Ideas with no space

African Times - - African History -

This se­ries features Dr Tlou Se­tumu’s works on our own his­tory, her­itage and cul­ture. This week we fea­ture a com­pi­la­tion of his opin­ion let­ters (unedited) pre­vi­ously sent to var­i­ous news­pa­pers for pub­li­ca­tion. Two let­ters are fea­tured here with dates of their sub­mis­sion

LET­TER 1 10 July 2004


MAY I please re­spond to Jerry Ralete­bele’s let­ter en­ti­tled “WE ARE AFRICANS AND NOT BLACKS” (Sowe­tan 19 Oc­to­ber 2004). I am very glad that Ralete­bele raised this im­por­tant is­sue of our iden­tity, al­though he iron­i­cally still calls him­self Jerry (Euro­pean name), but still makes ex­trav­a­gant claims on African­ness.

In one of his big­gest songs ever, ti­tled “African”, the leg­endary reg­gae icon, Peter Tosh sings, “I don’t care where you come from; As long as you are a black man, you are an African; No mind your com­plex­ion, there is no re­jec­tion”.

I think Ralete­bele is quite right to be wor­ried about the ap­par­ent con­fus­ing na­ture of our iden­tity in this time and age of democ­racy and African Re­nais­sance.

How­ever, the prob­lem with Ralete­bele is that in­stead of de­cently sub­stan­ti­at­ing his ar­gu­ments with un­der­stand­able facts, he re­sorts to harsh lan­guage such as “shock­ing”, “dis­gust­ing”, “great shame”, and so on.

All these do not con­trib­ute to his ar­gu­ment to be more valid. He also harshly lashes out at those who may not share his view that the term “African” is more ap­pro­pri­ate than “black”.

I must warn Ralete­bele that the de­bate, and also the an­swers to the ques­tions of iden­tity ref­er­ences such as “African” and “black”, are not as sim­ple as he thinks.

And as much as Ralete­bele feels strongly about be­ing re­ferred to as African, there are those who would feel the same way when be­ing re­ferred to as blacks.

There are those who are so proud about be­ing called blacks that they even boast that “black is beau­ti­ful”. Ralete­bele should not present his ar­gu­ment as if it is con­clu­sive and the only right­ful one be­cause he even con­tra­dicts him­self by ad­mit­ting to the us­age of the ref­er­ence “black” as he says, “The word African… refers to in­dige­nous peo­ple of Africa, namely peo­ple whose skin colour is black”. Icons such as Mwal­imu Ny­erere, Leopold Senghor, Aime Ces­saire, and many oth­ers, are known to have been proud of black­ness.

There­fore, there is noth­ing “shock­ing”, “dis­gust­ing” nor “shame­ful” about be­ing black.

Peo­ple have ac­quired var­i­ous iden­tity tags un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, es­pe­cially for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.

For in­stance, the Black Con­scious­ness Move­ment de­fined all the op­pressed peo­ple in South Africa as blacks, ir­re­spec­tive of their skin colour or ori­gin.

The in­ten­tion was to unite and mo­bilise the op­pressed against the op­pres­sor: the white mi­nor­ity apartheid gov­ern­ments.

The ques­tion of ref­er­ence and cat­e­gori­sa­tion of peo­ple is very com­plex and prob­lem­atic.

For in­stance, if we say in South Africa we have Africans, In­di­ans, coloureds and whites, the prob­lem is that the first two cat­e­gories re­fer to geo­graphic lo­ca­tion (Africa and In­dia), while the last two are linked to colour (coloured and white). Again, to speak of blacks, coloureds, whites (based on colour) – that will ex­clude In­di­ans.

And to try and talk Africans, In­di­ans, Euro­peans (based on lo­ca­tion) – coloured is ex­cluded. So, what? The re­al­ity is that you can’t stick to only ge­og­ra­phy and ex­clude colour.

In con­clu­sion, in de­bat­ing this cru­cial sub­ject of our iden­tity, we need to ap­pre­ci­ate and take into con­sid­er­a­tion all these com­plex­i­ties, and most im­por­tantly, ac­knowl­edge and re­spect other views, even if they dif­fer from ours.

We must also re­alise that the prin­ci­ple of mul­ti­ple iden­tity is rel­e­vant here, and it will de­pend which iden­tity marker is dom­i­nant over the other.

For in­stance, I can be South African, African, black, ru­ral vil­lager, worker, com­mu­nist, youth, and so on, with­out these iden­ti­ties nec­es­sar­ily con­tra­dict­ing.

LET­TER 2 14 July 2008


THE sit­u­a­tion in Zim­babwe has high­lighted the fact that Africa and its peo­ple are still re­garded with con­tempt by other na­tions, the west­ern in par­tic­u­lar.

Africa is a con­ti­nent that has ar­guably suf­fered hu­mil­i­a­tion more than any other place on this planet.

It has been sub­jected to unimag­in­able bru­tal­ity of bar­baric acts of slav­ery and hu­man slaugh­ter dur­ing colo­nial in­va­sions and plun­der.

As if that was not enough, Africa’s wealth and re­sources have been (and con­tinue to be) ex­ploited and ex­ported to be en­joyed by for­eign­ers through cap­i­tal­ist multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions while Africans re­main poor.

Africa has al­ways been given neg­a­tive tags and la­bels such as “a dark con­ti­nent”, “back­ward”, “bar­baric”, “sav­age”, etc.

All these neg­a­tives and stereo­types about Africa, led to other na­tions, es­pe­cially the west, to look down upon Africa and its peo­ple.

