Who is an African?

AN AFRICA FOR ALL Soccer star Mark Fish marching against xenophobia. Picture: Solomon Moremong
AN AFRICA FOR ALL Soccer star Mark Fish marching against xenophobia. Picture: Solomon Moremong

Is it that Afrikaners are as African today as the soil itself, or does being born in Africa not make you an African? Dirk Hermann and Mzwanele Manyi unpack these lines of thought.

Dirk Hermann

I know Mzwanele Manyi and we have had many arguments, but we have a friendly relationship. Your name used to be Jimmy, and now you’re Mzwanele. You have taken on your African persona – a highly symbolic act.

You might as well, because that is how you define yourself. What you must not do is try to define me. I have my own persona and neither you nor anyone else will define me.

My daughters are the 11th generation in Africa. My ancestor Hans was one of the first free burghers. He turned his back on Europe and came to Africa. Since then, we have chosen Africa. We did not arrive here as people of Africa; we were Dutch, French, German and so on.

We became Afrikaners here in Africa. This is where our identity is embodied.

As we formed a new identity, we took our name from Africa – Afrikaners. Our language is named after the continent – Afrikaans. We can no longer return to what we were.

We moved deeper into Africa, specially to get away from the colonialists. Our trek was for a place in Africa, a place to live and work. Great battles were fought for places in Africa.

In these battles, Sotho, Tswana and Matabele nations were driven out. Cruel atrocities took place. Women and children in particular were captured by King Shaka Zulu, and hundreds of thousands of men were killed.

Within these large trekking movements, we also negotiated for a place – not a place to exploit wealth and export it to a colonial homeland, but a place to stay. There was a treaty, then the murder of Boer leader Piet Retief and brutal slaughters at Bloukrans and Blood River.

We trekked again, away from England; as a nation in Africa we fought the first Anglo-Boer War and defeated a colonial power.

It was not just a battle between two colonial powers. On the one side was a power fighting for the motherland’s prosperity; on the other was a nation in Africa fighting for space.

In the second Anglo-Boer War, our women and children died in concentration camps. My own great-grandmother also died there and my grandmother survived the camp. It was the biggest sacrifice we made for our place in Africa.

Our place is Africa. We have a beautiful European and Western heritage that we brought to Africa, through which the continent has been enriched.

Mzwanele, when I look at the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the food you eat and the language, English, that you use in public, you have embraced some parts of the heritage that we brought with us. As I have become Africa, you have also become something of Europe. There is no such thing as a pure identity.

When Thabo Mbeki was president, he described us as follows in his I Am an African speech: “I am an African ... I am formed of the migrants who left Europe to find a new home on our native land. Whatever their own actions, they remain still part of me ... I am the grandchild who lays fresh flowers on the Boer graves at St Helena and the Bahamas, who sees in the mind’s eye and suffers the suffering of a simple peasant folk, death, concentration camps, destroyed homesteads, a dream in ruins ... I am an African. I am born of the peoples of the continent of Africa.”

Mbeki’s African idea is composed of a variety of identities. There is no master identity with him. There is no expectation of giving up something for the sake of a larger identity.

It is an inclusive Africa.

Within this idea, President Jacob Zuma says about Afrikaners that they do not carry two passports, and are “the only white tribe in a black continent or outside of Europe which is truly African, the Afrikaner”.

For you, Africa is linked to race, but in 1996, at the time of the adoption of the country’s Constitution, Mbeki said: “The Constitution states unequivocally that we refuse to accept that our African identity will be defined on the basis of our race, colour, gender or historical origins.”

We must go beyond race and recognise one another as children of Africa. During my visits to Europe, I saw things that I recognised, but my nostalgia was for Africa – back to the land I can taste; the nature, mountains and sea; the people; the way of doing things; the language I speak; the way I pray and sing – just to who I am.

We are Africa, we can’t go back.

We are Africa, we have no choice.

We are Africa, we are not going anywhere.

We are Africa, because that is what we have become.

Hermann is the general secretary of trade union Solidarity.

Mzwanele Manyi

Dirk Hermann has asked: who is an African? This ought to be a simple discussion – as in, if your looks approximate those of Minister Malusi Gigaba, you are an African, but if they approximate those of Dirk Hermann, you are not an African; you are a Caucasian.


Who can claim to be African?

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