Since its establishment almost 60 years ago, the African Union has dedicated a day, and a month, to the importance of unity amongst its nations. As we approach Africa day, let us all take a moment to appreciate the legacy created by our forebears and carry their hopes into the future.
By Sello Hatang
If you have ever wondered why you feel such a strong sense of responsibility for the people in your community with the COVID-19 crisis upon us, just know that the spirit of unity was forged in our continent through centuries of struggle against colonisation and enslavement. The qualities of Ubuntu are deeply rooted in Africa and its people. The month of May should be a testament to this.
Africa Month is a celebration of a moment in time where leaders came together to create an organization on the 25th of May in 1963. It was the first-of-its-kind, aimed at uniting the hopes and goals of African leaders in over 30 countries. This organization grew into what we now know as the African Union, and it continues to uphold the charter values: to promote the unity of solidarity of African states and to coordinate effort towards a better life for the people of Africa. The AU was officially launched in July 2002, right here in South Africa, with former president Thabo Mbeki at the head as Chairperson.
18 years after Thabo Mbeki’s Chairship, another South African leader is at the helm, and we able to look back and measure how much has been achieved towards the goals promised to its nations on Africa Day. In 2020 more African children are going to school than ever before. Technological advancement on the continent has seen the growing use of renewable energies and the invention of digital wallet products to narrow the financial access gap for the most underprivileged communities. Many of our economies are growing faster than anywhere else on the planet. We have been commended by the International Monetary Fund for creating an entirely new development path, which has solidified the place of countries like Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Benin, Kenya, Uganda, and Burkina Faso in the top ten consistently performing economies worldwide.
None of this would have been achieved without the concerted efforts of togetherness shown by Africa and its leaders even in the most trying times. Today, we are faced with another history-defining moment which will test our ability to rally together. The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on the lives of Africans, and placing significant pressure on health systems and economies. The World Bank estimates economic and social impacts worth tens of billions of dollars in estimated output losses this year.
In light of this and other developing impacts on the continent, the African Union inaugurated a COVID-19 Diagnostic Laboratory at its Pan African Veterinary Vaccine Centre, AU-PANVAC, office in Debre-Zeit, Ethiopia on the 8th of May. The PANVAC laboratories, which were initially designed to test the quality of vaccines, were recently mandated to commence research into developing a new vaccine to fight the deadly pandemic. This is the first African Union specialized laboratory to be given such a mandate. While our leaders quickly work on developing a vaccine, we must remember what we are fighting for.
This makes this year’s Africa Day more important than we could ever imagine. It is now that we need the strongest sense of togetherness to overcome this crisis. The values entrenched by a group of hopeful founders so many years ago, are what will define how well we are able to respond today. It is our devotion to each other as Africans, at the best and worst of times that will strengthen our resolve. As South Africans we aspire to be known for our generosity and practice of Ubuntu. This is the time for us to show these qualities. Not only must we be crisis-management leaders in the time of COVID-19, mounting the technical and logistical challenges, but we must also show leadership in meeting the needs of all who live in our country, especially our most vulnerable populations.
The Nelson Mandela, Kolisi and Imbumba Foundations have had the privilege of experiencing the spirit of Ubuntu as we have been travelling in South Africa providing much needed relief to families across the country. One such example was when we visited a community in Mpumalanga. The community got its resources together to build a house for an old woman whose house was damaged by a storm. This simple act restored her dignity. This bears testimony to what we are as a people.
Our country has become a global example for the fight against COVID-19. We have managed to keep our numbers down, with active social distancing and an aggressive testing response in a way that our European and American counterparts have not. Emergency relief work has seen the best of South Africa, with generosity and resilience to the fore. All that the African Union has called for on Africa Day is what we have seen exemplified every day during the crisis thus far. Of course, all has not been rosy. We have seen the deep divides of inequality play out in disturbing ways. Mistakes have been made. The challenge is huge.
But we have much to celebrate in Africa Month. We have experienced in recent months a quality of national leadership which is reassuring. We see robust inter-sectoral endeavour in face of national disaster. And we have seen demonstrated both the importance and the capacity of government to play a critical transformative role.
I wish all who live in South Africa a happy Africa day. May we regard ourselves as citizens of a continent of over a billion people and understand that our national interests are interwoven with those of the continent as a whole. May we do more than talk the talk about Ubuntu. And may we keep striving for excellence as we confront multiple challenges.
Sello Hatang is the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, a Brand South Africa partner and long-term stakeholder. Brand South Africa, the official marketing agency mandated with managing the image and reputation of South Africa for global competitiveness.