Category Archives: I am an African Speech

Africa Day Statement by the Abahlali baseMjondolo Youth League

Africa Day Statement by the Abahlali baseMjondolo Youth League

On 25th May 2010, the whole of Africa will be celebrating “Africa Day”.

Thinking about “Africa Day” we remembered the famous speech by Thabo Mbeki in 1996 when the new constitution was adopted – the speech when he said, “I am an African.”

I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land.

My body has frozen in our frosts and in our latter day snows. It has thawed in the warmth of our sunshine and melted in the heat of the midday sun. The crack and the rumble of the summer thunders, lashed by startling lightening, have been a cause both of trembling and of hope.

The fragrances of nature have been as pleasant to us as the sight of the wild blooms of the citizens of the veld.

The dramatic shapes of the Drakensberg, the soil-coloured waters of the Lekoa, iGqili noThukela, and the sands of the Kgalagadi, have all been panels of the set on the natural stage on which we act out the foolish deeds of the theatre of our day.

At times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I should concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and the pestilential mosquito.

A human presence among all these, a feature on the face of our native land thus defined, I know that none dare challenge me when I say—I am an African!

I owe my being to the Khoi and the San whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape – they who fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and dependence and they who, as a people, perished in the result.

Today, as a country, we keep an audible silence about these ancestors of the generations that live, fearful to admit the horror of a former deed, seeking to obliterate from our memories a cruel occurrence which, in its remembering, should teach us not and never to be inhuman again.

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.

In my veins courses the blood of the Malay slaves who came from the East. Their proud dignity informs my bearing, their culture a part of my essence. The stripes they bore on their bodies from the lash of the slave master are a reminder embossed on my consciousness of what should not be done.

I am the grandchild of the warrior men and women that Hintsa and Sekhukhune led, the patriots that Cetshwayo and Mphephu took to battle, the soldiers Moshoeshoe and Ngungunyane taught never to dishonour the cause of freedom.

My mind and my knowledge of myself is formed by the victories that are the jewels in our African crown, the victories we earned from Isandlwana to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as the Ashanti of Ghana, as the Berbers of the desert.

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 the child of Nongqause. I am he who made it possible to trade in the world markets in diamonds, in gold, in the same food for which my stomach yearns.
I come of those who were transported from India and China, whose being resided in the fact, solely, that they were able to provide physical labour, who taught me that we could both be at home and be foreign, who taught me that human existence itself demanded that freedom was a necessary condition for that human existence.

Being part of all these people, and in the knowledge that none dare contest that assertion, I shall claim that – I am an African.

I have seen our country torn asunder as these, all of whom are my people, engaged one another in a titanic battle, the one redress a wrong that had been caused by one to another and the other, to defend the indefensible.

I have seen what happens when one person has superiority of force over another, when the stronger appropriate to themselves the prerogative even to annul the injunction that God created all men and women in His image.

I know what it signifies when race and colour are used to determine who is human and who, sub-human.

I have seen the destruction of all sense of self-esteem, the consequent striving to be what one is not, simply to acquire some of the benefits which those who had improved themselves as masters had ensured that they enjoy.

I have experience of the situation in which race and colour is used to enrich some and impoverish the rest.

I have seen concrete expression of the denial of the dignity of a human being emanating from the conscious, systemic and systematic oppressive and repressive activities of other human beings.

There the victims parade with no mask to hide the brutish reality – the beggars, the prostitutes, the street children, those who seek solace in substance abuse, those who have to steal to assuage hunger, those who have to lose their sanity because to be sane is to invite pain.

Perhaps the worst among these, who are my people, are those who have learnt to kill for a wage. To these the extent of death is directly proportional to their personal welfare.

And so, like pawns in the service of demented souls, they kill in furtherance of the political violence in KwaZulu-Natal. They murder the innocent in the taxi wars.

They kill slowly or quickly in order to make profits from the illegal trade in narcotics. They are available for hire when husband wants to murder wife and wife, husband.

Among us prowl the products of our immoral and amoral past – killers who have no sense of the worth of human life, rapists who have absolute disdain for the women of our country, animals who would seek to benefit from the vulnerability of the children, the disabled and the old, the rapacious who brook no obstacle in their quest for self-enrichment.

