We sink or swim together: Mbeki

President Thabo Mbeki is to ask the government for money to help women to play their role in the transformation of Africa.

“We have to look at what we can do from government’s side, if we are serious about the empowerment of women and the involvement of women in changing the continent,” he said in Midrand on Saturday night.

“I’ll put this to the government. I do not think they will disagree.”

At a banquet ending a conference entitled Women in Dialogue, arranged by the spousal office in the Presidency, Mbeki said he would also recommend the establishment of a presidential working group on women.

There are a number of presidential working groups dealing with interest groups like big business, black business, youth, religion, agriculture and the religious community.

“I am going to put this to Cabinet this week,” Mbeki said. “I think they will agree.”

The president was doubtful whether South Africa’s women were organised well enough to play their role in transforming the continent.

“I don’t think we are.
But I might be wrong.”

He described as “peculiar” complaints from elements in civil society that they were not being consulted regarding the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) and the African Union.

“For us who have been part of the struggle… it would have been very, very strange if anybody came to complain and said: ‘You have not invited me to participate in the struggle to end apartheid.’”

A radical transformation of Africa was necessary to end poverty, the oppression of women and the marginalisation of the continent.

“We must regain our dignity as Africans and not look at ourselves as inferior.

“Why does any African need to be invited to be involved in the process?”

The changes needed were too fundamental to be handled by government alone, and needed the involvement of the African masses.

“How do you need to be invited to change your own life for the better?”

Mbeki cited a number of examples of co-operation on the continent.

These included South Africa stepping in at very short notice to help Mali stage the African Cup of Nations last year.

Local experts were sharing their know-how with librarians of Mali on how to preserve about 40 000 precious ancient manuscripts kept in precarious conditions in Timbuktu.

South Africa had also been very closely involved with the process towards peace and democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was not because his country wanted to lay its hands on the Congo’s diamonds, Mbeki said.

“The reason is that as African people we will not succeed in our tasks of our own renewal if the problems of the Congo are not solved…

“We are faced with the reality of weak African economies with the attendant poverty. We are faced with the challenges of peace on the continent and the need to establish democratic systems.”

What South Africa had done, was to give expression to the concept and practice of African solidarity.

“... We sink or swim together, not because we don’t want to sink, but because we want to swim.”

But South Africa could also learn from Mali, a country with an economy the size of Polokwane, the president said.

Despite their poverty, the Malians had solidarity months during which they paid particular attention to those who were particularly poor, like the elderly, the disabled or widows.

He got to know about this practice while on an official visit to the west African country.

“We felt very jealous as South Africans. We battle with the notion of voluntary service…

“That process in Mali says it is possible to mobilise our people in the process for change.” - Sapa

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