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Ambassador discusses South Africa’s future

By bpaterno

Section: Front Page, News

February 15, 2008

02150801.jpgSouth African Ambassador to the United States Welile Nhlapo spoke Monday for the Ruth First Memorial Lecture. Ambassador Nhlapo’s lecture, entitled “South Africa’s Time Has Come- Achievements and Prospects,” took place in Hassenfeld Conference Center.

Following an introduction from Prof. Ibrahim Sundiata (HIST, AAAS), Ambassador Nhlapo began his lecture by recalling the life of Ruth First, a Jewish anti-apartheid activist and communist from South Africa.

He discussed First’s contribution to South Africa’s history and the anti-apartheid movement, noting First’s efforts toward adopting the Freedom Charter, which called for an end to racism in South Africa, as well as her work on the Defiance of Unfair Laws Campaign.

Once the Freedom Charter was adopted on 1955, First and more than 150 activists were arrested and charged with high treason. First was assassinated on Aug. 17, 1982, when a parcel bomb was sent to her.

“She could have enjoyed the privacy that apartheid granted her race, but chose instead the hard path to ensure equality for all our people,” Nhlapo said. He continued, “the generation to which Ruth First belonged developed the vision for the formation of our country.”

Nhlapo went on to explain the situation in South Africa since “the rallying call of freedom, in our lifetime, became a dazzling reality.” He insisted that South Africa is currently a “very strong, participative democracy,” but that “the job remains incomplete.”

According to Nhlapo, there are a number of challenges still facing his country. He pointed out the need for a transformation of the judiciary in order to “increase the rate of conviction for serious crimes and decrease waiting periods.” He cited the need to “speedily restore trust and confidence that people develop in the system.”

In addition, the ambassador pointed out the poverty mainly affecting the black population, and the importance of aiding black economic employment through the Equal Employment Opportunities Act.

Ambassador Nhlapo also discussed the South African President Mbeki’s State of the Nation address last week. Referring to the use of surplus money to further development, he commented that his government, in the past year, has been “able through our own resources to meet our development challenges and all other challenges.” Although foreign aid continues to help the government, Nhlapo pointed out that they are not completely dependent on it.

Referring to recent controversies over President Mbeki and the African National Congress, Nhlapo denied that there was any “possibility of two centers of power,” or that President Mbeki would be reduced to a “lame duck President.” He insisted, instead, “there is no contradiction at all…there is no relationship between the processes based on the constitution of the ANC and the processes based on the constitution of our country.”

Nhlapo also discussed the 2010 Soccer World Cup, which will be hosted in South Africa, assuring his audience that South Africa has “the will and the means to deliver a world class tournament.” He further invited those present to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday on July 18.

At the end of his talk, Nhlapo spoke again about Ruth First. “I am almost convinced, that if she is able to do so, Ruth First will be smiling on the progress being made in our country. But she will also not be satisfied, because there is still work to be done. Long live the memory of Ruth First!”

Student response was mixed following the lecture. Evelyn Moreno ’11, attended the lecture because it was a requirement for a class. “I think I still learned something because obviously it’s a very different take from my professor’s views.”

“I was also there because it was required for a class, but I probably would have gone anyway,” explained Kaamila Mohamed ’11. She continued, “it’s a rare opportunity to get to hear an ambassador speak and it’s a really interesting part of the world historically.”

Dan Newman ’09 felt that the topics the ambassador addressed were not necessarily suited for his audience. “I believe that bringing a country’s ambassador was an ambitious idea that failed to deliver…I don’t think the ambassador realized what crowd he was speaking to, and gave the wrong type of speech to an audience of college students…the ambassador should have focused more on change and opportunities to be involved in, not the history.”

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