African way is our cure

2012-11-10 13:04

Let us talk about the African way of doing things because that sort of way does exist.

Also, let us have a separate conversation about how ­President Jacob Zuma invokes African culture and traditions for his own narrow interests.

Just as how the conversation on economic freedom can be (and should have been) separated from the way Julius Malema tried to co-opt it, so too can this nation’s cultures and traditions – as well as the assault they have come under and the value in restoring them – be discussed separately from Zuma’s attempts to usurp them.

As with the majority of cultures, norms and traditions the world over, those indigenous to Africa are not without their problems – for example, the gender inequalities these ingrained practices hold.

But vigilant of the pitfalls of exceptionalism, I am sure that the African way of doing things – which long ago recognised that human beings coexist, are interdependent and share linked fates – is radically progressive in many respects and can make a contribution to how our society develops.

I am concerned, however, that some commentators and newspapers perceive ­African customs to be automatically counter to the values in the Constitution or that it is somehow scandalous to look to them for solutions.

It cannot be denied that imperialism, colonialism, apartheid and missionary work on the African continent ­suppressed customs and traditions, and created an anomalous situation where institutions are in essence culturally ­European.

Based on how I was raised, I am mortified when I see elders go on the way they do in the National Assembly.

“This is not so bad. You should see how they carry on in the British Parliament.” This is often the reply I get.

And that’s the clincher. Our ­Parliament is heavily influenced by the British parliamentary system, not only in ­operation but in the culture and practices. Debates there are, by design, a game of party point-scoring. This is a cultural ­hangover of colonialism.

I sometimes wonder, in a haze of ­nostalgia, how my grandfather would chair the proceedings. Mutual respect would be the norm and bad behaviour would chip away at the respect.

Europe says respect is earned. Africa says respect is yours to lose. Can you see how the nature of discussions could change?

This change cannot be directed through Parliament’s rules. It’s cultural. It is the softer set of ­instructions built up from centuries of socialised practices.

Perhaps when we stop looking upon the West as a bastion of civilisation and look within at our own ways of doing, we will find a cure for the searing headache.

» Molefe is a writer and social entrepreneur.

Follow him on Twitter @tomolefe 

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