On Friday 28 September, the University of Johannesburg was privileged to welcome the Director of the African Institute for Economic Development and Planning (IDEP), Dr Adebayo Olukoshi to deliver an International Leadership Platform Public Lecture on “South Africa/Africa Relations.”
The public lecture was hosted by the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, Prof Ihron Rensburg, who gave the welcome address. Prof Adam Habib, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Library, was the Respondent to the public lecture; Prof Chris Landsberg, Head of the Department of Politics, Dr Pinkie Mekgwe, Executive Director of the Division for Internationalisation, and Dr Sydney Mufamadi were among other dignitaries. Known for his engagement in some of the world’s most prestigious activities, Dr Olukoshi is not only a prominent figure as far as economic development is concerned, but is also known for his incredible affiliation to international affairs. Dr Olukoshi has a wealth of experience in various domains and clearly aims to include as many people as possible in the change he has in mind. In his introduction, Prof Chris Landsberg gave a detailed overview of his relationship with Dr Olukoshi. This was followed by an opening remark by Dr Pinkie Mekgwe and two song renditions by the UJ choir.
The Public Lecture outlined the historical processes in the development of Africa. Before that, however, Dr Olukoshi gave his audience a few accounts relating to his days as a student. According to Dr Olukoshi, the most important tip for the international student is “to be at home by claiming ownership of the area in which one inhabits outside of one’s original home.” His suggestions point to the fact that living in a foreign country can be a challenging experience for many students.
Dr Olukoshi stressed the significance of understanding our continent’s history if we were to comprehend its current situation and make reliable predictions about the future. For the sake of convenience, he focused on South Africa’s historical foundations that accounted for the visible changes. He divided these historical foundations into four varied but interdependent ages: the era of solidarity, the period of euphoria, the age of mutual discovery and the era of harsh realism.
Era of solidarity 1960–1994: this period is significant due to the mobilised solidarity of the newly independent African countries to liberate the continent. This solidarity was made significant by the statement of Kwame Nkrumah on the independence of the new Ghana that “Ghana’s liberation will not be complete until the rest of the continent is liberated”. In the words of the Professor, “Nkrumah indeed is an ideal Pan-Africanist”. The shared solidarity of the continent was evident in the response of other African countries to the apartheid era. This was demonstrated by sanctioning and breaking of diplomatic ties with the apartheid regime. Furthermore, other African countries opened their doors to South Africans. In the 1970s, from Dakar to Lagos and from Conakry to Yaoundé, there was an inclusion of South African history in the teaching syllabus from the high school to university which was not in the curriculum and this was to build understanding of the struggle that was being waged. OAU was formed under this solidarity, to galvanise the continent and its solidarity showed what the power of coordinated action could achieve. This was in part because the apartheid government itself was more powerful than its immediate neighbours. Collective action worked towards introducing liberation in Southern Africa. The people-to-people dimension of the struggle was more powerful than the government diplomatic initiations. This demonstration spurred the government into action.
The period of euphoria stemmed from the era of solidarity and was distinguished by the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. The release of Mr Mandela from prison was a widely celebrated event not only in South Africa, but also across the African continent. This period began to raise discussion on what Africa would look like post-apartheid and these ideas came after the reconstruction of OAU into AU and the formation of NEPAD and Pan-African parliament. There were discussions on the future of Africa’s international relations. On one of the meetings held at the South African Institute of International Affairs, the summary of the reflections were that South Africa was moving to economic freedom; it had many problems which it would resolve on its own and Africa should not expect aid from South Africa. According to Dr Olukoshi, that was a shock and an insult. A statement from Parliament was that South Africa was not fully supported in its fight and that whatever Africa did was because it was expecting something in return from South Africa. This was the most important message from this period.
The third epoch is referred to as the age of mutual discovery. It was during this period that competition within post-apartheid South Africa was most evident. This was democratic South Africa attempting to build civilisation and opening up its border. In this self-discovery, competition sought to out-weigh collaboration in the post-apartheid era. This is shown by the need for a visa to enter South Africa and imposing anti investment policies. South Africa should build lasting relationship with other African countries in order to ensure Africa is strong among the unity of nations.
This period was also characterised by cases of migration into South Africa and the rise in cross-national investments between South Africa and other African countries. It is pertinent to take into consideration the fact that Africa will not fully reap the benefits of growth until competition is placed aside and people unite.
In his response, Prof Habib outlined how the South African academia had become “divorced” from the African academy and the assumption that South African economists believed that there was nothing to learn from Africa while the African economy had grown. He believed that there should be an integration of South African academy with the African academy. That is why the University of Johannesburg is involved in this continental agenda through its Division for Internationalisation. Prof Habib also responded to what Prof Olukoshi said about the period of euphoria when South Africa believed that Africa assisted them just because Africa was expecting something in return. He said that the Mbeki administration made an effort to remedy this by recognising that South Africa was indeed part of Africa by getting involved in peace keeping missions and negotiations in other African countries. He added that South Africa had made some massive investments in institutional architecture through partnership with countries like Nigeria and had convinced the world to make investments in Africa. Furthermore, he mentioned that South Africa opened investment borders to Africa citing the success of the private investments while regretting the failed ones. Prof Habib warned that South Africa’s inclusive investment was tied to trade partnerships with the rest of Africa and that it could not achieve this in abstraction. He advised that South Africa should strive to increase competitive trade relations with Africa. This relationship should be built so that mutual benefit would be enjoyed in the long term. He ended by lamenting the leadership problem in Africa and the failure of leadership in the continent.
It is important that every individual becomes aware of their environment by participating in the changes that take place at political, economic and social levels. International students are encouraged to claim the ground on which they stand and to continue to work productively towards the achievement of their goals. After all, true hard work does pay off!
Prof Chris Landsberg chaired the questions session and Dr Olukoshi responded.
Dr Sydney Mufamadi thanked the speakers.
By Mitchell Dibua, BCom Undergraduate student, University of Johannesburg