By Jordan Stier
On 25 May 1963, an historic meeting of African leaders contributed enormously to the culmination of colonialism on the continent, the first great act of what would later be termed “Pan-Africanism”. Now, 52 years later, this continent has changed significantly, and so has the understanding of what Pan-Africanism entails. It is an important part of our cultural heritage, yes, of course. But what is it? To discuss what the term now means, and what the 21st century Pan-African should be doing for her continent, Former President of South Africa Kgalema Motlanthe came to Rhodes University for the Pan-African Youth Dialogue’s (PAYD) 2015 Africa Day lecture.
The talk, more than anything else, showed the stark contrast between the active political mind of the youth who tackle tough socio-political issues on a daily basis, and the stagnant political jargon that so often floods a populace’s eardrums from the partisan politicians at the helm of such societies.
Motlanthe rambled on for nearly an hour in an attempt to define the 21st century Pan-African mind. Yet the blunt emptiness of his sentiments, in terms of being applicable to an active African society, was immediately noticeable in the many questions posed to him after his speech. Issues such as xenophobia, South African exceptionalism, neo-colonialism, racial polarisation, institutional culture and AU elitism were brought about, and the way his definition contributed to the solving of such perennial problems was obviously null-and-void.
Similarly, he was questioned about how one should go about attaining the idealistic notions he constantly hinted towards, from cultivated humanism, human solidarity and a society that is “beyond race”. To almost all the questions posed to the former president, his answers were hollow and unhelpful. It soon became apparent why his tenure in office felt as though the country had been put on pause for seven months.
This separation between the political elites’ so-called “tackling” of issues and the issues actually faced by the continent’s inhabitants is eerily reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The time has come for the interests of African people, and not African leaders, to be served on this continent. This is the true definition of Pan-Africanism, and the Pan-African should therefore be constantly thinking of solutions to these very real problems, rather than mucking about in partisan finger-poking and the endless fight for leadership that dominates these problems in our media.