Re-imagining Africa’s story

27 July 2023 | Story Kamva Somdyala. Photos Je’nine May. Read time 4 min.
Former UCT VC Dr Mamphela Ramphele was a speaker at the Africa Impact Summit recently held in Cape Town.
Former UCT VC Dr Mamphela Ramphele was a speaker at the Africa Impact Summit recently held in Cape Town.

If you want to change mindsets, you must change the narrative, and the narrative of Africa as the “mother country” bears little recognition in academic settings and our education systems. This was part of the motivation that encouraged co-president of The Club of Rome and former University of Cape Town (UCT) vice-chancellor Dr Mamphela Ramphele to contribute to the 2020 academic paper titled “Towards new narratives of hope for fostering transformative African futures”, which she presented on day two of the Africa Impact Summit held in Cape Town recently.

It is a paper that brought together several authors and was presented by Dr Ramphele and Associate Professor Rika Preiser of Stellenbosch University.

“The inspiration behind the paper came from a deep sense of dissatisfaction with the story that was being told of Africa,” Ramphele said.

“Africa is an important continent ... [and] new narratives of hope emerging from Africa are not only important for the continent but for the world, because the world is facing multiple emergencies: climate, pandemics as well as conflicts and wars – and at the heart of those emergencies is that we as human beings have forgotten what it is to be human,” she said.

Summit delegates during breakaway discussions at the Africa Impact Summit recently held in Cape Town.

Professor Preiser said: “It [the paper] was a response from within a group of colleagues who wanted to express something different. So, how do we start speaking back to institutions in a new language from our space?”

This framing is in pursuit of “co-creating an emerging present that places values such as entrepreneurship, sustainability, community, empathy, compassion, circularity and resilience, inter alia, at the centre of our focus,” the paper reads.

The thinking aligns with the following values:

  • a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development
  • an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law
  • an Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics
  • an Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children.

Erudite questions remain relevant, such as what kind of things we need to tap into our humanness and to rethink what that humanness means in our space.

To answer that, the paper, as presented by Preiser, recommends breaking from a number of things The first is to break from what Frantz Fanon called “nauseating mimicry”, ie the tendency within Africa to assume that solutions developed elsewhere are superior to those developed by Africans. The second is the break from the assumption that 19th-century social and economic sciences are adequate for addressing 21st-century challenges. This means unthinking long held paradigmatic assumptions (for example, the neo-classical economic assumption that “economies naturally tend towards equilibrium”) and then “thinking-in-context” about appropriate solutions in ways that are decoupled from outdated paradigms. The third break is about ending the ‘love affair’ with a particular conception of “modernity” which has resulted in a search for liberation and development from within epistemic parameters established at the start of the colonial era.

“New narratives of hope emerging from Africa are not only important for the continent but for the world.” – Dr Mamphela Ramphele.

“The paper makes the point of this reimagination of an Africa that is telling its own story and living its own story. It is acknowledging that we are wounded by the legacy of the past that has divided Africa, that as confused Africa, that has undermined Africa’s sense of what it means to be an African,” Ramphele said.

“We have to come back to ourselves and heal the divisions that were created by colonial powers, but also to heal the relationships between ourselves, between the environment and nature.”

Remembrance, reverence, resurrection

Drawing inspiration from the work of African-American philosopher Cornel West (2017), a new narrative of hope buttressed on remembrance, reverence and resurrection emerges.

The first – remembrance – in the form of remembering and recollecting what it means for us to be humans in this space.

According to Preiser, discussions on notions of ubuntu were carried out. The radical relationality not just with each other, but how we become human with and through each other. It also relates to non-living and transient beings.

The second is reverence, and that is holding respect for us and our identities. It is probing how we engage, meet and show up for each other.

Finally, there is resurrection, which is interested in how we give new life to institutions, educational systems, and economic frameworks.

So, what now?

The first step in any healing process is the acknowledgement of the woundedness that is plaguing us.

The second step requires sustaining self-liberation and transforming the value system of the entire society toward healing.

The third step is a case for Africa to pay more attention to its ancient history as part of the healing of its wounds. 

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