Di­ver­sity is the strength of Africa, not a weak­ness

CityPress - - Voices - Ju­lian Kunnie voices@city­press.co.za

This week, the life of Steve Bantu Biko, the in­tel­lec­tual gi­ant largely re­spon­si­ble for the for­ma­tion of the Black Con­scious­ness Move­ment, is be­ing re­mem­bered – 40 years af­ter he was mur­dered by apartheid po­lice.

While there are numer­ous re­flec­tions on Biko’s phi­los­o­phy, po­lit­i­cal role in the coun­try and life, few recog­nise the pow­er­ful Pan-African mes­sage his life en­cap­su­lates.

Biko’s of­ten over­looked mes­sage for the world is abun­dantly clear: Africa is the cra­dle of hu­man civil­i­sa­tion and sym­bolic of the Cre­ator’s de­sign in mak­ing peo­ple who they are: African and hu­man.

In Biko’s phi­los­o­phy, be­ing African is not an aber­ra­tion as we are brain­washed into be­liev­ing by me­dia hype and in­doc­tri­na­tion by a colo­nial­is­ing his­tory. This has re­sulted in per­verted con­struc­tions of African hu­man­ity.

Biko em­pha­sised that African cul­tures al­ways viewed the uni­verse as beau­ti­ful and com­mu­nity as foun­da­tional, so hu­mans en­joyed be­ing with each other, and con­sid­ered no­tions of hell and judge­ment ter­ri­fy­ing and un­nat­u­ral.

Chris­tian­ity fright­ened Africa into adopt­ing a false sense of fear and moral­ity, based on a Manichaean du­al­ism of good and evil, un­like the African view of hu­mans as es­sen­tially good and spir­i­tual, Biko as­serted.

While Biko was a bril­liant po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and in­tel­lec­tual, he was also a the­o­log­i­cal ge­nius, dip­ping into the well­spring of Pan-African tra­di­tion and his­tory to for­mu­late black the­olo­gies of lib­er­a­tion for the African con­text.

To­day, South Africa and the rest of the con­ti­nent con­tinue to strug­gle with pos­i­tive as­so­ci­a­tions of be­ing African. Africa has been ide­o­log­i­cally dis­tanced from South Africa to the amus­ing point that South Africans trav­el­ling to other parts of Africa de­scribe their vis­its as “go­ing to Africa”.

How do we over­come these en­trenched self-dep­re­cat­ing im­ages and no­tions of Africa and African­ity in a world that cel­e­brates glob­al­i­sa­tion gen­er­ally couched in Western cul­tural and so­cioe­co­nomic terms? How do we deal with this in­ter­nal­i­sa­tion of African neg­a­tiv­ity that has re­sulted in aca­dem­i­cally prop­a­gated terms such as Afropes­simism?

The re­buff we of­ten hear is: “What is fun­da­men­tally wrong with us?” and “Why is Africa crazy and un­able to get its act to­gether?” We need to re­spond in the vein of Biko’s phi­los­o­phy: Mother Africa is nei­ther ab­surd nor in­nately deficient; the problem is that Africans have at­tempted to move away from her in world view and cul­tural ori­en­ta­tion, and to per­sist in be­com­ing some­thing out of sync with Africa’s evo­lu­tion and beauty.

In a real sense, then, we need to re­turn to Africa in our hearts and souls, as Amíl­car Cabral pro­posed and Biko im­plied. We need to re­store our self-con­fi­dence in the power Africa wields: a con­ti­nent of more than

1.1 bil­lion hu­man be­ings with tens of mil­lions in the African diaspora in Europe and the Amer­i­cas, and pos­sess­ing valu­able re­sources: fer­tile forests, ex­ten­sive wa­ter­ways, di­verse eco­log­i­cal sys­tems, and most of the world’s min­eral and en­ergy re­sources.

The lack of Pan-African con­fi­dence has pro­duced the ironic anom­aly that, while Africa is the wealth­i­est con­ti­nent on Earth, she is the most im­pov­er­ished. Africa’s wealth and po­ten­tial do not ben­e­fit the con­ti­nent be­cause of the ugly scar of coloni­sa­tion and the ex­is­tence of neo­colo­nial­ist cap­i­tal­ism that Biko sac­ri­ficed his life re­sist­ing – what he re­ferred to as a dog-eat-dog sys­tem.

I re­cently spent a month at Africa Univer­sity, a lead­ing Pan-African univer­sity out­side Mutare, Zimbabwe, where stu­dents from 28 coun­tries are study­ing a range of sub­jects in the hu­man­i­ties and in agri­cul­tural, health and so­cial sciences. Biko would have cel­e­brated the role of such an in­sti­tu­tion be­cause he loved the in­te­gra­tion of the con­ti­nent and as­pired to build a so­ci­ety where race and cul­ture do not di­vide. He wanted a so­ci­ety where all can live to­gether, free of bar­ri­ers of colour and class. Di­ver­sity is the strength of Africa, not her weak­ness.

Within this vi­sion that Biko’s life con­veys, then, is the prac­ti­cal con­cern that African coun­tries need to feel for each other be­cause an in­jury to one is an in­jury to all.

The na­tion of Zimbabwe – once the bread­bas­ket of Africa, and now at its eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial ebb be­cause of Western sanc­tions and in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal con­tra­dic­tions and class ex­ploita­tion – re­quires con­struc­tive as­sis­tance for re­build­ing. This needs to come from sen­si­ble African con­ti­nen­tal quar­ters: in­tel­lec­tu­als, trade unions, women’s or­gan­i­sa­tions, our young­sters, churches and re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties, ru­ral grass­roots



What do you think needs to be done to re­alise Steve Biko’s vi­sion for Africa?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word AFRICA and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50 coun­cils and de­cent fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions.

South Africa, in turn, needs to be open to self-cor­rec­tion of its own eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal dys­func­tion, so the mo­nop­o­lis­tic own­er­ship of the coun­try’s econ­omy by a hand­ful of mostly white and some black bil­lion­aires, which has re­sulted in the im­pov­er­ish­ment of most of the na­tion, is ag­gres­sively ar­rested. No longer can the pros­per­ity of a group in one African coun­try be used to stare with dis­dain at the de­pri­va­tion and im­pov­er­ish­ment of peo­ple in an­other. Biko’s phi­los­o­phy calls us to do our best to ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion in a holis­tic and col­lec­tive man­ner in the train of African his­to­ries and cul­tures – do­ing any­thing less is con­tin­u­ing to be part of the problem.

May Biko’s spirit live on in the strug­gle for a de­colonised, re­stored and re-spir­i­tu­alised Africa.

Kunnie is a pro­fes­sor, aca­demic and re­searcher. His lat­est book is The Cost of Glob­al­i­sa­tion: Dan­gers to the Earth and its Peo­ple

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