Africa: The Search For Identity

The great African writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o in his book, Decolonising the Mind, asserts the importance of language, the mother tongue, in a statement which I think is still valid today. And I quote: “How did we, as African writers, come to be so feeble towards the claims of our languages on us and so aggressive in our claims on other languages, particularly the languages of our colonisation?

Berlin of 1884 was effected through the sword and the bullet. But the night of the sword and the bullet was followed by the psychological violence of the classroom. But where the former was visibly brutal, the latter was visibly gentle….”

The statement published in 1981 still rings true today as we engage in the languages of our former oppressors. Yet in our languages, we can express ourselves and provide meanings in ways, which often cannot be adequately translated. We see ourselves from the vantage point of the other.

We speak of an African Agenda and yet so many deviate from this path and go on detours that others have created, instead of following our hearts and the road to African self-determination. Today we still bicker and allow divisions between us to be exploited instead of celebrating this unity in diversity.

Indeed the legacy of Berlin of 1884 that carved up this continent is still with us, even as collectively we try to piece together our continent and our future. What we have battled with as Africans is to nurture our own African identity and to understand that the power is in our own hands.

The great Kwame Nkrumah in his book “Africa must unite” writes about a continental government for Africa. He points out that: “Our continent gives us the second largest land stretch in the world. The natural wealth of Africa is estimated to be greater than that of almost any other continent in the world. To draw the most from our existing and potential means for the achievement of abundance and a fine social order, we need to unify our efforts, our resources, our skills and intentions.”

Although these words were published in 1963, they still speak to us through the decades. The challenge indeed is to use these natural resources to our own advantages and to empower our people with the necessary skills, education, intellect to have the courage to set their own agenda, cultural, political and economic, for that is the only sure way forward.

You would already have heard that South Africa is amongst the first group of countries that have ratified the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance. We have agreed with our counterparts on the way forward in the form of the implementation strategy.

Agenda 2063 builds on the pledges made through the fiftieth anniversary solemn declaration. It provides a roadmap that covers all aspects of African life so that national, regional and continental plans become part of a united effort for Africa’s development.

All these combined efforts should bring about an “integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a new dynamic force in the global arena.” This involves identifying areas in which Africa needs to solve its challenges collectively, thinking and building on the existing foundations and knowledge from the past.

This plan focuses on building leadership, harnessing resources effectively, emphasising shared values, encouraging solidarity, forging an African identity and a culture of inclusion as well as clarifying Africa’s relationship with the world.

Some would argue that in a rapidly globalising world, do we still need the nation and a sense of local belonging? Others argue that we are imposing upon them nationalism in a world in which it has little place.But those who argue this forget that every human being occupies a space, has a vantage point for which she or he views and speaks to others. Thus a sense of rootedness, and real belonging grounds us, gives us a commitment to the place in which we reside and call our homes.

Moreover, those countries and continents who are at the centre of the global economy are indeed those who have a strong sense of national identity, whereas it is always those at the periphery of the global economy who are asked to forgo their identities at the expense of others. Therefore let us embrace the 7 aspirations of which Agenda 2063 is comprised of.

Let us particularly as the arts, culture and heritage sector, pay special attention to aspiration 5 which speaks of promoting an African identity and cultural values. This should undergird all the other aspirations because to address the economic, social and political challenges requires a rootedness in Africa, a heightened African consciousness and an internationalism where indeed we are all seen as part of a great African family.

Together we need to work hard to ensure that only do we have strong cultural and creative industries but that there is also cross-border co-operation and unity so that African arts can flourish as a whole and contribute to the continental economy instead of its profits being dispersed across the world in markets which do not benefit us.

In the year that lies ahead, part of our focus is on providing support for cultural incubators located in community arts centres. Soon we shall be launching the Mzansi Golden Market, a web based portal, through which people can access and obtain creative products from South Africa. This is intended to expand the current markets for South African arts and crafts but also to ensure that our artists can maximise their earnings.

We are expanding the Liberation Heritage Route beyond the borders of our country to include many countries in Africa where our African brothers and sisters provided us with support and a home away from home where our liberation movement could have their base.We are commencing with Africa cultural seasons from 2015 and planning a gathering in May next year where all African arts and culture will be showcased.Our journey towards 2063 has just begun…..

Let me conclude with some lines by a poet from the African Diaspora. Grace Nichols born in Georgetown, Guyana in her collection “I is a long memoried woman” writes the following memorable poem. And I quote:

“I have crossed an ocean?
I have lost my tongue?
from the root of the old one?
a new one has sprung.”

The journey to Africa’s emancipation has been long and hard. Let us use all the resources that we have to renew this continent and bring about the African renaissance for which generations have only dreamt of but not fully experienced. Forward with the Charter for the Africa’s Cultural Renaissance! And forward with Agenda 2063!

By Rejoice Mabudafhasi

Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Republic of South Africa.

Culled from The Executive


One Comment

  1. This is an educated Deputy Minister! I think too of Gambia-born Cotton’s The Africans & Camara Laye’s classic The African Child.