I AM a proud African woman, and due to growing up under the struggle against apartheid, have strong views about black people’s sense of identity.
I think that now, more than ever, Africans should take time and introspect; really think about who we are, where we come from, and where we want to go, not only as a people, but as a continent.
Having been born Black in South Africa during the late 1970s, I became aware of the racial prejudice and injustice meted out against blacks very early in life. My father was an activist like many others in South Africa, fighting for the political emancipation of our people in the land of their forefathers.
We often had frank conversations about the state of affairs during that time, and I witnessed riots and political unrest taking place all around me. These were very painful and frightening events that one had to acclimatise to from a very young age.
In the face of the atrocities committed against them, black people resiliently fought back with everything they had. This instilled pride in me and taught me that we are a proud people not willing to go down without a fight.
A proud history
Africans have a proud history. We are a people of the land; our ancestors valued land and all that it has to offer, not only for man, but for the animal and plant life as well. They had a deep appreciation of co-existence between man and beast, each has a pivotal role to play in the eco-system, and this was also central to our spiritual belief systems.
We understood that although we had dominion over animal and plant life, it by no means afforded us arrogance to abuse anything or anyone that did not look like ourselves.
Yes, there were sporadic clashes between different ethnic communities in various regions, but these were hardly provoked by the thirst for power, but more often because communities moved around to seek land that was fit for living on and grazing their livestock. Thus though there were battles, it was not due to an insatiable appetite to conquer, divide and enslave other groups.
Divide and rule
So when the white man arrived in Africa, he, through devious and violent means used our hospitality and sense of inclusion against us, to divide and rule, and to systematically strip us of who we are at our very core.
We lost our land, livestock and our autonomy through slavery and colonisation by the white man. The missionaries on the other hand used Christianity to demonise us at our being, both Spirit and Self.
In our African world view, these are complex and are connected to every part of who we are, including land, livestock and vegetation. Spirituality is central to our existence, the same way that a Christian God is to a Christian.
The missionaries used God against our way of life, our belief systems and our state of being in the universe. We lost our way, the methods that we used to make sense of the world around us, and slowly, we let ourselves go. We became half this and half that, leading to a loss of identity and creating confusion. In the process, we have lost much.
South Africa today
Fast tracking to the 21st century, Black South Africans continue to fight for land, and it continues to create tensions between the haves and the have-nots, clearly divided between racial lines, a legacy of colonisation and apartheid that is still felt more than 300 years later.
People have been dispossessed of their ancestral lands, and are still reeling in the loss of land and Self. Now as a country of Blacks and Whites, we are trying to work towards “reconciliation” a near-laughable term in my mind used to refer to redressing socio-political issues in the South African context— we were never one, we should call it something else more fitting of our context.
It seems to be another way of trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes, wishing away the uncomfortable truth that has brought our country to where it is today. What is wrong with calling a spade a spade? It is common knowledge that “He who holds the land holds economic power and freedom”.
So when I visited Kenya late last month, I was thrilled and in awe, and felt somewhat nervous for the people of that great country and their vast and undeveloped terrain. I kept asking our host if the people of the beautiful land know what a gem they possess. Much is made of the natural and cultural resources of the country. The Great Rift Valley the regal Maasai warriors, the vast and undeveloped landscape, and the rich political history with Jomo Kenyatta as the founding father.
Kenya and the Chinese
Growing up, I was not only aware of the political conflicts that afflicted Africa and her indigenous people, I also learned about the geography of our planet. This is where my fascination with land formations comes from. The trip to the Maasai Mara, the world renowned canvas of the Kenyan landscape was a defining moment in my life, a place I had always dreamed of seeing since childhood. I came face to face with some of God’s most amazing creations.
I also came across Chinese luxury “villages” nestled deep in the great plains of the Mara, and was told more were also coming up in other protected areas, such as the beautiful Amboseli.
I’m deeply passionate about the beautiful Mara, and I feel that Kenyans and Africa as whole should do everything it takes to preserve and protect it from being defaced, and from the displacement of it people. Any development that happens here, must first and foremost be for the benefit of the locals and not for greedy investors and politicians.
In Africa, we know that our political leaders are in the habit of selling us and our lands off to the West and in recent times to the East, without any qualms, with the result that this has left us in very compromised positions most of the time.
South Africa president Jacob Zuma during his state visit to China the other week said the Asian country would help free Africa from the shackles of colonialism. Really?
The Chinese are making a big economic exodus into Africa, using Africa’s bitter-sweet agenda with the West to manoeuver their way into the very fibre of our economies, along with stripping our natural resources on their own terms, as our leaders look on in exchange for yuans from the “Master”.
I don’t blame them though, they only do what we Africans allow them to do to us, with the full consent of our opportunistic politicians. They willingly and without foresight accept funding and absurd trade agreements, not considering the long term socio-economic implications for Africans. They continue to ignore our painful past which has left us with a legacy of poverty and wars, and in the process continue to whore Africa out to the highest bidder. All this is done in the name of development and global competitiveness, only that our trade “partners” dictate terms that largely benefit their own countries.
Just to illustrate this point, in recent times South Africa has entered into romantic but unholy economic partnerships with the Chinese, and in the process the ANC government decided that the Chinese should be graded as “previously disadvantaged” on the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) score sheet, the type of scoring that would normally be allocated for black people when applying for government tenders, provided they qualified to do the job required.
This is done in an effort to redress the economic injustices of our past.
How the South African government came to the decision that people of Chinese origin are now Black and are previously disadvantaged people in South Africa has left many of us baffled. The Chinese enjoy this BEE status purely for the procurement of government tenders, it is almost definite they would cringe if I dared to refer to them as Black, my experience is that they do after all think very little of the Black man. Head to China and see.
Once the Chinese are awarded these tenders they will use their own workforce (Chinese) to do the job, so no skills are transferred to the locals. This cannot benefit us in the long run, but of course the powers that be turn a blind eye. This is the so-called “East investing in Africa”, but we are not equal partners and may as well amount to the recolonisation of Africa by the Chinese. Investments should benefit all parties involved. Once again we are letting others tell us who we are and what our values are.
When are we as Africans going to wake up and demand an end to this cycle of madness?
We have to stop and ask ourselves what is it that the rest of the world sees in Africa as a continent that we fail to see for ourselves. Who are we and what are we worth? Why can we not define our own worth, but have to instead wait upon the West and the East to tell us who we are and what our value is? Are we that challenged in seeking depth and foresight?
My hope is that Kenya and other African countries shall not fall in the same trap. Do business with whoever you want, but on your own terms, and on your own value. Don’t sell Kenya, and Africa, to the highest bidder. We would have lost much, way more that we can ever get back.
I left a part of my soul in the Maasai Mara, as almost all who visit do, don’t allow it to lose its new home. Asante Sana.
—The writer is an avid traveller and commentator on social issues in Africa. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.