Pretoria: Businessman, academic and philanthropist, Mo Ibrahim, delivered the 11th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the University of South Africa (Unisa) on Saturday where he focused on the need for social cohesion not only in South Africa, but also between the 54 nations that make up the African continent.
Under the theme for this year’s lecture was “Building Social Cohesion” – a call for all South Africans to work towards a united, cohesive, democratic and national society – Ibrahim’s message was clear: “Africa expects more from South Africa and is keen to hear us using our strong voice more effectively, sooner rather than later.
“There have been marked improvements. It’s not fantastic, though. It tells us a lot still has to be done about the rural areas.”
Overall South Africa is number five in terms of governance, according to the foundation survey. However, the gap between the rich and the poor is still stark.
“South Africa is the least equitable country in the whole world, and it’s only legitimate for us to ask after 20 years of independence, why is that? It’s a challenge our friends in South Africa need to face up to,” the Sudanese national told guests.
He touched on policy issues, including the subject of land: “You tried the system of willing buyer, willing seller and it didn’t work. Isn’t it time to find a solution within the constitution to deal with this issue?” he asked.
The issue of the youth bulge also featured strongly in Ibrahim’s address, saying they are the largest constituency in Africa.
“Half of Africa’s population is below 19 years old. This can be wonderful news for us, or a major problem. It is the reverse trend of what we are seeing in China, Japan and Europe, where the number of young people is very low. Can Africa dream of being the future factory of the world with China running out of workers? What a prospect for us.”
This brought up the topic of education which, along with intra-continental economic integration, Dr Ibrahim believes is a vital prerequisite for South Africa to move forward as a continent.
“What are we preparing (young people) for?” he asked. “Are we producing the kind of people that future jobs will require? I am not sure.”
He cited some statistics to back up this statement: “Two percent of African children are studying agriculture, yet 70% of Africans live off the land. The issue here is matching education to the job market.”
He referred to the millions of young Africans who are about to enter the job market as “a tsunami”.
“Where will the jobs come from?” he asked. “Without jobs, there will be no hope for the youth … and this is a major problem.”
He called for African leaders to address the issue of education.
On the need for African integration, Ibrahim cited another statistic: only 11% of trade in Africa takes place between its 54 states. Travelling between countries is hampered by strict controls and visa requirements.
Ibrahim touched on women issues. “We cannot talk about social cohesion without talking about women, the pillar of the African economy. Seventy percent of the population is dependent on the land, and women do agriculture, not men,” he pointed out.
Violent crimes committed against women, he said, represent a serious threat to the African economy.
“One cannot afford to lose this vital production element of society essential for social cohesion,” he said.
He commended the South African government for being one of the most progressive in the world in terms of female representation in leadership, but pointed out that this is not reflected in society. “Cultural issues are difficult to face and it takes everyone in society to address them.”
Ibrahim called on South Africa to live up to its promise and to show the type of leadership that is fitting of the most advanced economy on the continent.
“South Africa really matters to us Africans,” he said. “We look up to you. We look with admiration at the wonderful struggle for freedom, your founding fathers, especially Nelson Mandela, who is an African icon.
“We expect a lot from you, and we will not refrain from being critical if you waver or misbehave.”