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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Africa is a Country

When I left Zimbabwe to go to study in university in Australia, to be honest the only thing I was excited about was that I was leaving my parents house. No more curfew, no more “My House, My rules”. That long flight over the Indian Ocean was my very own long flight to freedom.It was my independence. It seems trivial and laughable now,but you did not break curfew in my parents house. Ever! ( which was usually 6pm for me). On top of that I had spent the entirety of my teenage years in an all boys Catholic boarding school. To say I felt like had been missing out is an understatement. So yeah this was freedom. On a scale I had never experienced before. It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that I wasn’t fully prepared for the challenges this new found freedom brought with it. Aside from being vaguely aware of Aboriginals, the only other impressions I had had formed of the place and its people was based on re- runs of the soap Neighbours , Around The Twist, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and who can forget the Crocodile Dundee movies. However hardly anyone I met dressed like Steve Erwin and of the many barbacue’s I attended I never once ate a shrimp that had just come off the Barbie. Thinking back on that initial experience I am confronted by my own glaring ignorance and to a certain extent hypocrisy. In my defense though I did come across  Kangaroo’s on several occasions near the halls of residence on campus. True story.

This was the first time I realised that I  was capable of prejudice and guilty of stereotyping. Funnily enough though this realisation did nothing to curtail my own hypocrisy on the matter. No sooner had the disappointment of not getting to have barbecued shrimp set in was I being inundated with ignorance, levels of which I had hardly experienced in the sheltered environment that I had grown up in. To much irritation I was constantly and patronisingly complemented on how articulate I was. “How come you speak English so well?”. To which I often would calmly try and explain that in Zimbabwe, English was the language of instruction in schools as well as the official language. What caused the greatest annoyance was the often made reference to Africa as a country. In case you didn’t know,its not it’s a continent with 54 different countries and over 900 million people, who speak over 2100 different languages, with very diverse cultures and races.

This was further compounded by other seemingly innocent inquiries along the lines “Do you know Ade from Nigeria?” based on the the misguided notion that everyone In Africa knew each other. Either that or requests for lessons on how to speak “African”. Ignoramus’s. But I digress.

I recently came across a brilliant article written by a Kenyan writer, Binyavanga Wainaina,, on How To Write About Africa. A satirical piece which the author has since admitted was born out of frustration at seeing the negative stereotypes that were being perpetuated by the major media houses about what Africa is. Whilst it did a brilliant job of highlighting the stereotypes assigned to Africa I couldn’t help but feel this well intentioned article at some base level still perpetuated the stereotype. By responding on behalf of Africans, he had aided and abated the stereotype rather unwittingly that Africa is a country. It also served as the catalyst that would help me make a concerted effort to address this misconception of Africa as a country. Whilst I am aware of my own hypocrisy given my initial misconceptions about Australia , I appreciate that I was fortunate enough to leave my sheltered environment, which in hindsight was pivotal in breaking down the stereotypes that blinkered my view.Thats not always the case and this blog is my small attempt at helping others leave their sheltered cocoons.

In the process of writing this blog I realised that as Africans the way we relate to our Africaness is not simple. Its complicated. On the one hand Africa is too big too say anything about. Should I just talk about Zimbabwe, you about South Africa, Kenya etc. On the flip side its folly to deny that there is an inherent beauty and pride associated with identifying as an African, and to share that with other Africans, well that too is a form of specificity. Quite the paradox.

This might explain why Binyavanga Wainaina in his brilliant satirical piece was sticking up for Africa as a whole. He felt  (Like most of us do) that he had an obligation to the Motherland. He was not writing out of frustration from what was being written about Kenya, but the continent as a whole. There are are many different ways of being African, some complimentary, others contradictory, but all are legitimate. In other words what is African culture to some Africans is un-African to other Africans. Africa is diverse and complex. The different nations on the continent are more like brothers and sisters in Mama Africa’s family. As much as these  brothers and sister’s are different, they are still part of the same family.The African family.

This sense of family that we have as sons and daughters of the Motherland is entrenched in our shared history, struggles and destiny on the continent and its wider diaspora. Its in the scars of slavery, racism, colonialism, neocolonialism that bring us together as Africans. These historical links are the very blueprint of this identity and the backbone of this unity. So in instances like that of the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina  we set aside our cultural differences, therefore asserting the principality of these shared experiences to foster solidarity and resistance to exploitation and oppression.

