“One epoch with its historic tasks has come to an end. Surely, another must commence with its own challenges. Africa cries out for a new birth; Carthage awaits the restoration of its glory.”
Thabo Mbeki echoed the haunting words of Nelson Mandela as he addressed students at the African Student Leaders Summit. His address was centered around students locating themselves and their role in the transformation of Africa. Mbeki has always been the intellectual force behind the African renaissance and who can forget his colossal awakening of our spirits as he reminded us what it means to proclaim “I am an African”. In addition he has cemented his dedication to the renaissance of African epistemology by establishing the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Initiative with UNISA, a well spring of African enlightenment.
This address is a must read treasure trove of wisdom. He opens his address with a historical narrative of the city of Carthage, reminding us that we are not isolated beings simply living here and now, but that we are part of a story that began long before our conception. That we are connected to a larger, richer and more significant struggle to see Africa reclaim its rightful place as a co-creator in the tapestry of human history. He narrates the destruction of Carthage:
“The students of history among us will be familiar with the protracted struggle that took place between Africa and Europe in ancient times, covering a period of more than a century. This period includes the so-called Punic Wars which broke out during the years 264 – 146 BC, involving a titanic struggle between the African Carthage and European Rome.
I am certain that even those among us who are not students of history will have heard of the great African general, Hannibal, who, during the Second Punic War from 218 to 201 BC, invaded Italy from Spain and brought Rome to the brink of defeat.
Though Rome emerged victorious from both the First and the Second Punic Wars, it entertained intense hostility towards Carthage and in the end decided that permanently to defeat the Carthaginian empire, Carthage itself had to be destroyed.
A famous Roman senator of the day, Marcus Cato, Cato the Elder, led the campaign for the destruction of Carthage. It is said that whenever the Senator spoke on any subject, he would end with the words, in Latin – ceterum censeo delendam esse Carthaginem – ‘besides which, my opinion is that Carthage must be destroyed’. The ominous words of Cato the Elder were also rendered in a more direct form – Carthago delenda est! – Carthage must be destroyed!
And indeed the Third and last of the Punic wars ended in 146 BC with the destruction of the ancient African city of Carthage, which the Romans carried out with extreme barbarity. This marked the destruction of African independence in this part of our continent, which now became the Roman province of Africa.”
The self-determination and sovereignty of Africa was taken captive and held hostage by Roman Imperialist chains. 1500 years later the entire continent would suffer a much more devastating fate. Carved out, divided and shared among colonialists with a blatant disregard for the humanity, dignity and self- determination of the people to whom the continent had given birth to. Another struggled ensued and through sweat, blood and toil Africa re-claimed its independence.
However in the words of hip hop artist from The Roots, Black Thoughts, “the struggle ain’t up in your face it’s more subtle”. And that is what Mbeki goes through great pains to illustrate. The struggle is much closer to home, it’s against tyranny, bureaucratic corruption, dictatorships and authoritarianism, it is against neo-colonialism, poverty, inequality, illiteracy. It is a struggle not of brute force but of knowledge, ideas and mental frameworks of how Africa ought to be, and how it ought to get there.
Mbeki goes on to highlight many challenges that faces institutions of higher learning: under-funding, overcrowding, under-staffing, lack of infrastructure, lack of opportunities, lack of basic services. All of this resulting in intellectual capital flight: where African students become the most mobile and seek education abroad. This results in them sowing their minds and reaping fruits in foreign soils while Africa remains barren. And so Mbeki lays the challenges that we as students, scholars, workers, professionals, entrepreneurs, lovers, dreamers and pioneers of the continent must confront in order to construct the edifices of the African Renaissance.
Mbeki gives and sums up the attitude that I personally believe as a continent must embrace if we are to achieve the impossible:
“As students your principal task is to acquire knowledge as well as the capacity to generate new knowledge. That process exposes you to the world of ideas and therefore the habit of critical inquiry. It would therefore be unnatural that you do not question the present and develop your own vision about the future.”
Mbeki urges us to develop a habit of being critical thinkers. A habit of critical inquiry to understand why we are where we are. Critically thinking and asking myself what do I see my role as? Have I located my position, have I located the problem? What vision for Africa do I carry with me and how am I working towards it? These are questions we each as individuals must answer within our hearts, soul and minds. It is a question with a haunting echo that many heroes before us have answered with the voices of their lives, we too must add our unique instruments to this continuing symphony until Carthage is rebuilt. Carthage will be rebuilt! Carthage must be rebuilt!