Pretoria - Tribalism is a challenge to South Africa and perpetuates corruption. It needs to be tackled with effort and intellect, says former president Thabo Mbeki.
Tribalism was a tool used by politicians to manipulate some and to reward others. The problem was rampant in the government of the day, Mbeki said.
The former president was speaking at Unisa’s College of Human Sciences on Monday, delivering the main address, on decolonisation, at the opening of the Summer School.
“When a minister comes from a certain region, so will the officials in that department,” Mbeki said.
He called this a “homeboy” phenomenon and said it was done consciously and deliberately, and offered benefits for support and votes.
“They conspire in one language, and this is one of the challenges we need to address,” Mbeki said.
The week-long discussion has the theme, Decolonising Knowledge, Power and Being, and the list of speakers includes national and international thinkers and theorists.
The Summer School programme was set up to engage in active and structured research processes that address strategic issues of the political and social constitution of the modern world system and its shifting international orders.
Mbeki said when the ANC was formed 102 years ago, part of its mandate was to “bury the demon of tribalism”.
“But 102 years later tribalism is raising its head,” he said, putting this problem into the continental basket with a host of problems that had long dogged Africa.
Among these were national and social cohesion, nation-building, national unity, poverty, access to wealth, and development.
“Challenges on the continent have been identified and known for many decades, and the question is, do they have anything to do with colonialism?”
Africa had been trying to secure peace, security and stability for many years, Mbeki said.
But the problem probably persisted because of the lack of progressive scholars.
“Obviously, without intellectual input to remake the continent, efforts will fail.”
There had been many decades of discussions on how to stop violence and instability, a reality that had not been successfully addressed, hence the problems in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and others.
No one had tackled these problems with the proper academic tools, he said.
Poverty and underdevelopment remained areas of concern, despite being among the central issues during the years of the liberation struggle, he said.
“Instead of progress there have been reversals, problems have increased rather than reduced.
“There are wide disparities in access to income and wealth.”
The big question was why the continent was not making progress, despite its having faced these challenges for many years, Mbeki said.
Also, although certain growth rates across the continent had been good, their effect on the quality of life was nothing exciting.
Mbeki also spoke of the failure of most countries to achieve social cohesion.
Tanzania was the only country deemed to have made progress in this respect, when it introduced Swahili as the official language, he said.
“They decided to discontinue the practice of traditional chiefs, and this could have been the key to achieving social cohesion,” Mbeki said.
“If this is correct, why don’t the rest of us do this?”