Regeneration and renewal – a historical mission

WHEN Pixley ka Seme wrote his poem ‘The Regeneration of Africa’ at the beginning of the 20THCentury he was expressing a dream of all the African peoples.

"Oh Africa!
Like some great century plant that shall bloom In ages hence, we watch thee; in our dream See in thy swamps the Prospero of our stream;
Thy doors unlocked, where knowledge in her womb Hath lain innumerable years in gloom.
Then shalt thou, walking with that morning gleam Shine as thy sister lands with equal beam"

This is the man who with equal eloquence called for the unity of the African people, of the disenfranchised, the oppressed, and the colonized. He told us to bury the demon of tribalism and disunity precisely in order that we can achieve the dream of African regeneration.

With Seme’s words in our minds and as we cast our eyes back at the beginning of the last century, it is impossible to see the struggles of the African people over that entire century without seeing the African National Congress (ANC). The struggle for liberation in South Africa over the last century and the ANC are indivisible. Indeed the politics and the culture of the ANC have not only inspired South Africans, but also even those who waged their own anti-colonial struggles in our subcontinent, in the continent and in many developing countries.

Although Seme talked of The Regeneration of Africa at the time when almost the entire continent was under colonial subjugation, in essence he was already articulating the concept of the African Renaissance. The very anti-colonial struggles of the African peoples were the struggles for the renaissance of the continent, for it’s awakening, for change, for development to a higher order of a liberated continent.

Seme talked of the renaissance of the continent at a different historical juncture, a qualitatively lower historical juncture of a colonized continent.

When Nkrumah called for African unity, for African renaissance, he was also talking of African regeneration. However he called for unity, renaissance, and regeneration, at a juncture historically different from that of Seme. Nkrumah’s juncture was qualitatively higher because it was already characterised by the intensification of anti-colonial struggles and the retreat of colonial regimes. The political liberation of South Africa marked the collapse of the last pillar of colonialism in Africa. When Thabo Mbeki invoked the concept of the African Renaissance and boldly declared the 21st Century to be the African Century, he was hoisting high the same torch that both Seme and Nkrumah had passed from generation to generation. Mbeki was hoisting the same torch but at a qualitatively higher juncture than that of Nkrumah and Seme. Yes, the African continent was, at last, free of colonialism.

For the African National Congress, this history and theme is permanently emblazoned in its consciousness. It is a permanent component of its values, institutions and all facets of its life.

The themes of regeneration, renaissance and renewal presuppose change, mutability, and movement forward from a qualitatively lower order to a higher order impacted upon by the juncture and circumstances attendant to that particular era. Everything changes. As somebody said, the only thing that does not change is change itself.

The theme of regeneration, renaissance, renewal, of taking society from the present order to a future qualitatively higher order is the historical mission of the ANC. However the ANC will have to continue to pursue its mission at a different juncture from the past, a juncture impacted upon by different circumstances. Therefor the ANC needs to regenerate, renaissance and renew itself in order to operate in a qualitatively different juncture.

In the very last paragraph of his book, ‘The Origin of Species’, Charles Darwin makes the following observation;

“Thus from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object, which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved”.

Regeneration, renaissance, evolution and renewal all presuppose change and mutability in order that, as Darwin says, the production of higher animals can directly follow, so that forms most beautiful and most wonderful can evolve.

This is to agree with Karl Marx in his seminal work, ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’ that man make their own history, but not as they choose but “under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past”. The dialectics of moving forward entails getting the right balance between the collective weight from the past and the need to recognise the change that continues to happen even beyond our will. That this is one of the major challenges that face the ANC today.

There are two forces pulling at the nation state in two different directions. One is centrifugal; pulling outwards, away from the nation state. The other is centripetal; pulling inwards.

The centrifugal force is evident in the growing power of multinational institutions, e.g. SADC, AU, UN, IMF. AfCFTA, etc. The nation state cannot help but surrender some of its power and sovereignty outwards and away to multinational institutions. These multinational institutions become collective governments acting on behalf and mediating some of the interests of the nation state. The nation state is compelled by international economic, political and social forces to throw its lot with multinational institutions and in the process surrender part of its sovereignty. This trend, at an underlying level, is driven by the globalisation of the world economy. This globalisation has ensured the speedy establishment of regional economic, political and social institutions.

The growing strength of multinational institutions is not in itself a negative development. At one level it can be seen as the harmonisation of international governance, bringing nations together and giving smaller and weaker nations the forum to raise their concerns. So it can be seen as the democratisation of world politics and economics at a level higher than the nation state. The issue however is that the positives do not happen on their own, they have to be worked for by the nation state within the institutions it belongs to.

The centripetal force is evidenced by the growing activism and power of non-governmental institutions (NGIs or NGOs) within the nation state. The growing power and activism of these institutions is the result of the

deepening of democracies within and across nation states. Furthermore, progressive NGOs have taken up part of the agenda of struggle for national liberation and empowerment of the people especially where former national liberation movements have faltered. This failure by the former national movements has created the vacuum that has encouraged the mushrooming, growth and activism of NGOs. This centripetal force has resulted in the nation state surrendering some of its power and sovereignty to the activism of NGOs. This is also not necessarily a wholly negative phenomenon because it is another manifestation of the process of democratisation of societies. At times governments need appropriate NGOs in order to extend the reach of delivery and the involvement of the grassroots in governance and economic and social development. However the growth of NGOs that is the result of the failure of governance invariably leads to the weakening of the power of the governing centre in a nation state.

For effective democratisation and economic and social development to happen both inwardly and outwardly the state cannot be hesitant; it needs to intervene. If the ANC must continue as an agent of change both inwardly and outwardly, it must recognise that it also needs to modernise itself and ensure adaptive internal democratisation in line with the new challenges and opportunities that are presented by the continuously democratising phenomena of our time

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