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Thursday, July 2, 2009

‘We Still Dream Of African Unity’

South African Ambassador Ebrahim M. Saley says that Africans still believe in the dream of a united continent.

The South African ambassador to Tehran made the remarks in an interview with the Tehran Times earlier this month in which he also discussed the new South African government’s program, political developments in Africa, the war in the Congo, the Palestine issue, the prospects for Iran-South Africa trade, Iran’s nuclear program, and a number of other issues.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: With Jacob Zuma’s victory in the recent presidential election, can we expect him to deliver on the promises of social justice and poverty alleviation?

A: It’s a question that implies a certain perception, and I can understand why people have these perceptions… In South Africa, the ANC is the ruling party, and the ANC also has been a liberation movement, and one of the oldest liberation movements on the continent. It started its activities in 1910, and in the years since then, it has matured.

The cause of the ANC has always been consistent in that it wanted social justice. The system of apartheid in South Africa, which was really a brutal system by all accounts, was essentially what people in the ANC were resisting against to bring about a system that would be democratic, that would be representative, that would be fair, and that would take into account the needs and the aspirations of the majority of the people of the country. In 1994, when finally there was the first democratic election in South Africa, and the ANC won… under the leadership of President Nelson Mandela, that was the defining moment for South Africa. But it also started a process…

Historically, apartheid was essentially about dividing people on the basis of race. So you had a minority of white people… that controlled all aspects of government, of the economy, and of social life. There were lots of restrictions. And if I give you an account, even for myself who lived through it, if I tell people, I find it difficult to imagine that is what the system was. Black people were essentially segregated. You couldn’t get education. A fraction of the amount that was spent on a white child’s education was spent on a Black child. At one stage… they spent 14 rands on a Black child’s education and 140 on the education of a white child.

So… these imbalances were effected in society. In 1994, after the election, you had a minority of South Africans, and for historical reasons the majority of them were white, who enjoyed a very high standard of living… And then together with that, the majority of Black South Africans had a standard of living that was on a par with people living in the Congo. So this was the disparity and the imbalance and the injustice that was prevalent… The ANC then had an obligation… to remedy these imbalances…

In South Africa, we didn’t have a revolution, we had a negotiated settlement. And in that negotiated settlement there was then an agreement that there would be a bill of rights, there would be a constitution, there would be rule of law, there would be a constitutional court. And through all that process, we had to find a way of uplifting the majority of the underdeveloped part of our society to match the levels that the privileged part of the society was enjoying. And that has been the challenge. Now that challenge translates into providing education, because that’s one of the keys to social mobility, providing health care, as… South Africa is probably one of the regions most affected by diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and that has put a serious burden on resources. Then the majority of the people did not have basic services like clean drinking water, electricity, or housing, or employment. So this is what… the ANC had to deliver. And that task has been carrying on. Up to this date, the ANC has managed to build three million houses.

For somebody like myself, especially when you travel at night, you come to realize that there are lights on top of a hill which you had never noticed before. It’s simply because there is a village that was not electrified… And now suddenly you realize that people have got electricity. And that makes a very big change in the quality of people’s lives. And then clean drinking water, which is a bit more complicated than providing electricity… there’s a huge program to provide that in a country… not blessed with huge quantities of water.

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