This was prophesied by a young Black Consciousness visionary, Steve Bantu Biko when he said: “What is likely to happen is that Black people will continue to be poor [in creative spirit – my addition] and you will see a few Blacks filtering through the so-called bourgeoisie. Our society will be run almost as of yesterday [European way – my understanding]. So for meaningful change to appear there needs to be an attempt at re-organising the whole economic [social and cultural – my addition] pattern and economic [social and cultural] policies ….” As a result, it is time for us to restore, reclaim and celebrate our heritage.
Many of the leaders who have risen to prominence and influence in business and political organizations, respectively, see the world through Western capitalism or Eastern European communism.
Clearly, those who consider themselves indigenous Africans and wish to embrace thinking patterns that emanate from the continent must face the tragic reality that there is very little that is Afrocentric in the dominant cultural and intellectual capital.
Thus it is becoming clear that the pursuit or popularization of an African Renaissance or theorizing about what it means is increasingly becoming a difficult task.
This was unavoidable as many thought leaders were not only educated in Western universities but those who lay claim to leadership of the liberation movement are products of Eastern European thought and analysis. Therefore, it is hard to identify intellectuals and leaders whose sophisticated critical analysis is rooted in Afrocentric thought and reflection.
Decolonizing the mind
In fact, this void makes it very easy for Africans, especially young people, to think that they are not capable of original thought. The founding father of capitalism was Adam Smith and the original thinker of communism was Karl Marx. Neither of them was African yet Africans have become chief proponents of their thinking.
Even those who truly want to espouse what Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiongo defined as ‘decolonizing the mind’ often find it difficult to come up with alternative ways of thinking or living that are rooted in Afrocentricism. This is a painful reality as it suggests that Africans have nothing to bring to the table of globalization beyond assimilating to allegedly foreign thinking patterns. There are very few traces of the much vaunted African thought or Renaissance in what has been unfolding in the new society of the last two decades.
Without anything that Africans bring to influence global developments or shape thinking and behaviour of this society, it simply means that calling this [South Africa] an African country is nothing but sentimental clap-trap. Indeed, a fundamental challenge is for those who insist that this is an African country to provide substantive evidence of what has been done to undermine or break the hegemonic domination of European thought.
It is easy to mislead people to think and believe that ideas transcend racial or national boundaries but it will always be important to stir and react to that which the soul is intuitively connected to. Perhaps it is time to provide evidence of that which is essentially Africans in our national life. Without evidence of this not only does it become difficult for the young to reclaim and assert African identity but a challenge to promote African pride.
Can we have a leading role?
We have to admit that for children born after 1994, there are very few African models in terms of fashion, education, thinking and general lifestyle. Yet the New South Africa of the last 20 years is called upon and expected to play a leading role in redefining the role of the continent in international politics and thus championing the African cause.
For young ‘born frees’ who may be hungry for African history, art, culture and heritage, what they witness and experience is largely a reflection or imitation of what originated in Europe. What this means is that they are challenged to identify and embrace what can be considered their indigenous African culture and heritage.
The celebration of the 20th anniversary of democracy and freedom should not only be an opportunity to take stock of where we come from but to rethink where we want to go in terms of self-determination. History and the future demand that we critically re-evaluate everything to look for the new not only to revive African thought, history and heritage but to redefine global human relations in a way that can easily pass for what is African.
Cradle of Humankind
There is a direct and abiding connection between the Cradle of Humankind and identifying the contribution of the African continent to human civilization and global development. Long before the arrival of the Europeans in 1652, there was in the 1200s Mapungubwe and Thulamela, for instance – a thriving African civilization that attracted people from all over the world. There is an urgent need to nurture and promote scholars, academics and intellectuals to unleash our potential not only to critically engage European hegemony but to re-imagine and re-invent this new society in a way that can make it define itself as indigenous African.