Today ( 25 May) is Africa Day. On this day 49 years ago, the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor of the African Union, was established in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by 32 representatives of African countries. Today all African countries with the exception of Morocco are part of the African Union. Africa Day acknowledges the progress that we, as Africans, have made while reflecting upon the common challenges we face in a global environment. On this day I will join my brothers and sisters and celebrate being African. Africa lives in me and that’s why I love Africa.I embrace this identity. Before my Australian experience I had always identified primarily as a Zimbabwean.The same way I assume a guy from France identifies as French or from Germany as German as opposed to simply identifying as  European. Ironically the many years I subsequently lived In Australia helped me in many more ways than before to identify with the African in me. To quote the former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki in his famous speech I Am African “Today it feels good to be African. I am born of the people of the continent of Africa. I am African.”

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Keep Calm and Carry On

Its been a while since I last blogged. My excuse for not writing? Well, its basically the same excuse I have for not ‘living’ the last couple of weeks. I found myself continuously existing in a state of perfunctoriness. I fell in love with a hopeless place (Hi Rihanna *waves*). It all started with what at the time seemed like an inconsequential flirtation, with that devil, the soul killer, Apathy. I didn’t care and I let her have her way with me. I was whipped. Soon enough she was talking about making our relationship official. The question’s started flying in left right, and centre. “Where are we heading with this?” “Do you love me?” Just like that I started caring. Just not about her. “I am sorry Apathy, its not you,eh…um … you see its me.” The self placating break up cliche. She cried but I could not stay to wipe her tears. I would not be chasing this particular waterfall. I loved myself more. I cared. (Bye Rihanna *waves*)

As with any post break up period I did the standard thing, reflected on the relationship. A postmortem of sorts. How is it that I had found myself so comfortable in a relationship with Apathy? How come I had become so ambivalent about the trajectory that my life was on?. I had not veered off on a tangent per se. Not yet, but I was an autopilot to a destination, the coordinates to which I doubt even Apathy knew. I needed to feel the thrill of flying manually again.

I wasn’t without my doubts though. I will admit it, there is a certain addictive quality to apathy and as you would expect I had to deal with the withdrawals that came with waning myself of it. Had I made the right call? Would I miss Apathy? It was in breaking up with Apathy that I had begun to feel again.Things mattered.I cared.I was alive.This was not the time for regrets. It was time to be strong. Time to move on. Firstly though I needed to re-evaluate, recalibrate and re-align myself with my dreams,ambitions and general sense of purpose and direction again.In the process I began to look around me, well more like over the other side of the fence, at my friends. I paid attention to how they had grown up. Some had started their own families, some were living or actively towards their own individual dreams. I wanted that.

I immediately felt embarrassment at comparing myself. I was angry and could feel myself turning green with envy. My inner Hulk getting harder and harder to suppress.It threatened to overwhelm and lead me on a downward spiral fueled by envy.In the process eroding my internal security and subsequently my self esteem.Thats the thing about envy,it almost always evolves into a melodrama filled with pain, pettiness and bitterness. Its roots firmly implanted in the lack of belief in the integrity of our own unique life path.

I think it was Michelangelo who said “Every block of sculptor has a statue inside it and it is the sculptors task to discover it” How well we do this will be our measurement. It shouldn’t matter what the other person is doing with their block of stone. The statue that each person is liberating is one of their own intentions. How well I do with my own statue is my business.That will be my the focus. I had to remind myself of that.

Comparing yourself is not always all bad. Depending on how you channel it, it can be quite productive, especially if you’re inspired to emulate impressive traits or you are able to draw lessons from the experiences of others. My new mantra every time envy attacks will be, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” After all I have a master piece to finish.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” is tag line that was printed on a British propaganda poster campaign during WW2, intended to raise the morale of the British public in the event of invasion. It has since been resurrected back into popular culture. With people adopting it for their own personal wars. I choose to use it aggressively in waging my propaganda campaign against the green monster that is envy.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2012 in HIS-story

 

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