Saturday, April 23, 2016

Reflections on the Mbeki Articles and What Next
April 21, 2016
Opinion & Analysis
Max Boqwana

Having shared with you, the readers of this platform, President Mbeki’s response to a number of questions and issues referred to in my December 2015 article, the question on the minds of many is

“What next”?

“The imperative of our epoch has charged us with the task of transforming ourselves from the status of objects of history to the masters of history” – Thabo Mbeki: Sechaba – March Issue 1979.

The article “Tell no lies: claim no easy victory” was the last of the series of articles by President Thabo Mbeki dealing with historical distortions and falsehoods. The article sought to remind all of us once again of the context and the purpose of these articles.

Having shared with you, the readers of this platform, President Mbeki’s response to a number of questions and issues referred to in my December 2015 article, the question on the minds of many is “What next”?

Before responding to that question we wish to provide a quick reflection on the articles already published, and at the same time thank you sincerely for taking time to engage with these articles, and, importantly providing us with useful feedback.

Since the commencement of the series, we have had 8,5 million hits across our social media platforms. These reflect people who viewed the articles, shared and commented on them. We have also received hundreds direct feedback through emails, letters, calls and direct conversations. We have further been invited for public discussions in particular by the young people in our country and other countries in the SADC region. We have honoured some of these invitations where we could, and are considering others.

As expected, the greater numbers of the readers were from South Africa, followed by the United States, the countries in the SADC region and Nigeria, in that order.

The Facebook responses to the articles communicate the following sentiments:

--There are those who agree with the facts proffered in the articles: in this group some attest that they have always known the truth and were aware of the falsifications, while others submit that they were genuinely unaware of these facts. As such, they have asserted that the articles provided important education. As Tselane Mohau, one of our Thabo Mbeki Facebook followers. reflected on the articles:

“These letters will finally correct the many lies that we have been fed. We have actually been fed people’s opinions and not facts, so it means our history is based on people’s opinions not hard facts”.

--There are also those – a small minority – who howl in derision and seek to convince all of us that since they are the undisputed authors of authentic history, their opinion must, as a matter of necessity, be accepted as the genuine reflection of public opinion, regardless of any correct factual basis. Within this group there are some who without any provocation, express unjustified anger and rage and continue to hurl insults. Zinavai Chapanduka puts it aptly in his response to this minority:

“Mr Thabo Mbeki cannot be censored by the likes of Mr Hartley. Numerous politicians and other parties will be unnerved by some of the great man’s words. [It] is perfectly understandable that some will quarrel with him, many will find course to challenge him. That is what open debate is all about. However, insults have no role in civil intercourse”.

More importantly there are those who, inspired by the articles, seek further engagement in particular on contemporary issues affecting our country and the continent.

In this context we are considering the appropriate response as to how to proceed from here. What is clear at least to us is that there is a genuine and widespread interest in the kind of open engagement which was generated by the articles.

The interest in this process has been demonstrated particularly by the young people of our country who were not politically aware or active during the period when President Mbeki served in senior positions both in the ANC and in government.

Regrettably, as from today, there will be no regular articles from President Mbeki while we consider what should be done next, in a comprehensive manner. However, of course it would have been very clear to all our readers that the Mbeki articles sought to address the important matter of the quality of the public discourse in our country, and emphasised the task to combat the use of lies, fabrications and misrepresentations to advance any particular agenda.

Unfortunately, we continue to see the persistent manifestation of this nefarious practice to this day.

To continue and take further the discussion started by the Mbeki articles, from next Monday, we will post, on this page, articles which were originally published in ANC Today in 2005 under the heading, “The Sociology of Public Discourse”.

We have found these articles to be as relevant today as they were when they were written many years ago. We honestly believe that they will also assist to guide the nature and character of public discourse today even among those who had previously read them.

In this regard our readers will of course understand that the details contained in the articles are more than a decade old. Accordingly, and perhaps unnecessarily, we would like to advise our readers to study the articles with a primary focus on what they propose concerning the principles which should inform a healthy and productive public discourse, bearing in mind the challenging task facing our nation as a whole to achieve the historic goals set out in our constitution.

In addition, we request that our readers should pay particular attention to this paragraph in terms of this communication. Our readers will of course study in the 2005 articles we will post bearing in mind the reality that over the last 11 years, the situation in our country has changed in many important respects.

This relates to all the political players, including the ANC and others. It would therefore be wrong to try to transpose what was factual reality in 2005 and present this as being the same factual reality in 2016. This is why we have urged that as they study the 2005 articles, our readers should essentially focus on the matter of the principles of the suggested healthy public discourse , not misled to think that the factual situation in 2016 is the same as it was in 2005, including as this characterises today’s political players.

Indeed, the situation as presented in the 2005 articles, read today, tells the obvious story that changes in our factual political reality have taken place over the last 11 years. In itself, this presents the opportunity to discuss what these changes are, and how they impact on today’s Sociology of Public Discourse in our country!

In the meantime, once again we wish to express our gratitude for the interest you have shown in our work and the education we have received from yourselves in the past three months .Without seeking to impose an extra burden on you, we would like to invite you to join our immediate activities which seek to respond to some of the issues troubling our nation.

In the end, to paraphrase President Mbeki, we think constantly of the noble objective of pursuing the realisation of the aspirations of the peoples of Africa to rise from the ashes, to achieve their Renaissance, to reaffirm their dignity amongst the nations, to depend on their native intelligence and labour to transform their dreams into reality, acting in unity as Africans.

 Max Boqwana is CEO at the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.

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