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Continental drift: no vaccine for reality as we celebrate Africa ...

Ideas

Continental drift: no vaccine for reality as we celebrate Africa Day

Africa’s vaccine flop and OAU’s 59th anniversary are a chance to reflect on a continent that is its own worst enemy

Columnist

Back in 1982, on a wall in the foyer of the Polana Hotel in Maputo, Mozambique, there was a huge likeness of the continent of Africa fashioned from a hammered metal alloy, but with SA and then-South West Africa omitted from the installation. The ocean washed up to the Kalahari and met the Limpopo and Kunene rivers. Lesotho was an island. More protest art than map, it underlined that SA and later Namibia were not yet part of Africa. They’d not been “liberated”, as the rest of Africa supposedly had.

Problem was, though, that while SA had not yet undergone the transition to black rule, was it still a colony in the sense that the other African neo-states had once been colonies? If not a colony, then, was SA a “colony of a special type”, as some in the SA Communist Party proposed? A colony whose settlers stayed afterwards? Could SA usefully be said to be part of Africa, except in a strict geographical sense?

In the years of SA’s transition to democracy around 1994, a cottage industry developed among those who said SA could not possibly become “like the rest of Africa”. SA had a solid legal system and the rule of law, property rights and sophisticated banking and auditing. And if all of the above failed, there was always ubuntu to save the day. Besides, we had the ANC and the constitution...

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