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    The Vision Of Seme 107 Years On: Is Civilisation Still A Dream And Is The Regeneration Of Africa Possible? by Joel Netshitenzhe

    Date published:29 October  2013
    Article category: Media

    MISTRA Executive Director, Joel Netshitenzhe presented the First Lecture in the Pixley ka Isaka Seme Annual Lecture Series at Columbia University in New York on 29 October 2013.  Hosted jointly by the South African Consulate General and the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University, the title of the lecture is: "The Vision of Seme 107 Years On:  Is Civilization Still a Dream and is the Regeneration of Africa Possible?"


    The Vision Of Seme 107 Years On: Is Civilisation Still A Dream And Is The Regeneration Of Africa Possible?


    A hundred and seven years on, the words of Pixley ka Isaka Seme still reverberate in the hallowed chambers of the University of Columbia, summoning Africa and the world to a new way of thinking and a new way of doing things. The erudition of their framing, the profundity of their meaning and the eloquence of the prose – all remind us of the quality of leadership required to lift individual nations and the global community onto a higher state of humaneness.

    Should we, of the current generation, feign an understanding of the full meaning of Seme’s injunction, as we continue to revel in pursuits that place the immediate before the long-term? Should we celebrate or even critique his notion of “civilisation”, given our current preoccupation with the comforts of modern technology to which we prostrate ourselves in the manner of slaves to a deity?

    Indeed, can we claim that, in the tradition of Seme and other intellectual giants of his generation, we have continued to view all knowledge as interrelated, across the hyper-specialisation that is today in vogue? Have we not turned the vocation of ordering world affairs and social relations into a narrow profession of a select few; a form of employment that is shorn of sense and sensibility; a huckster’s paradise; and one that spawns social exclusion, inequality, corruption, economic crises, the threats of sovereign defaults and even social conflict and wars?

    I humble myself before this convocation of Columbia University and its Institute of African Studies, Programme Director, in the manner of a jester, to lay bare my own internal epistemological conflict; hoping that, together, we will develop an understanding of the Seme Vision and its relevance to today’s Africa and today’s world. That the invitation to this Inaugural Pixley ka Isaka Seme Annual Lecture is undeserved, for as young an organisation as the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), requires no additional emphasis. The redeeming feature is that, in this way, the bar will be set low enough for future guest speakers.

    Since that eloquent exposition on the 5th of April 1906 on The Regeneration of Africa, for which Seme was deservedly awarded the Curtis Medal, the world has experienced oscillations that include in recent years the lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty. Technological advances have eased the chores of human existence and opened frontiers from the smallest Higg’s boson, the nano-particle, and the human genome; to the limitless mysteries of the wider universe.

    Yet in the past two decades, at the same time as millions were being lifted out of poverty, and the tendency towards economic convergence among nations started to manifest, inequality within nations has been on the increase. As technology was revealing the utility of its magnificence to humanity, its role in the anthropogenic degradation of the environment has been coming out in even bolder relief. In the application of science, the imperatives of commerce have been, in various ways, colliding with humane and ethical conduct; and the small-minded urge for political control has started to spawn, on a global and systemic scale, the invasion of that most sacred space, individual privacy.

    Humanity will soon pass the 70-year mark without an all-encompassing World War; and yet regional conflicts, civil wars, unilateral invasions and terrorism which is the deliberate targeting of civilians in armed conflict, have played out in ugly routines to which we are becoming so accustomed as to consider normal. At the same time as the flame of democracy lights up huge expanses of the globe, pockets of “unfreedom”, to paraphrase Amartya Sen, remain; and the formality of the vote in most parts of the world does not necessarily translate into inclusivity in decision-making and deserved public service.

    And so, confounded by these contradictions, we dare to ask whether Seme’s Vision still bears relevance. In his own words in these hallowed settings we have the honour to tread, Seme intoned:

    "See the triumph of human genius to-day! Science has searched out the deep things of nature, surprised the secrets of the most distant stars, disentombed the memorials of everlasting hills, taught the lightning to speak, the vapors to toil and the winds to worship – spanned the sweeping rivers, tunnelled the longest mountain range – made the world a vast whispering gallery, and has brought foreign nations into one civilized family…

    “The regeneration of Africa means that a new and unique civilization is soon to be added to the world... The most essential departure of this new civilization is that it shall be thoroughly spiritual and humanistic – indeed a regeneration moral and eternal!

    “O Africa!

    Shine as thy sister lands with equal beam.”

    To download full text PDF: Seme Lecture Joel Netshitenzhe.pdfSeme Lecture Joel Netshitenzhe.pdf
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