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African Challenges Are Not Purely Inspired By Africanism

What's so African in South Africa? The land? The food? Any other means of production? 

05/02/2018 15:39 SAST | Updated 05/02/2018 15:39 SAST
Kevin Coombs / Reuters

Working towards a cohesive knowledgeable nation

A prominent African sociologist, Professor Kwesi Prah, once said, "If everyone is an African, then nobody is an African."

The question then is, what's so African in South Africa? The land? The food? Any other means of production?

For the sake of generating a dialogue around these important and critical issues in South Africa, we have time and again raised numerous sensitive and controversial matters through open platforms. Our opinions have been interrogating the visibly slow pace of land reform in the country, among others.

Respectfully, we have recognised that land ownership has for decades been central to the anticolonial struggle, and that land dispossession is directly and indirectly linked to the persistent challenges of our triple problems: unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Moreover, our verdict has been that the exaggerated claims of the success of South Africa's reconciliation assignment be withheld till the land question has been resolved.

We've also raised various motions and made numerous contributions to the arguments on transforming the educational system in our country. Why is it that students in SA are taught about CV writing, while others in developing and developed countries are trained in entrepreneurship?

In this respect, we've been advocating for an African-based curriculum at a time when our policymakers were seemingly obsessed with the western-based models and accents, to the exclusion of African experience, thus rendering Africanism null and void.

We're mindful of the continuous argument reignited by our former president and now perpetuated by our deputy president on the African Renaissance. However, we dismissed and continue to dismiss the sycophantic verdict that these two are "the godfathers of African Renaissance", because we know that African challenges are not purely inspired by Africanism.

These concerns and related misconceptions are unlikely to disappear unless and until they are addressed.

In the same vein, it's worth mentioning that the role of neocolonial regimes and superpowers in fomenting conflicts in Africa weren't bred anywhere else but in Africa. Alas, the new conceptualisation of who is African by former president Thabo Mbeki, while seductive, is not consistent with the historical and scholarly description of identities. We also noted that identities are not formed by mere conference declarations.

We've suggested that one's geographical location should not be collapsed nor confused with one's cultural identity or orientation. After all, if anyone can be an African, who then isn't?

It's been astonishingly noteworthy to hear the former president recently alluding to the historical conceptualisation of the African in the ANC's statement and his intention for further engagement. We wonder if the former president included white South Africans in his statement in relation to the 1900 Pan-African Congress, since being vague has become stylish – like our charismatic churches?

Let it be known that we commend the former president for instilling a sense of urgency with regard to the delivery of services, especially in rural areas. We also noted the government and Parliament's commitment to effecting transformation by passing an avalanche of new legislation and establishing of institutions of democracy as stipulated in the Constitution. We have also commended unambiguously government's and Parliament's efforts to discharge their responsibilities.

Learning from the filings made by various members of the ruling party, it's pleasing to witness such concerns being noted. We also note with utter disappointment that although concerns have been noted, they have however been shelved for another president, another speaker and so forth. The president and his ruling party are understandably irritated by the frequency with which these concerns are raised.

However, they are better advised that these concerns and related misconceptions are unlikely to disappear unless and until they are addressed. Should we chant viva to raise the flag?

It is quite unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable, that the moment for executing a revolution rarely is one that is blessed with leisurely reflections. To this extent, the revolutionary, for all his zeal and purity of intent, will not uncommonly stumble in the course of his mission.

One of the greatest challenges of political transition is the ability and willingness to affirm the human element in our leaders.

Learning from history, may we be reminded that many political systems the world over have very short moral memories. Thus, while endless authority has so often been granted to the father of the revolution in Africa and elsewhere, we've equally witnessed how the political system has so dramatically failed to uphold its sacred duty of keeping a check on those it has entrusted with such power.

It is for this sole account that we fundamentally believe that one of the greatest challenges of political transition is the ability and willingness to affirm the human element in our leaders. Our observation is that there is no instrument for such affirmation better than an open and frank intellectual engagement.

Our periodic public submissions have been aimed at promoting nonviolence and the nonharmful culture of democratic debate that offers material expression to freedoms of expression, thought and opinion. We deem this a civic responsibility, in part responding to former president's invitation for the black intelligentsia to participate in the public discussions that move South Africa forward.

Otherwise to suggest that blacks as a singular class must ask themselves whether they're implementing their mandate for themselves, for the country or the world, begs the question of morally and socially conscious authority.

Our understanding of this mandate does not necessarily include chanting sycophantic praises to the new regime, but neither does it exclude giving credit where credit is due. We deem this task as one of, among others, submitting probing questions for clarity of thought on a variety of matters and fostering an environment of critical thinking engagement on the basis of conviction.

In implementing our mandate, which at times takes the form of being critical of government's policies, we have evidently exposed ourselves to some virulent, unscrupulous personal attacks. For instance, suggestions have been advanced that our involvement is counterrevolutionary – typical of the pre-1994 revolutionary-cum-stooges who have suddenly sprung from nowhere.

Our African ancestors' angels, dreamers and travellers traversing this tide are fuming.

The stated personal attacks ought to concern those who share the burden of thought in our society. They ought to concern those among our leaders who truly dream of the masses of our people partaking in the rebirth of Africa. For one thing, no such rebirth will materialise without unleashing first the intellectual energy of the African majority.

Besides, the very nature of these personal attacks against us vividly goes against the spirit of the call made by Mbeki for black intellectuals to get into the arena of public discourse. On the face of it, it seems that the call for black intellectuals was a false alarm.

Can South Africa engender a culture of true intellectual battle, if there are signs that those whom history has blessed with political power have already delineated what subjects shall not be on the agenda?

The burden of intellectual and academic life is rarely seen in full measure. For example, we have had aspersions cast on our educational competence for merely raising questions about political developments within the national governing party.

These questions include: "What kind of knowledge are we imparting on to our successors?" "Will we be content with the kind of content material we're teaching our fellows?" Without belabouring the point, such insinuations suggest that there is perhaps only one body of knowledge – truthful knowledge, that is – that we must beg from some venerable entity.

Our African ancestors' angels, dreamers and travellers traversing this tide are fuming. Heaven knows that great minds in history like Martin Luther King, Bantu Steve Biko, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela and Che Guevara – among others – knew intuitively that human advancement is only possible when the mind is freed from the shackles of geopolitical, scientific, religious and socioeconomic dogma.

The question thus is, have Africans learnt anything from the teachings of these great pioneers, so we can emulate them?

Koketso Marishane is the NDP 2030 Ambassador. He writes in his personal capacity.