Challenges of Governance in Africa, with Former President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe and Dr Khulu Mbatha
On Wednesday 13th September 2017, the Oxford University Africa Society, together with the Blavatnik School of Government and the Africa Oxford Initiative, hosted Kgalena Motlanthe, former president of South Africa, and Dr Khulu Mbatha, long serving member of the ANC.
The starting point of the conversation was Dr Mbatha’s new book 'Unmasked, Why the ANC failed to govern’, but this served as an entry point to talk more widely about the challenges of governance in the continent. The talk and subsequent open discussion are available to view.
Dr Mbatha left South Africa in 1976 in the aftermath of the students uprisings and joined the ANC in exile. He returned in the early 1991, after the ANC ban was lifted, and contributed to the historic negotiations that occurred in SA in the following 4 years, first from the office of the Secretary General, then in the presidency.
Dr Mbatha believes there are many questions that arose during this period and have yet to be answered and that it is of interest to both active participants in politics and the general public in SA as well as abroad to understand what has happened to SA, what direction is ANC following and what happened to its mission. Dr Mbatha sought to answer those questions and establish the current state of politics, leaderships and ethics in SA and believes that policies are at the root of the problem, therefore policies must be at beginning of a solution.
About the early onset of the current struggles in SA, Dr Mbatha said:
The change, the transformation which South Africa has to go through, although it started in 1994 with the establishment of democracy, is far from complete or perfect. Many of us had thought 1994 was everything under the sun, and when today we see that things are not going the right way, we think that those that came before us and faced these challenges sold out. Nothing farther from the truth. They had their shortcomings and they were simply products of their time. Every generation has its tasks. [...] The reality of the South African story is that there was not insurrection or total victory, but a negotiated settlement with give-and-take resulting in compromises.
In the book, Dr Mbatha analyses the history, motivations and pitfalls of these compromises and the difficulties of transforming the ANC from a liberation movement into a political and governing party. Dr Mbatha adds:
No one can ignore that the legislative framework that characterize the apartheid government has been removed. At the same time, it is crucial to realise that the mere removal of this terrible legislation has not for millions of people translated into economic emancipation.
One of the figures that fought for the removal of the apartheid is HE President Kgalena Motlanthe, who was charged with terrorism in 1977 and imprisoned on Robben Island for 10 years. He has occupied top positions of ANC and the government, culminating in his presidency between 2008 and 2009, when he was succeeded by president Jacob Zuma.
President Motlanthe highlighted the role that bad governance has in the life of people and societies and mentioned the current migratory fluxes from Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa to Europe as one of the consequences. He said:
While pandemic to the African continent, such difficulties are not immutable laws of natures or deigned specifically for the people of our continent. Instead, they are historical continents, they are embedded in and reflect a particular history of Africa.
President Mothante vindicated the work done by the first governments but recognised that institutions need to be strengthened for leadership to deliver.
Poor government is mainly a function of flimsy political systems where the judiciary lacks independence, the executive commands disproportionate power, independent media is week, civil society exists in name only and the basic rights of citizens, including socio-economic and political rights, are virtually non-existent. In such cases, no systems of check and balances exist.
He argued that without these basic rights, no good governance is possible or durable, in relation to this, he commended the recent developments in Kenya, which showcase an independent and effective judiciary.
Africa needs a transformed judiciary, that relates to and understands the realities of the society it is rooted in.
President Motlanthe did not shy away from criticizing the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has been accused by many African state and non-state parties of anti-African bias. These accusations received further gravitas when they were formally endorsed by the African Union.
About the project of an African Court for Human Rights
Such court is not envisaged as a substitution for the ICC. Instead it is an initiated necessitated by the seemingly inadequacies that have been attendant to the ICC in the short time of its existence. [...] The people of Africa deserve justice. Whether justice is dispensed from within Africa itself, or outside, is not the point. [..] It is an indictment of the human race that such inhuman acts as crimes against humanity, often ignited by economic interests from outside Africa itself, can continually recur on the same planet which is largely indifferent while up to the eyeballs in decadent luxury, not unrelated of course to the proceeds of such theatres of war.
As an example, he quoted a report by former secretary of the UN Kofi Anan at the World Economic Forum that stated that 'The continent is loosing more from illicit outflows of money than it receives in aids and foreign direct investments'.
President Motlanthe concluded his speech returning to the question of good governance.
It is therefore the duty of all of us, Africans and non Africans alike, to build institutions attuned to a yearning of peace, stability, human security as well as development and social advancement.
He believes that the destiny of African humanity is too special to be left in the hands of only elected officials and invites Africans of all backgrounds to participate in their own liberation and remain engaged in civil society and politics.
Most of what we have envisioned through the construction of institutions during the birth of our system of democracy is under threat of gravy hands of self-serving leaders.
Africans must know that no political party, no matter how popular, "should be let to get away with the impression that it can substitute itself with the masses of ordinary Africans".