We need evidence that will convince the born-frees that their predecessors and parents – who are business, political, intellectual and cultural pioneers and trendsetters – have begun with the process to reconstruct this society in a manner that upholds and affirms African creative thinking in business, politics, arts, culture and heritage.
From the ascendance of Nelson Mandela as the first president of a democratic society, there has always been recognition that a pan-Africanist orientation is central to human progress and global developments, especially after the holocaust of European imperialism. There was no man who fervently espoused this better than, ironically, the Western-educated former president Thabo Mbeki.
Unfortunately, the emphasis and positioning of these iconic leaders has always been on their European orientation, identity and appeal. The way that Mandela was positioned leaned more towards European influences and tendencies than to his African cultural background and rootedness. Not only did he espouse principles and ideals that came from a world renowned constitution but it was measured against the Western thought and democratic achievements.
Also, when he had a choice to lead a chieftaincy, he politely declined. Thus he was reconstructed as an African revolutionary who embraced European values and ideals. This is what made it easier to see him as a global icon than an African nationalist and revolutionary.
Still mental slavery
Not only has the European thought and culture dominantly taken over African way of life but it would seem natives have allowed themselves to be recreated in the image of the white man and his civilisation. In fact, the born frees mostly see and experience themselves as either global citizens or remade Europeans.
It is one thing for a people to hanker after a dead past but it is another when they have resigned themselves to outside cultural dominance where they are completely emptied of any sense of their history, culture and heritage. As we approach the 20th anniversary of democracy, born frees must be made aware so that they make their own choices, where possible.
That the field of history, culture and heritage remains a place of struggle is most evident when we critically examine how contemporary African business, political, intellectual and cultural leaders represent themselves in public.
What reminds us of this is the abuse and marginalization of indigenous languages, for instance, that are carriers of African values, history and heritage. There are far too many born free little girls and boys who have severely been cut off from their background, history and heritage simply because their parents are obsessed with European languages, culture and way of doing things.
image of backward and primitive
The desire remains to encourage the little ones to speak European languages like English and French fluently at the expense of reconnecting them with their elders through the ability to speak and understand indigenous languages. Instead, these are seen as backward, primitive and holding back African progress and development. Thus born free not only are fundamentally convinced that Eurocentric languages are more dominant and powerful than indigenous tongues but more worthy with value to making things happen in the new society.
Despite efforts to make South Africa the leading African nation and champion of renaissance in the continent, there are perceptions that it has largely internalized European values and principles, a way of looking at itself, the continent and the world and defining the Western way as the best yardstick for progress. Of course, this is not a new development. It is something that started with the country’s encounter with modernity.
Perhaps we should recognize the depths of the founder of Pan-Africanism, W. E. B. Du Bois defined as “double consciousness” but the resultant inner conflict as contemporary Africans battle to gain define themselves and their agenda in the global order. There remains uncertainties about what it is that Africans bring to the table.
The indigenous people, especially the born frees, are right to demand or expect a crystal clear agenda towards economic, political and cultural self-determination. They are the heirs of what Steve Biko rightly called “a human face” that reflects African history and heritage. Alas that – in terms of language, music, fashion, movies, etc – they lean towards what draws them deeper and deeper into what is commonly called globalization, that is, a world order where the Anglo-American world maintains its identity, history and heritage while Africa is expected to fit in at the expense of its own glorious past.
Anyone who tries to intervene and engage African leaders across the spectrum about the need to directly address the issues fundamental to identity, arts, culture and heritage will be confronted by a sense of grave reluctance, denial even. Few see the economic, political and cultural status quo as a problem.
However, if not resolved, this will leave born frees haunted by “double consciousness,” repressed identity crisis and spiritually torn apart. This gap in the psyche that does not need cheap escapism but well thought out and clear definitions and solutions.
Africa’s time has come and South Africa should is expected to set the agenda. It is time for us to go back to our roots: restore, reclaim and celebrate our heritage!