In­stil cul­ture of read­ing, thinking and writ­ing as na­tion strives for com­plete eman­ci­pa­tion, writes Nathi Mthethwa

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Nathi Mthethwa is Min­is­ter of Arts and Cul­ture

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.

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