PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma hit back at government critics yesterday, saying many were inspired by an old colonial myth that Africans were all corrupt, dumb and deserved to be ridiculed.
Delivering the Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Lecture at a packed Fort Hare University sports complex in Alice yesterday, Zuma lambasted intellectuals who sat on the sidelines, "writing long essays about government mistakes instead of coming up with constructive solutions”.
"We are being portrayed as backward, failing, corrupt. If you came to South Africa today, you would be made to believe every African is corrupt in this country,” Zuma said.
"They are not even saying there are some who are corrupt, we are painted with the same brush, all of us. They say, if you are an African you are a slow thinker by nature and therefore clumsy, [a] funny fellow who must have everything done to him.”
He said Seme would be remembered for his interests in the arts and in the media.
"He established a newspaper called Abantu Batho to allow Africans to tell their own stories. They did not believe the media then would tell the story as it is, so they decided to establish their own newspaper to tell their own stories.”
Seme was also a founder and the fifth president of the ANC.
"We remind intellectuals and academics to play a constructive role in the reconstruction and redevelopment of our nation. As we build our young nation we need our intelligentsia to contribute to public discourse on whether or not we are achieving the roles of building a non- racial and non-sexist South Africa,” Zuma said.
Seme had distinguished himself as a brilliant man, he said. "He called for unity and an end to racism, tribalism and other divisive tendencies.”
Zuma said Seme’s work in 1912 extended beyond politics and journalism. "They identified the need for economic advancement for the African people. Consequently, he was the driving force behind the founding of the Native Farmers’ Association of Africa Limited.
"The main purpose for such a body was to buy land which black people could settle on.”
About 5000 delegates were invited to the lecture, including former president Thabo Mbeki’s mother, Epainette, and representatives from the Tambo, Biko, Mhlaba and Xuma families.
University of Fort Hare vice-chancellor Mvuyo Tom said it was not by coincidence that the ANC chose to hold the lecture at the institution as it was a "fountain from which many Africans got their intellectual development”.
Addressing Zuma, Tom said Alice had produced the finest intellectuals and five heads of state for Africa, including former president Nelson Mandela and Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe.
"I call on the ANC to ensure that the development of this university continues. I call to you as president of the ANC ... to make Alice a presidential project,” Tom said.
Seme’s grandson, Vezi, thanked the ANC for affording South Africans the opportunity to learn about their past.