REKINDLE UBUNTU IN AFRICA
Instil culture of reading, thinking and writing as nation strives for complete emancipation, writes Nathi Mthethwa
THE Ministry of Arts and Culture has initiated colloquia and dialogues to encourage and inculcate a culture of reading, thinking and writing; under the theme: “The Year of OR Tambo: Building a Better Africa in a Better World” with the general focus being on decolonisation as part of the Africa Month programme “Conversations with a Continent”.
For the first time since we inaugurated this Africa Month programme in 2015, we have extended this festival of ideas to include the month of June. We have hosted luminaries like Ben Okri, Ama Ata Aidoo, Prof Zakes Mda, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Wole Soyinka over the years. This year we add to that list, the young writer, Michelle Nkamankeng aged 7, Prof Horace Campbell, Odia Ofeimun, Claudia Rankine, Sindiwe Magona, Prof Pitika Ntuli and Prof Muxe Nkondo, among others.
As part of the colloquia for Africa Month we welcomed to our midst an eminent thinker and a true son of the African soil, Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
In the last five decades and more, he has contributed immensely to African literature through his novels, plays, and short stories but also to African politics, history, and philosophy through his essays, thoughts and actions.
He has also shaped the way we see and think about ourselves. He has reimagined our past and present, crafting a new future from this African vantage point – not from the mountain peaks of any other continent, not from the seas in ships of conquest, not from the barrel of a gun, not from Western eyes, but with the proud eyes of belonging and from the perspective of one whose feet are planted firmly on African ground.
He has provided us with the terminology, vocabulary and call to action in the phrase and title of his much read book, Decolonising the Mind.
But before we can truly decolonise, we need to understand the tools, thinking and method used to colonise us. We need to understand the way in which the colonisers went about their business of colonising us.
In 1835, Lord Thomas Macaulay, in an address to the British parliament, said: “I have travelled across the length and breadth of Africa and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Africans think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and become what we want them (to be), a truly dominated nation.”
In this way and through these calculated means, successive colonial governments sought deliberately and systematically to destroy our heritage, our identity, our humanity, and using the most powerful tools at their disposal, guns and cultural imperialism, they enforced domination through coercion and acculturation.
Albert Memmi in his 1957 book The Coloniser and the Colonised goes on to say that: “Colonialism denies human rights to human beings whom it has subdued by violence, and keeps them by force in a state of misery and ignorance that Marx would rightly call a subhuman condition.
“Racism is ingrained in actions, institutions, and in the nature of the colonialist methods of production and exchange. Political and social regulations reinforce one another… It is significant that racism is part of colonialism throughout the world; and it is no co-incidence. Racism sums up and symbolises the fundamental relation which united colonialist and colonised.”
Finally, that architect of apartheid and destroyer of people’s lives, Hendrik Verwoed who penned the 1953 Bantu Education Act said: “There is no place for blacks in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour. What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice.”
He destined black people to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water”.
In these ways colonialism and apartheid sought to undermine us through stripping us of our precious possessions, our resources and our languages, and thus impoverishing us spiritually, creatively and destroying the fabric of our economic and social systems.
It is in this context that we need to understand that we need to decolonise our culture and all else will follow.
This message was carried aloft by the class of 1976. This was the same class who demanded to be taught in the languages of their homes and the languages of their choice.
As we commemorate the 41st anniversary of the June 1976 uprising this week and the contribution and sacrifice of the youth of our country in paving the way for our freedom, let us recall that it was the change in the language of instruction and the introduction of Afrikaans alongside English as a medium of instruction that historians have considered to be the immediate cause and trigger of the Soweto uprising, although there were also a variety of other factors. More pointedly it was a protest against Bantu Education.
Today, we need to strengthen the mental frameworks for our emancipation as our journey to freedom, although many advances have been made, is still an unfinished song.
The message of one Africa, of a united and prosperous continent, proud of its cultures, languages and literature is one which the youth of this country and continent must take forward.
As Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o indicates, colonialism is an economic system. Only through the dismantling of this system and through radical economic transformation, can we arrive at a truly free country and continent. This message must carry on from Youth Month and beyond.
As we work towards the realisation of African Union Agenda 2063 “The Africa We Want”, we need to do so cognisant of where we have come from and exactly how we ought to get to our decolonised and truly free destination.
Through our own philosophies and African world view, through our languages that capture the essence of ubuntu and of a common humanity, we shall strive towards our complete emancipation.
Conversations about creating a thriving continent
‘SON OF THE SOIL’: Kenya’s Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o is considered one of the giants of African literature. Through his book Decolonising the Mind, the author has reimagined a new future for the continent, the writer says.