all here. Not one of them is an investor in South Africa. Here where I am sitting with you – the Gauteng province – is the gold of South Africa. This is where the money is made, but who owns the system that drives this wealth? That’s a big issue.
So what can we do about it? It boils down to the policies that have been implemented by our African governments, side by side with the policies of the new AU. The answers lie there. And as we take stock, we need to pay attention and be serious about joint efforts targeting Africa’s development, to achieve the Africa that would make Nelson Mandela proud. Nobody else is going to do it for us.
Africans must always remember that the colonial monkey – through economic, financial and now technological domination – is still on our backs. But the more we do things for ourselves, the more the chances of removing it.
It is good now that we are going to have the African Common Market. But is also all about how we are going to share our markets– be they financial, commercial or goods markets, but also importantly, technological markets.
This is why it is important that Africa has come up with the Kigali Declaration. It is one way of softening the borders that were imposed on us at the Berlin Conference in 1884 – a historical baggage and colonial monkey which is still on our backs, and which compounds Africa’s problems.
The Chinese have three billion people and one border, India has three billion people and one border. We too should soften these Berlin borders on our continent, if we are to remove our economic shackles and help the African Common Market to flourish. This is why countries like Nigeria, which is a large economy in Africa, must reconsider their decision on the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA).
To sum this up, firstly, Africans must always remember in all this that the colonial monkey – through economic, financial and now technological domination – is still on our backs. But the more we do things for ourselves, the more the chances of removing it. And by saying so I am not saying we should be reckless, because we live in a globalised world; we have to work with them because we live in an interconnected global village.
The second dimension is the need to end the divisions amongst us and Kigali showed us the way forward through the CFTA, which must be followed up by speeding up the one African passport.
Goods and services must move. If you shackle the very thing that your survival and competitive edge depends upon for investment, then we will continue to have problems. Free movement will facilitate that and the sooner we start taking the Kigali declaration forward, the better for Africa and realising the ideals that Madiba espoused.
But I must emphasise that we simply have no time. Action and change need to happen now! Africa should be afraid of being left any further behind by technological advances and if we continue to remain technological have-nots, Africa will continue to serve other people forever – and that is not an ideal Madiba fought for.