. Re-Thinking Sexualities in Africa: Introduction
South African president Thabo Mbeki. Negatively, because Mbeki only exposes dichotomies, proceeding to turn them upside down, but he does not dissolve them. By failing to dissolve the dichotomies, Mbeki inadvertently supports and maintains these lines of thinking. In the speeches in question, Thabo Mbeki goes out against the ‘dark continent discourse’: “It used to be that the superiority of those who are white and the inferiority of those who are black, was enforced, presented and justified as the natural order of things. Equally we can and must say that the superiority of those who are male and the inferiority of those who are female, was enforced, presented and justified as the natural order of things. As has been said, as long as the lions do not have their own historians, so long will the hunters emerge as heroic, mighty and right” (Mbeki 2001a). The quote is from a speech given at the opening of the NGO forum at the World Conference against Racism in Durban, August 2001. Mbeki goes on to talk about economic inequalities on a global scale, as created by globalization, and the extent to which these inequalities coincide with race:
Put starkly, where this process of globalization has had negative consequences, its worst victims within countries and universally have been those who are not white. For these countless black people, this has not only meant that the development gap has grown even wider, it has also meant the further entrenchment of the structural dis-empowerment of billions of people, making it even more difficult for them to break out of the trap of poverty and underdevelopment (Mbeki 2001a).
Mbeki locates racism in colonial history, talking about “the legacy of slavery, colonialism and racism”, but he is also acutely aware of colonial continuities in present day globalization, and of the continued existence of this colonial discourse.
So far so good. The problem, however, of just identifying such dichotomies (white/black; man/woman; rich/poor) and turning them upside down (cf. the history of the lions) but otherwise remaining within their circumscriptions, becomes apparent in a following speech, in October 2001, at the University of Fort Hare (for a long time the only Black university in South Africa). This speech is also about racism, or rather about strategies against racism, where Mbeki is juxtaposing strategies working solely for economic improvements with strategies which are also aiming at changing people’s minds. Mbeki approvingly quotes ZK Matthews (whose memorial lecture he is giving): “It is in the minds of Africans that revolutions which are rocking the foundations of African societies are taking place” (emphasis added).
Again, the problem is not what Mbeki says (e. g. that changed minds are important) but the way he constructs his argument. Taking as a point of departure the colonial continuities regarding the ‘dark continent discourse’ and pointing to the fact that even in African universities racist instructions has taken place, he says:
There are those among us who… have studied in schools of theology where the bible is interpreted by those who have justified segregation; law schools where they are told that they belong