Mbeki: Tribalism rears its ugly head
A resurgence of tribalism needs to worry us all, former president Thabo Mbeki has said.
Speaking at the Bethesda Methodist Church in the north of Johannesburg last night, Mbeki said Africa needed citizens who were agents of change to realise its dreams and opportunities for development.
He said the continent’s dreams for renewal were expressed in the policies of the African Union and did not need further elaboration, but the challenge was their implementation.
Mbeki said the prevalent idea that Africa was available for the taking should be contested by citizens, saying African people needed to take charge of their own future.
However, he singled out ethnicity as a major problem that had hobbled development in many African countries including Sierra Leone, where he said the two dominant parties had mobilised around ethnic and regional lines, eliminating any sense of common national identity among the people of that country. He said ethnicity had led to violence in Kenya in the aftermath of the 2007 elections.
“I suspect that we need to learn something from that (Sierra Leone) lesson. Because I see that worrying trend even here at home of the resurgence of tribalism, of people talking about this or other tribe,” he said.
Mbeki lamented the tendency of people to put up car stickers that proclaimed that they were “100% Venda” or “110% Tswana”. He said it was “sad and tragic” that it came up at a time when the ANC was celebrating its centenary last year. The party was formed in 1912 to “bury the demon of tribalism” among Africans and replace it with a national identity.
“I am sure all of us need to be very concerned about a regression to tribalism … One hundred years later, this demon is raising its head,” he said.
Mbeki said there was nothing wrong with people celebrating cultural pride, but said the abuse of identity to define access to political power was a problem.
“If you wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me what I am, I’d say, ‘I am an African’.
“I might say I am African because my great-grandfather was Zulu, my father was Xhosa, my mother is Sotho. I have mixed blood,” he said.
Responding to a question about leadership, Mbeki said people did not need messianic leaders, but needed to be their own liberators.
He said such leadership caused people to disengaged, and to delegate thinking to their leaders.
It was also important for the growing economies of the continent to benefit the people, he said.