Monday, January 31, 2005

Mbeki stirs the ghost of Churchill

So South African President Thabo Mbeki is back in the news again. But this time the focus is not on substantive issues such as Aids or African peacemaking, rather it is the ghost of Winston Churchill. In a speech to the National Assembly in Sudan, Mbeki made reference to the writings of Churchill noting that he felt the great leader held racist views. This is evidenced for Mbeki in Churchill's book entitled the The River War: An Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan which chronicles the British campaign in Sudan. Referring to African Muslims, Churchill writes: “Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live”. Africans as lazy, incompetent and fanatical . . . sounds fairly racist to me. Following Mbeki's speech, headlines pronounced “Mbeki slams Winston Churchill” and “Mbeki blames British imperialism for Sudan's problems”. On the radio the British public took exception to Mbeki's approach to their war hero. Newspapers such as the Telegraph criticised Mbeki's “extraordinary weakness” at laying the “present problems at the door of the late 19th century”. The incident is a curious one, though. Read more...