That is why the west will al­ways per­ceive them­selves as morally su­pe­rior to Africans.

Such racial, su­pe­ri­or­ity-com­plex no­tions have been har­boured by west­ern­ers against Africa from time im­memo­rial. That is why they came here to hunt for the “in­fe­rior hu­man be­ings” and made them slaves.

They then sent their holy mis­sion­ar­ies “to save the bar­baric hu­man be­ings” from hea­then­dom so as to show them “light” through the Holy Gospel.

Fi­nally, they con­quered these “in­fe­rior hu­man be­ings”, took their land and all what they had dur­ing colo­nial in­va­sion of Africa.

Africans fought, but they were even­tu­ally sub­ju­gated by the end of the 19th cen­tury. How­ever, by the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tury, Africa’s “free­dom”, “lib­er­a­tion” and “in­de­pen­dence” were be­ing be­stowed back to Africans.

A gen­er­a­tion of free­dom fight­ers emerged and led Africa to what was cel­e­brated as in­de­pen­dence. This gen­er­a­tion of Africa’s free­dom fight­ers in­cluded Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Keny­atta, Julius Ny­erere, Aghostino Neto, Ed­wardo Mondhlane, Ken­neth Kaunda, Robert Mu­gabe, just to name a few.

The main ques­tion is: when Africa fi­nally got its “in­de­pen­dence”, was that gen­uine free­dom and lib­er­a­tion from its for­mer colonisers? Un­for­tu­nately, the an­swer in, NO! Even af­ter “in­de­pen­dence” the west con­tin­ued to en­joy eco­nomic priv­i­leges and con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate the eco­nomic as­pects of Africa.

The land, min­eral and oil re­sources of this con­ti­nent are still owned by the west and their set­tler cit­i­zens.

Africans are only al­lowed to take po­lit­i­cal power and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are pro­hib­ited to touch on vi­tal eco­nomic as­pects such as land, min­eral and oil re­sources – oth­er­wise the set­tler cit­i­zens cry and call upon their west­ern gov­ern­ments who would come and over­throw the African govern­ment that dares to touch the un­touch­ables.

Mu­gabe tried to touch the un­touch­ables by try­ing to give back what was due to Africans - land.

The west then un­leashed all its power – es­pe­cially through its pow­er­ful me­dia – to at­tack Mu­gabe.

They fol­lowed by hit­ting Zim­babwe with sanc­tions that crip­pled that coun­try – a de­lib­er­ate ac­tion which they used in their quest to over­throw Mu­gabe.

On his part, Mu­gabe stood his ground, al­beit with a high price in which his peo­ple bore the brunt of sanc­tions be­cause of his sin of touch­ing the un­touch­ables.

The African Union and SADC – Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki in par­tic­u­lar – have been bat­tling to keep the west at bay be­cause re­ally Africa is sick and tired of be­ing lec­tured by the west who must con­cen­trate on the more se­ri­ous prob­lems which they have cre­ated such as those in Afghanistan, Is­rael and Iraq.

Mu­gabe’s David-Go­liath courage against the west (like Fidel Cas­tro against the USA) has helped to re­de­fine the unipo­lar world order dom­i­nated and abused by the USA, Bri­tain and their west­ern al­lies.

When the west put the Zim­bab­wean sit­u­a­tion be­fore the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, China and Rus­sia (with African coun­tries such as South Africa and Libya), em­phat­i­cally crushed that res­o­lu­tion that was in­tended to un­der­mine African ef­forts of AU and SADC in Zim­babwe.

With Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki call­ing for the ex­ten­sion of the G8 into G13, the dom­i­nance of the world by the USA and its west­ern al­lies is be­ing chal­lenged and this should be wel­comed.

Mu­gabe’s courage – with all the risks in­volved – has led to Africans, through AU and SADC, to fur­ther re­alise that they must be united and solve their prob­lems with­out be­ing in­tim­i­dated by the west­ern coun­tries who are only in­ter­ested in con­tin­ued milk­ing of Africa’s eco­nomic re­sources as they still own land, min­eral and oil re­sources here. It is strange that in the case of Zim­babwe, it is al­ways said that Mu­gabe is tak­ing “white-owned farms”. Where are “black-owned farms”?

The plain his­tor­i­cal fact is that the whites came from Europe, and they did not bring with them land, min­er­als and live­stock – they found all that in Africa, and they con­fis­cated all that – now, when Mu­gabe turns the sit­u­a­tion around, the west finds a bit­ter pill to swal­low.

They can’t taste their own medicine – as they also took land and its re­sources by force (in their case it was even hor­ri­ble be­cause mil­lions of na­tive com­mu­ni­ties were slaugh­tered dur­ing colo­nial wars of con­quest -killed for their land).

There­fore, Zim­babwe is a bea­con and a source of les­son which highlights whether Africa is truly lib­er­ated, free and in­de­pen­dent, or it is still con­trolled by its for­mer colo­nial mas­ters, who can willy-nilly in­ter­fere and veto do­mes­tic de­ci­sions such as land re­forms.

Dr. Tlou Se­tumu is Au­thor and Re­searcher of His­tory, Her­itage and Cul­ture. His books in­clude: Biogra­phies of Bra Ike Maphoto, TT Cholo and Max Mo­japelo; His Story is His­tory; The Land Bought, the Land Never Sold; Ideas with no Space; Foot­steps of Our An­ces­tors; etc. Books are avail­able on www.mak-herp.; and also in Polok­wane Aca­demic Book­shop (op­po­site CNA Check­ers Cen­tre); and Bud­get Book­shop (c/o Ris­sik and Lan­dros Mare Streets).

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