Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Today US President-Elect Barack Obama will enter the South Portico of the White House to meet President George W Bush. I know that for millions of South Africans, as well as for the American people, Mr Obama’s victory is replete with history and packed with symbolism. Its significance is as great as President Nelson Mandela’s election as South Africa’s first democratically- elected President in April 1994. Just by winning, Mr Obama is assured of greatness.
And like Madiba, Mr Obama – by dint of breaking the glass ceiling of colour – is destined to become a great global figure transcending borders and ideologies: indeed, a truly global President in the ‘new frontier’ of the twenty-first century. This election, with the highest turnout ever, was like no other before. It was won with legions of Blackberries, the mobilisation of the youth vote, and millions of small donations bequeathed online.
Mr Obama, as is well documented, ran not as the first black presidential candidate, but as the first post-racial candidate for the White House.
His victory has materialised Martin Luther King’s song of liberty and non-racialism and he displays a tautness of mind and spirit.
According to one news report, a healthy trade has already begun in T-shirts placing the election victory last week in the context of a long battle for civil rights. One states: "Rosa Parks sat in 1955. Martin Luther King walked in 1963. Barack Obama ran in 2008. That our children might fly."
And yet it is here – as a man who can fondly recall meeting two of the young Kennedy brothers in South Africa in the high noon of apartheid – I would like to give a word of caution. I fear that expectations of Mr Obama are so high and so undefined, disenchantment could quickly follow, if sober minds and commonsense do not prevail.
The exultant mood may be that of Kennedy’s fabled Camelot, but there is no doubt in my mind that the task before Mr Obama is as enormous as the one facing Franklin D Roosevelt in 1932 – the last time the world teetered on the brink of financial meltdown and America, like today, has appeared to have lost its way.
The panoply of public policy decisions before Mr Obama is simply bewildering: reassessing global security and terrorism, alternative energy, redefining America’s relationship with the world (especially the ‘developing world’, universal healthcare, racial and ethnic tolerance and diversity, and restoring faith in the market economy (the latter poses a far greater challenge than is presently realised by commentators).
In this post-ideological age, Mr Obama will need to marshal his pragmatist instincts to, as Franklin D Roosevelt did, try a policy and, if it should fail, try again until he find something that works. The challenges of the hour demand such pragmatism anchored in principle.
And let us be frank: the store cupboard of ideas – be it ‘left’ or ‘right’ – is looking threadbare at the moment. There seems to be no pattern or trend as governments of the left and right rise and fall across the democratic world: New Zealand has turned right in the same week as America has chosen Mr Obama, the centre right reigns in France and Germany and the reinvigorated left is challenging to hang on to power in Britain.
In this term, at least, the President-Elect will not be able to transform America radically, but he will be able to set the great ‘Ship of State’ on a different path. Mr Obama’s partisan transcending appeal, I believe, also extends to our shores. As the ANC breakaway party so effectively demonstrated in Johannesburg last weekend, people are sick and tired of politicians of the standard variety and yearn for someone – or something new – truly new and different. The South African Congress of the People has benefited, I believe, as much from this desire for change as the seismic upheavals in the ruling party.
As we take stock of the IEC’s first voter registration weekend, more seismic shifts are apparent. KwaZulu Natal alone has added 300,000 new people to its common voters’ roll, almost 45,000 of whom hail from the Zululand District where our own IFP National Chairperson and Mayor, Cllr Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, has not only been running an intensive registration drive but also a municipality with balanced books – in a province whose finances are, under ANC leadership, perilously in the red.
But returning to Mr Obama, I would like to make an observation too about his predecessor’s record as President Bush leaves the office. Although history will largely recall his controversial policy towards Iraq and Afghanistan, there are at least two areas where he led by example.
Mr Bush was the first US President to appoint not one but two African American Secretaries of State – Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. These appointments no doubt made Mr Obama’s ascendancy much more possible. And then there was Mr Bush’s impressive record on Africa.
The OECD statistics indicate that under the Bush administration, US humanitarian and development aid to Africa has increased from $1.4 billion annually in 2001 to $4 billion.
In addition, Bush demonstrated a commitment to combating HIV/Aids and malaria in Africa. Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda are among the world’s top 10 recipients of aid from the US, and US trade with Africa has doubled since 2001. He also increased humanitarian and development aid to the continent to almost $9 billion by 2010.
These achievements mark a clear difference between rhetoric and deeds and they are certainly worth emulating.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Jon Cayzer, 084 5557144