On 8 September, Kenyan intellectual, legal expert and scholar, Professor Patrick Loch Otiena Lumumba, delivered the 5th Onkgopotse Tiro Memorial Lecture at the university of Limpopo. It was a remarkable event, coming as it does a week after the Kenyan Supreme Court’s nullification of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election win earlier this month and three months before a bruised and battered ANC limps towards the close of the Zuma era in December. Lumumba’s mesmerising lecture, for the truth that it spoke, must be recorded as a pivotal one. Masterful in its delivery, it is a meditation on greed, destruction, hope and possibility for the African continent. By MARIANNE THAMM.
There is a lot of noise. A blizzard of static. On TV, on radio, on the internet, on our smartphones. Hurricanes in the US, madmen with fingers poised over nuclear launchers, the ruthless slaughter of Muslims in Myanmar, cannibals in the Eastern Cape, assassinations in KwaZulu-Natal, sex scandals in high office, a political class rank and riddled with criminality and corruption.
It takes a lot to cut through this 21st Century madness and noise, the whiz bang of the breaking news banners, the rolling ticker tape headlines, the hashtag Twitter campaigns.
Enter Professor Patrick Loch Otiena Lumumba.
The Kenyan-born philosopher, lawyer, intellectual, academic, author, public speaker of note is an admirer of the murdered first democratically elected leader of the DRC, Patrice Lumumba, as well as the murdered president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, and has become the conscience of a continent in those places still ravaged and exploited by internal and external interests.
As Lumumba sees it, Africa punches below its political and economic weight and is a continent that has been, in some instances, sold out and held back by its post-independence leaders.
On Friday Lumumba, in a half-hour lecture in honour of Black Consciousness student activist Onkopotse Abram Tiro and delivered at the University of Limpopo, offered a searing indictment of those leaders who have ruined countries and impoverished their citizens through continuing corruption, greed, fraud and what he termed the “voodoo economics” of instant wealth.
He also offered hope, asking whether in many countries on the continent Africans had received a “fair deal” – naming specifically Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and the the DRC’s Joseph Kabila – and probing whether they offered their citizens today this fair deal.
It is rare in the 21st Century to find an orator who commands and demands the full attention of an audience without once referring to notes as Lumumba did on Friday. His delivery, the sonorous tone with its peculiar cadences, was redolent of some of the world’s greatest speakers, including Martin Luther King Jr.
Lumumba’s speech, too, considering the rise of a younger generation of African leaders, should be marked as one that has holds the dreams and hopes of the future while honouring those who in the past shared that vision.
Lumumba’s lecture was part sermon, part political speech, part incantation and part mediation (better to listen to in full rather than be read) which began with the life of Tiro, a SASO member who was murdered by the apartheid government when a parcel bomb he was sent exploded while he was in exile in Botswana in 1974.
Tiro, at the age of 27, delivered a graduation speech at the then University of the North (now University of Limpopo) in 1972 criticising the Bantu Education Act and, said Lumumba, touching things “that were way beyond his age”. He later became an inspiring teacher at the Morris Isaacson School in Soweto before fleeing South Africa for Botswana in 1973.
Lumumba traced the milestones of Tiro’s life including his birth in 1945 which coincided with the creation of the UN and which was followed three years later in 1948 by the victory of Hendrik Verwoerd’s National Party and the implementation of the grand idea of apartheid in South Africa.
He traced the scars of colonialism, a project “inimical to human civilisation”, through to the era of independence in Africa in the 1960s and paid tribute to South African leaders including Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Steven Biko, Chris Hani, Ahmed Kathrada and Walter and Albertina Sisulu.
“The struggle against evil is a relay race where one generation passes the torch to another generation,” said Lumumba.
And while South Africa with the help of the rest of the African continent had liberated itself from apartheid, the question that needed to be asked now was whether apartheid still existed.
“Is there a possibility that apartheid is still alive and well in another form? Is there a possibility that apartheid is still alive and well… Is there a possibility that the education we provide in South Africa is not uniform? Is there a possibility that we still have apartheid in our education not only in South Africa but in the rest of Africa?”
Lumumba lamented the lack of economic transformation on the continent and, speaking through and to the ghost of Tiro, asked the audience whether in South Africa, “Do we have a fair deal for the young men and women in Port Elizabeth, do they have a fair deal? Is there a fair deal for those who were massacred at Marikana? Is there a fair deal for the farmworkers of the Western Cape? Is there a fair deal for the blacks who are in the Orange Free State? Is there a fair deal for South Africans several years after Tiro was taken by his maker?”
He said Tiro’s questions back in the 1970s were valid still for the “entire continent of Africa” which continued to punch below its political and economic weight.
“This continent still knows pain. This continent knows hunger and famine. This Continent still knows conflict. This continent still knows discrimination. This continent still knows underdevelopment. This continent is not at ease.”
Lumumba then evoked all the countries on the continent, asking whether citizens in these enjoyed “a fair deal”.
“If Tiro were to arrive and he were to go to Zimbabwe he would ask of Robert Gabriel Mugabe, do your people have a fair deal?”
Tiro would stop over in Angola and ask whether the country’s oil reserves were for the benefit of Angolans or others. He would, in Equatorial Guinea, which recorded the highest per capita income in Africa, ask “Is that a per capita income because of voodoo economics that is only concentrated in the hands of a few?”.
In the DRC, said Lumumba, Tiro would ask Joseph Kabila, “your country whom God has given everything in the world, why are you presiding over a country that is the poorest in Africa where rape is alive and well?”.
Tiro would, said Lumumba, in the end find that Africans were still “children of a lesser God” and that it was the “monster of corruption that is standing in the way of young Africans, Africa and its progress”.
“Is it possible that we are welcoming visitors to our country whose only desire is to devour us? Is is possible that we are abandoning our houses to men and women whose only agenda is to decimate us?”
While South Africa might have been liberated from apartheid, the question must be asked, offered Lumumba, whether we were “imprisoned by something else”, perhaps even our leaders and ourselves.
The time had come for African leaders to create employment so that young Africans “do not run away to Europe and the US” to find work. Africa was, said Lumumba, waking up, and the duty of the next generation was to ensure that it remained awake as “there is no shortage of individuals who inject Africa with anaesthetic drugs so that we may continue to slumber”.
African leaders needed to become active participants in the agenda of determining world politics and not just use these events as photo opportunities.
“We must remind ourselves that when we are in international organisations we must not only be allowed to participate as tokens but as substantive participants in the agenda of life. We are not children of a lesser god.”
Africans too, said Lumumba, should not rely on “voodoo economics”, the accumulation of wealth through not work but through “the sweat of your brow”.
“There is no abracadabra and, lo and behold, rabbits come out of hats.”
There were countries on the continent, said Lumumba, which were moving in a “useful direction”, including South Africa.
“Your country is not in a bad place. It is not only South Africa that is beginning to see a fair deal,” he said, adding that while Zimbabwe might have distinguished itself as “the only country without a currency, even here, matters would and could be solved”.
The significance of Lumumba’s lecture is that it is one that inspires a vision of a continent able to reach its full potential in a world of rapidly shifting political power and a generation that has grown tired of shattered hopes and dreams. It is also significant for its ability to have cut through the distractions of sordid palace politics and placing the emphasis back where it should be, on the people of Africa and whether leaders can and will fight for Tiro’s desired “fair deal.” DM
Photo: Professor Patrick Loch Otiena Lumumba (eNCA)
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle