Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Sibling rivalry?
Moeletsi Mbeki, Chairperson of the South African Institute of International Affairs, and brother of President Thabo Mbeki, made some very interesting comments yesterday regarding Africa and South Africa's place in it.

He commenced by stating that "Africa was experiencing a downward spiral, with its people worse off than they had been during the time of colonialism." This has been a point of view touted by a few commentators in the past few years, and it is still one which is highly debatable. It all comes down to the terms of reference of "better off". In relation to infrastructure, GDP and governing structures, African countries were probably better off under colonialism, but often to the detriment of the country, as much of the agricultural production and raw materials were largely exported to the colonial mother country. European skills, capital and machinery were typically leveraged by the colonist to maximise the plundering of the colonialised and whilst this assisted in enhancing GDP and building better infrastructure, the GDP per capita was still largely skewed toward the colonist 'pioneers' and away from the indigenous people. So if "better off" is referenced in terms of the colonised people's freedoms, pride and personal standards of living, then I would say that they weren't in such a stable position. However, one has to weight it against the corrupt and often violent leaders throughout Africa, and this is were the debate becomes fuzzy, because it is very difficult to measure the extent of personal suffering. Suffice to say that neither is a particularly attractive prospect, because this colonial merit debate will always remain just that, a debate.

However, Moeletsi Mbeki said something even more interesting in his speech.

What should South Africa do about this? "It should revisit issues and stop putting out fires in Darfur until we address this fundamental problem of power relations between producers and controllers of political power," Mbeki said.

On Zimbabwe, he said South Africa should intervene on the side of democracy and not back Zanu-PF. "Our intervention should be to support democracy and not tolerate use of violence, torture and rigging of elections and, if necessary, we should support the opposition," he said.

Well, we all know how Thabo hates criticism from anyone and how he responds, but criticism on his foreign and domestic policy from his own brother? This should be very interesting. I don't know of the strength of the relationship between the Mbeki siblings, but it must have taken some guts for Moeletsi to make his views known.