Mmusi Maimane: To be free, Africa must be liberated from its liberators
This is an extract taken from a speech delivered by DA leader Mmusi Maimane on November 29, at the 62nd Liberal International Congress in Dakar, Senegal. Maimane received the 2018 African Freedom Award on behalf of the DA.
This year marks the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela – a man whose life came to symbolise the transition from colonialism to liberation. He recognised that apartheid, just like slavery, was a system that could be broken.
Nelson Mandela is a hero to me, and many others, not only because he liberated Africans, but also because he helped to liberate the oppressors. He was that rare leader who could free both the jailed and the jailer and unite them in a new mission.
This is, in a sense, what the DA is trying to achieve. To build a party of all races who recognise the injustice of our past, but who know that our only hope of breaking down the system of economic exclusion is if we unite and pool our efforts.
And here, again, we can look to the Senegalese for inspiration. For a country that is over 90% Muslim, to have elected a Christian President as their first democratic leader shows what is possible when values are placed ahead of religion, race or language.
In South Africa, it is only the Democratic Alliance that is pushing for such a society. No other party is even trying, and they aren’t trying because it is hard.
Our project, in the DA, is unprecedented. We’re trying to build a strong centre – a political home for all South Africans, regardless of race or language.
We’re offering voters the option of an alternative government that is based on shared values rather than shared race or ethnicity. And, in our historical context, this is very difficult.
We’re asking South Africans to look beyond their differences and their historical allegiances, and to work together to rebuild our country. We are trying to strengthen our democratic institutions like our judiciary, our free press and our bodies of investigation and prosecution, while others have done all they can to subvert them.
We are trying to protect our Constitution and the rights contained therein, while others are doing their best to chip away at it.
We are trying to break down the walls between the economic insiders and outsiders – walls that were built through years and years of patronage politics.
We are trying to build a free and open society with opportunities for all – opportunities that arise from enterprise, trade, increased investment and entrepreneurship.
A society that can only be realised in a liberal democracy with a market economy, a capable state, a zero tolerance for corruption and a Constitution that guarantees its people their rights, including the right to own property.
A society that rejects nationalism, racism, cronyism and populism.
This is the road we have chosen. And it is a far harder road to travel than the one chosen by the populists. But it is our only hope.
Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot do this alone. And neither can any of you. Our success in South Africa, and your success in your countries, will require many allies. Together, we can rewrite Africa’s story.
If our continent is to overcome centuries of exploitation and misrule and claim its rightful place in the global economy, it will be because our liberal ideas and our liberal values prevailed.
We can’t wait for people to come over to our way of thinking. We must go out and make the case for a prosperous Africa we want to see. And we must simply ensure that we paint a more compelling picture than our opponents are doing.
Populists win because they offer dangerous answers to legitimate questions. They don’t make up these questions. They latch onto real issues that aren’t being answered well enough by anyone else. They recognise the importance of economic inequality to further advance their message. And they get away with preying on people’s fear, anger and exclusion because there seems to be no compelling alternative. We cannot allow that to happen.
We must join those conversations – no matter how difficult they may be – and ours must simply be better answers.
Ladies and gentlemen, we’re not fighting separate battles across Africa. Ours is a common goal that becomes more and more achievable with every ally that joins us. Just as my party is the last line of defence against the creep of populism and the tyranny of corruption in South Africa, you, as the defenders of liberal values in your own countries are our continent’s hope.
While the old guard is still turned to the past, we are the ones facing in the right direction. Africa does not need backward looking leaders or parties that were once glorious. We need people and parties who can imagine Africa’s future and potential. We don’t need politicians who are only in it for themselves – big, self-important men who see government as a way of becoming rich. We need selfless leaders who understand what it means to serve.
We don’t need populists who prey on people’s anger, fear and frustration. We need enlightened and pragmatic leaders – protectors of our constitutions and defenders of human rights.
We don’t need nationalists and racists who try to use our differences to pit us against each other. We need men and women from all walks of life whose only goal is to unite us as a people and fight for everyone’s future.
We need an Africa where trade and venture capital replace aid and charity.We need an Africa that invests in the infrastructure that will allow us to trade better among ourselves, so that goods don’t take an eternity to reach our neighbours. Yes, we still need European and Asian markets, but we must use the huge potential at our own doorstep.We need an Africa where basic human rights are sacrosanct. An Africa with strong institutions that will relegate dictators like Omar al-Bashir to history.
I know there is a new generation of leaders in Africa. I see many of them here in this room. This is our time to stand up and make a difference.
The struggle for independence has come and gone. Ours is the next struggle. We are the generation that must liberate Africa from its liberators.
If the 20th century was the century of African independence, then the 21st Century must surely be the century in which Africa gains its freedom.