Ideas with no space
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
IDENTITY REFERENCES ARE NOT SIMPLISTIC
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
IS AFRICA FREE OR STILL CONTROLLED BY COLONISERS?
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. co.za; and also in Polokwane Academic Bookshop (opposite CNA Checkers Centre); and Budget Bookshop (c/o Rissik and Landros Mare Streets).