All this I know and know to be true because—I am an African!

Because of that, I am also able to state this fundamental truth that I am born of a people who are heroes and heroines.

I am born of a people who would not tolerate oppression.

I am of a nation that would not allow that fear of death, torture, imprisonment, exile or persecution should result in the perpetuation of injustice.

The great masses who are our mother and father will not permit that the behaviour of the few results in the description of our country and people as barbaric.

Patient because history is on their side, these masses do not despair because today the weather is bad. Nor do they turn triumphalism when, tomorrow, the sun shines.

Whatever the circumstances they have lived through and because of that experience, they are determined to define for themselves who they are and who they should be.

We are assembled here today to mark their victory in acquiring and exercising their right to formulate their own definition of what it means to be African.

The constitution whose adoption we celebrate constitutes and unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be defined by our race, colour, gender of historical origins.

It is a firm assertion made by us that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.

It gives concrete expression to the sentiment we share as Africans, and will defend to the death, that the people shall govern.

It recognises the fact that the dignity of the individual is both an objective which society must pursue, and is a goal which cannot be separated from the material well-being of that individual.”

This is the interesting part of his speech:

The constitution whose adoption we celebrate constitutes and unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be defined by our race, colour, and gender of historical origins.

It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.

It is this idea, the idea that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, an idea that is also there in the Freedom Charter of 1955, that we have to hold on to when there is any discussion of who is an African.

This is the 5th year in which South Africa is holding the African Renaissance Festival in Durban. Africa and Africans have been discriminated for a long time and it is good that Africa and Africans are now celebrated. But can we speak about an African Renaissance when some people are being excluded from what it means to be an African in South Africa?

As we speak there is a case that is pending in Durban whereby one ANC councillor was involved in the attacking of the immigrants that came to South Africa to seek refuge. Is South Africa the best place to host this event, bearing in mind the way people from the African continent are being treated in this county? Is our government doing enough to protect our African brothers and sisters? As far as we know we are not because even those who are supposed to protect them are the very first people to torture them and arrest them if they don’t give them money. Where is Africa, where is the spirit of Ubuntu in all this? Is being African to be defined by colour, race, gender, class or nationality?

What happened to the idea that South Africa belongs to all who live in it? What happened to the idea that Africa belongs to all who live in it? What happened to the idea that our heroes should be those that fight for the full inclusion of everyone and never those that fight to exclude some people?

Right now two Malawian gays have been sentenced for 14 years for coming out. None of the African heads of state have stepped forward to condemn this doing of the Malawi government. When we ask why it seems that the answer is because they all believe that ‘being Gay is unAfrican’. But there are many Gay people in Africa and therefore it cannot be ‘unAfrican to be Gay’.

As the Youth of Abahlali baseMjondolo we are sending solidarities to that Gay couple who will face 14 years imprisonment for being who they are, having the courage to be open about who they are and to believe in what they believe in. It is so wrong that innocent people who have harmed no one are sent to jail while the criminals are being protected outside and allowed to continue abusing innocent people.

In conclusion we would like to argue to the poor community that we must be very aware of the price of our silence in these times.

Some will say that they did not speak up when they came for the street traders because they are not street traders. Some will say that they did not speak up when they came for the shack dwellers because they are not living in shacks. Some will say that they did not speak up for the people born in other countries because they were born here. Some will say that they did not speak up for the full freedom of women because they are not women. Some will say that they did not speak up for Abahlali baseMjondolo because they never wore a red shirt. Some will say that they did not speak up for the Gays and Lesbians because they are not Lesbian or Gay.

The first price of our silence is that if we do not speak up for others then there will be no one left to speak up for us.

The second price of our silence is that an injury to one is always an injury to all. Gay and Lesbian people are our neighbours, our relatives, our colleagues, and our comrades. We must never forget that the struggle is connected in different ways.

Let us unite and defend the democracy that our forefathers and foremothers have fought for. Let us show the government and those who try to fight for their place in society by attacking others what real democracy is. Let us insist that Africa belongs to all who live in it.

Aluta Continua…..!!!

For comment or further information please contact Zodwa Nsibande on 082 830 2707.