Are you an African?

2012-03-26 10:00

There has been a constant need by South Africans to reify the term ‘African’ as though it has a stable and intrinsic essence, which stays the same through the ravages and graces of history. Further, there is the concept that African can only constitute the black race. This is of course no surprise given that the very administrative workings of the past, institutionalised racist system required the marking, bagging and labelling of peoples.

The term ‘African’ cannot have an ahistorical essence given the continents absorption of other peoples and the constant changes happening in our world. ‘African’ is constantly redefined and is anything but stable.

Nobody or group of people can claim to hold a monopoly on an African identity when Africa encompasses strains of Indian culture, European capitalism and the potency of American living through brands, among others. Sure, these are all fused with certain specificity to this continent but are part of this continent’s makings and re-creations.

The preamble of the Constitution reads, ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it’, yet there seems to be a demarcation of which groups are more equal than others in laying contributory claims to what an ‘African’ identity entails. There can be no romanticised reversion to remake some sort of pure, authentic, ‘untainted’ African identity, given the historical unfolding of this continent and this country.

Through the very advents of colonialism, and then institutionalised racism and inter-racial relationships what is and what was to become African had changed forever.

Africans have become the holders of multiple cultures. While holding membership within a broadly capitalist economy, some people continue to practice their cultural tenets. Some of these, like ilobola, have evolved with the bride’s family often receiving money in the place of wild stock, as was done in the pre-colonial era. There are a variety of identities at play, all contributing to reconstructing the ‘African’. We are all, black, white, coloured, Indian, part of what creates and recreates this identity. What is 'African' cannot exist or be an appropriate representation of what is 'African' without the inclusion of all of this continent's component parts.

Through the mutual constitution of an 'African' identity, we become and remake  'African' through interaction with others. The ‘African’ identity will continue to evolve, with or without anyone's sanction.

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