The devil is in the execution of Africa’s ideas

Dr Nkosana Moyo held his audience rapt last Friday when he addressed a gathering of the African Leadership Network. The network is a platform for leaders to forge partnerships that will foster economic growth on the continent. The idea is that the relationships among African leaders will lead to greater intra-African trade, investment and collaboration.

The network has founded the African Leadership Academy, a state-of-the-art, Johannesburg-based school for young Africans from across the continent that aims to mould them into future African leaders. As a former minister in Zimbabwe and now leader of the Mandela Institute for Development Studies, Moyo was there as a guest speaker to inspire, challenge and provoke. He did all of that.

First he said that, although he lauded what the ALN sought to do, if those who are part of the network are to make a difference in whatever they do, they must first understand where we are, where we came from and where we are going.

He set out two examples as illustrations of where he thought two regional neighbours had failed the continent. He started with his own country, Zimbabwe.

He said that, although land redistribution was necessary, the country’s leaders had failed in the execution. The chaotic way in which it was done allowed those opposed to the idea to use the negativity about it to create fear and uncertainty for those yet to take such a bold move. What needed to be repeated, he said, was that the idea itself was right but the implementation had been a failure.

“When you fail in execution, beware of making the incorrect assumption that the idea was wrong,” he said. This failure, he said, had left countries such as South Africa dithering and hamstrung and unable to move decisively on the issue of land.

The second country he cited as having failed the continent was South Africa. Here he mentioned the fact that xenophobia towards fellow Africans has been allowed to take hold in the country. He recounted what we already know or should know about the support that the ANC and other liberation movements received from other African states when they were banned in South Africa and in exile.

Why was such an important part of history not widely articulated to ensure that there was a sense of kinship, acceptance and tolerance among Africans? This, he said, was the result of poor leadership.

In the economic realm, Moyo lamented the lack of cohesive thought and planning that would have propelled all of the continent to the next level. When he observed the current debates about pay and labour in South Africa, Moyo said, he saw a society in which a post-apartheid dispensation has not been subjected to sufficient debate about what it aspires to be.

The alliance forged to fight apartheid, he said, had in a sense not reconfigured itself for the role it should now play, which was to drive economic transformation – hence we see so many divisions, especially over economic policy.

Sometimes the ties of the old do not help us beyond a certain point. I think the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and its constant criticism of the national development plan is an example of this.

Identity and confidence were also central to Moyo’s theme. He said the worst thing apartheid and colonialism did to Africa was to make us doubt who and why we are. If we were consistently told we were not good enough, we have by now internalised it – and it manifests itself in so many ways.

“Our self-definition must be re-examined and grounded,” he said, “so our children have a different reference point.”

One certainly doesn’t want to get caught up in the romanticism of the “Africa rising” narrative, but I’m always curious about new ways we can find to allow us to believe and to build. That is the prism through which I like to look at things, and it was meaningful for me when I attended the mining lekgotla in Midrand last week. This is a sector that finds itself in the crosshairs of tension in South Africa because of the Marikana tragedy.

It is the alpha of our industrialisation. The country as we know it was built on mining. It was, as the South African Mining Association’s Peter Temane argued during a lively debate, instrumental in implementing the then government’s policies. How, then, can it be confounded in doing the same with as much enthusiasm in the country in which we live in now?

It’s because debates on redress have been rattled by swearwords such as “nationalisation” and “Aurora”. As a country, because

we know where we have been and how we got there, we shouldn’t be afraid to deal with redress decisively just because execution has failed along the way. The idea is still the right one.

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