‘New’ Africanness is lala-land

2012-06-09 14:35

Sandile Memela’s article, “The New Africanness” in City Press, June 3, which is a criticism of Gwede Mantashe’s utterance to the effect that Africans must fight to protect their culture and Africanness, takes our national crisis of identity to astonishing heights of lunacy.

“Africanness”, according to Memela, “now is open and accessible to everyone who believes that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. In fact it has gone global”.

People like Mantashe, “those who feel that their Africanness is threatened, must accept that it was destined”.

Memela’s views are much more alarming as he is as the chief director of social cohesion in the department of arts and culture, which is planning a national summit on social cohesion to be addressed by President Jacob Zuma.

In his diatribe on Mantashe’s statement, Memela introduces a new paradigm of what it means to be not only a South African, but what it means to be an African in South Africa.

He insists that a ­ self-affirming African cultural identity is no longer appropriate.

What is important in the cultural melting pot that is the new South Africa is the ideals and values enshrined in the Constitution.

Any affirmation of an African cultural identity as an ethnically exclusive cultural experience must be viewed as a deplorable, unconstitutional tendency.

The meaning of his view, based on his exegesis of the preamble to the Constitution that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in their diversity”, is that South Africa belongs to no one, and certainly not in Africa.

This, indeed, is neo-liberalism of a special type.

What we are implored to accept is that African selfhood must be abandoned, if not frowned upon.

But culture knows no vacuum; it is always replaced or subsumed by another culture.

The implication, therefore, is that we must allow the European culture, which has successfully masked itself as being global, to entrench its dominance over the much opined “constitutional values”.

It is crucial for Memela and the department to understand that the concept of diversity implies distinctiveness.

The distinctive racial, religious and ethnic identities and values that make up the South African cultural milieu are protected by the Constitution’s recognition of the heterogeneous nature of the nation.

Social cohesion in this context must mean equal recognition, respect and appreciation of each others’ ways of living, and not that black Africans must surrender their identity for the sake of building some nebulous rainbow nation.

South Africa may belong to all who live in it, but it is not a land of immigrants without a foundational cultural orientation.

The majority of those who live in it happen to be black Africans.

To consummate colonial dispossession, black culture had to be suppressed and maligned by the oppressors.

As its first task, the social cohesion programme must recognise that there is a systematic oppression of African selfhood in this country – African life, ethics and intellectual perspectives are taken as inferior to the white colonial worldview.

This superiority of whitehood has been drummed into black minds by churches, schools and media so effectively that we today have a Memela who doubts if it is still right after apartheid for him to be himself, an African.

The sobering fact is that Memela must walk with his white South African friend out of a railway station of a city in Europe to realise who he is.

He will have to deal with a gaze that says: “Look at this African, from the land of misery and backwardness.”
To be South African is to strive to align with the African locality and orientation of this country.

It is to have a soul that instinctively resonates with the sound of Shosholoza, or to love to hold an indaba irrespective of skin colour or the degree of the strength of the clicks in one’s mother tongue.

Above all, it is to be zealous for the course of the total emancipation of Africa from cultural, political and economic subjugation.

» Lamola is a lecturer in the department of philosophy at the University of Fort Hare

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