Will a rose by another name smell as sweet?

2018-06-10 09:42
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A number of interrelated announcements were made during Africa Month this year.

The first was the announcement by the department of international relations and cooperation to revive the African Renaissance discourse in its relations with other African countries.

The second was a declaration by the commander-in-chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema, that when the EFF is elected as the governing party, it will rename South Africa as Azania.

The third was the announcement by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to introduce Afrocentric history in South African schools.

These announcements come ahead of commemorating the June 16 1976 massacre in Soweto. If these declarations can go beyond paying lip service and are properly managed, they could go a long way in honouring the young people who paid for our liberation with their blood.

Ours, as ordinary community members, is to communicate our quest to International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to advance the African Renaissance project beyond the elite circles by helping to revive the discussion of an African lingua franca so that Africans may be able to communicate with one another and overcome the limitations imposed by European languages.

The suggestion of a continental language is not the same thing as suggesting the destruction of existing African languages. A continental language would not only be a great gift to Africans in general, but a special one to the 1976 martyrs who resisted the imposition of Afrikaans, a language of European descent.

Regarding Malema’s proposal, it is appropriate to remember that, as the students confronted the racist police in 1976, they were carrying placards reading “One Azania, One Nation”, thereby rejecting colonial South Africa.

This name – Azania – was embraced by the Bantu Biko-led Black Consciousness Movement after its adoption by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in 1964.

While the PAC’s move was a revolutionary one, its mistake was to unilaterally decide to rename a country without consulting other liberation movements – it acted as if it alone was the liberation movement that owned this country.

The PAC criticised the ANC government, rightly so, for unilaterally renaming the Sharpeville massacre on March 21 1960 and the Soweto massacre as Human Rights Day and Youth Day, respectively, without consultation.

The EFF must not make the same mistake. It must educate people about the history and the meaning of the name Azania, and persuade them to embrace the name. If indeed the EFF comes to power, it must not throw its weight around and unilaterally decide to change the country’s name. If the EFF does this, it will open the door to other victorious parties to do what suits only them in the future. We may belong to different parties, but we share the same country.

Africans attach much importance to names because they reflect our past and future, our frustrations and aspirations, and our appointment with history. As such, we must exercise great caution in the ritual of naming. We owe this to our ancestors and the children yet to be born.

The introduction of Afrocentric history in our schools will help us to get Africans to know one another and the continent better. In fact, an Afrocentric curriculum will help us to appreciate the history of the name Azania and what South Africans have to do with it.

South Africans will know that Azania was historically located in east Africa, and that it was populated by Africans who migrated to South Africa, including the so-called bushmen.

In his book, The Lost Cities of Africa, Basil Davidson notes that “the only certainty is that the Azanians were a purely African people”.

The Azanians were highly accomplished people who had a great civilisation.

It is commendable that Motshekga, a minister deployed by the ANC, has stressed that there will be no room for a partisan history that projects the ANC as if it was the only movement that fought for this country’s liberation.

It will be even more commendable if the ANC creates a space for a discussion around Azania, and if the people of this country are convinced to accept a name that has not been proposed by the governing party. Showing humility from a position of strength would not be an act of weakness, but that of greatness.

- Sesanti is an associate professor at Unisa’s Institute for African Renaissance Studies. He is also the deputy editor of the International Journal of African Renaissance Studies

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Read more on:    africa  |  politics

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