Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the
SA-Mali Project Fundraising Dinning, St. Georges Hotel, City of Tshwane, 27 September
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you very
much for your presence here today to support an important project - the South
Africa-Mali Project for the preservation of the Timbuktu Manuscripts. As you know,
that joint project was initiated by the governments of South Africa and Mali as
part of our contribution to the renaissance of Africa.
This dinner has been
organised to raise more funds to carry forward this vital project which must ensure
that Timbuktu Manuscripts will always be available as part of the historic African
literary, scientific and scholarly heritage. Your presence here tonight shows
the importance you attach to this project.
Writing for National Geographic
News on May 27, 2003, under the title, "Reclaiming the Ancient Manuscripts
of Timbuktu", Chris Rainier said:
"Since the 12th century, accompanying
the camel caravans rode the intrepid scholars of Islamic learning, bringing with
them over time hundreds of thousands of manuscripts. These bound texts highlighted
the great teachings of Islam during the Middle Ages. These sacred manuscripts
covered an array of subjects: astronomy, medicine, mathematics, chemistry, judicial
law, government, and Islamic conflict resolution. Islamic study during this period
of human history, when the intellectual evolution had stalled in the rest of Europe
was growing, evolving, and breaking new ground in the fields of science, mathematics,
astronomy, law, and philosophy within the Muslim world.
"By the 1300s
the "Ambassadors of Peace" centred around the University of Timbuktu
created roving scholastic campuses and religious schools of learning that travelled
between the cities of Timbuktu, Gao, and Djénné, helping to serve
as a model of peaceful governance throughout an often conflict-riddled tribal
region. At its peak, over 25,000 students attended the University of Timbuktu."
Rainier quoted Issa Mohammed, president of the Timbuktu Heritage Institute, saying:
"By stopping the illegal trafficking (in the manuscripts), not only we are
preserving the heritage of Timbuktu, of the Islamic world, and of Africa, but
we are preserving a message of love, peace, and living together in a multicultural
world (recalling the fact that in ancient Timbuktu, Muslims, Jews and Christians
had lived and worked together in peace.)"
For its part, the Timbuktu
Educational Foundation based in California in the United States, said:
those of you who care and appreciate an African intellectual legacy, an Islamic
legacy, an academic legacy and a spiritual legacy help save the endangered manuscripts
of Timbuktu. There are 700,000 manuscripts in Timbuktu and surroundings that are
on the verge of being lost if the appropriate action is not taken. These manuscripts
represent a turning point in the history of Africa and its people. The translation
and publication of the manuscripts of Timbuktu will restore self-respect, pride,
honor and dignity to the people of Africa and those descended from Africa; it
will also obliterate the stereo-typical images of Tarzan and primitive savages
as true representation of Africa and its civilization.
of Timbuktu are a living testimony of the highly advanced and refined civilization
in Sub-Sahara Africa. Before the European Renaissance, Timbuktu flourished as
the greatest academic and commercial center in Africa. Great empires such as Ghana,
Mali, and Songhai were proofs of the talents, creativity and ingenuity of the
African people. The University of Timbuktu produced both Black African scholars
and leaders of the highest rank, character and nobility."
have had the privilege to visit the ancient city of Timbuktu will know the modest
building housing the Ahmed Baba Institute where these medieval manuscripts are
We undertook the Timbuktu Project because we all agreed that the modest
facilities of Ahmed Baba Institute and the limited resources available for the
preservation of these manuscripts meant that over time most of them would fall
into a serious state of disrepair, and many would be lost to the illegal traffic.
we cannot allow such a critical part of the African history to die, because such
a death would mean erasing an important link to our glorious past.
through this Project we have already trained a team of Malian heritage professionals
and conservators. At the same time, a team of academics, including South Africans,
are busy studying the manuscripts. Preparations to erect a new library building
and other facilities in Timbuktu are well on course.
The Collins Concise
English Dictionary still includes reference to Timbuktu as 'any distance or outlandish
place'. As we know, outlandish can mean bizarre, peculiar, strange, eccentric,
weird or odd.
It may well be because of ignorance that such a reference
is made to a great ancient city and centre of scholarship and religion. Indeed,
it may well be because of the fact that much of the African history has been 'hidden'
from outsiders as well as from many other Africans that there developed an idea
of Timbuktu as an outlandish place in an unknown location. But of course, this
derogatory reference to Timbuktu is consistent with racist view of Africa that
has prevailed in Europe for many centuries.
Yet we know that as part of
the state of Songai, for more than hundred years, Timbuktu thrived as an intellectual
centre that attracted scholars from as far a-field as Asia and Europe. It is most
appropriate that UNESCO has proclaimed Timbuktu a World Heritage Site.
as we engage the process of the African Renaissance, Timbuktu is one of the critical
Projects that we should ensure succeeds. The Timbuktu Manuscripts Project, which
in our country is a Presidential Initiative, is also NEPAD's first Cultural Project.
With regard to Culture NEPAD says that: "Culture is an integral part
of development efforts on the continent. Consequently, it is essential to protect
and effectively utilise indigenous knowledge that represents a major dimension
of the continent's culture, and to share this knowledge for the benefit of humankind."
It further says that: "The New Partnership for Africa's Development
will give special attention to the protection and nurturing of indigenous knowledge,
which includes tradition-based literacy, artistic and scientific works, inventions,
scientific discoveries, designs, marks, names and symbols, undisclosed information
and all tradition-based innovations and creations resulting from intellectual
activity in the industrial, scientific, literary or artistic fields. The term
also includes genetic resources and associated knowledge." (P35, NEPAD Document)
of the NEPAD programme is to encourage collaboration among governments, state
institutions, universities, research institutions, the private sector and civil
society organisations so as to use the available capacity and resources to accelerate
the process of the regeneration of the continent.
The Timbuktu Manuscripts
Project is an outstanding example of this collaboration. I would like to thank
everybody present here tonight for turning the dream of partnership and collaboration
among ourselves as Africans into reality. Your contribution to this effort will
serve to inspire similar efforts elsewhere on our continent, encouraging the critically
important spirit of self reliance.
I would like to express my appreciation
for the generous contributions that business and individuals, both in government
and private sector, are making to ensure that this Project succeeds. I would also
like to thank the team of professionals that are working on the different parts
of this Project, from preservation, restoration and the work on the construction
of the library in Timbuktu. We appreciate your work very much.
I know that
those of us present here tonight will once more contribute generously to a Project
that will add enormously to the advance towards the renaissance of our continent.
Issued by The Presidency
27 September 2005