On Friday 20 May, the University of Cape Town (UCT) Students’ Representative Council (SRC) hosted an Africa Day event in celebration and recognition of unity on the African continent. The hybrid event saw speakers discussing the merits and challenges of Pan-Africanism, under the theme “No African Country Can Achieve Ultimate Independence in Isolation”.
Presented by the SRC and organised in collaboration with the International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO), the celebration of the cultural identity and common heritage shared by continental Africans also had another goal.
In addition to the promotion of unity, the event aimed to raise funds for AfriFund, which assists African international students with financial debt clearance, and for the SRC Assistance Fund, which helps students who are unable to register due to outstanding fees.
According to the SRC international students coordinator, Cheryl Nyaradzo Sambadzai, the theme was chosen to encourage the student body to explore the idea that African countries have not yet reached independence, due to the repercussions of colonial rule that continue to permeate the lives of African people.
“Every country on the continent has a role to play in rising to the occasion to develop the areas of life that colonialism sought to destroy. African countries were divided and conquered in their totality. Each country has different strengths and skills; and therefore, all countries and African peoples in their totality need one another. Ubuntu and Pan-Africanism are ways of life that are vital to adopt to achieve the ultimate emancipation,” she explained.
A good thing in good hands
This sentiment was echoed by keynote speaker, Hopewell Chin’ono, an award-winning Zimbabwean journalist and filmmaker who has been educated and honoured by institutions throughout the Global North. His work has largely focused on shining a spotlight on the realities of living in Zimbabwe under a corrupt and brutal ruling government.
Some of the attendees at the SRC’s Africa Day event.
The first thing Chin’ono pointed out was that the myriad qualifications and awards he has received have come from organisations outside of Africa. “Why is it that somebody like myself had to go outside of the continent to get the training I needed to better Africa? It is because those institutions, at that time, did not exist. Even today, to some extent, they do not exist,” he said.
In part, this lack of development is to be blamed on the colonial powers who sliced Africa into sections that best suited their own interests. However, Chin’ono pointed out that the fact the continent still struggles with the same challenges – decades after the last African nations gained independence – is due to the issue of Pan-Africanism.
Although it sought to provide solidarity that would have enabled Africa to reach its full potential and independently provide for its people, the movement has been abused by a new ruling elite that supports the continued looting of resources by external actors.
“Today, we have black political elites who work in cahoots with people from the former colonial states and abuse the idea of Pan-Africanism, to loot public funds and plunder natural resources and enhance themselves,” Chin’ono said.
“It’s important for you to realise that you are the new hope for this continent and that you can restore the teachings of the original Pan-Africanists to bring about good.”
With this behaviour in mind, Chin’ono acknowledged that hesitancies about Pan-Africanism are justified to some extent. However, he is staunch in his belief that Pan-Africanism is a “good thing if it is in good hands” and encouraged the next generation of leaders to shift their focus to the benefits of working together.
“Your role as young people is to define what Pan-Africanism is for us, and to realise that it does not have to die because of the people who have betrayed it. It’s important for you to realise that you are the new hope for this continent and that you can restore the teachings of the original Pan-Africanists to bring about good.”
He added: “The key names that we cannot ignore in Pan-Africanism are names like Marcus Garvey of Jamaica, W.E.B Du Bois and … Garvey’s wife, Amy Garvey, who was an activist in her own right … In the UK … people like Claudia Jones and in the US with women like Audley Moore … they were advancing this doctrine of Pan-Africanism. And if we fast forward to what happened in the 1940s, 1950s, we had the combination of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, which is why we have Africa Day and which is why I’ve always questioned my South African friends: Why [do they] not celebrate Africa Day as [a] holiday? Yet the destruction of the apartheid regime was a Pan-African effort across the continent and beyond.”
Be an active participant
Although agriculturalist and entrepreneur Mercy Nqandeka’s views on Pan-Africanism were quite divergent from Chin’ono’s – she noted that she believes the movement to be somewhat romanticised – she mirrored Chin’ono’s sentiments about leadership on the continent.
“Africa was not developed by the colonisers, but now Africa is technically in the hands of Africans. However, when you look around and see what our leaders are doing and how they are leading, it begs the question: Who is against Africa? I usually say that it is Africa against Africa, and Africans against Africans,” she said.
“If young people take voting seriously, we can make change and move towards a functioning society.”
“There is only so much you can do with the victim mentality; we must look at what we are doing to ourselves as Africans. The corruption in African states and the dysfunction caused by our leaders have led Africans to migrate, which causes people to say that Africa is broken, that it’s rising against itself, that we don’t embrace one another.”
The solution here, Nqandeka pointed out, is to be an active participant in choosing who leads you. “Voting is our solution. Of course, there is vote-rigging and other issues but if young people take voting seriously, we can make change and move towards a functioning society,” she added.
While much of Pan-Africanism is rooted in politics, Nqandeka posited that participation need not lie solely in the political. At a social level, she believes, getting to know the people around you and their cultures is one of the most effective ways to promote the cohesion sought by the movement.
Showcasing African talent
In addition to providing a platform to promote discussion around Pan-Africanism, the event also sought to promote African culture and creativity. This was expressed in no small part through a presentation from award-winning Lesotho-born fashion designer Thabo Makhetha-Kwinana and her eponymous womenswear label.
The prêt-à-porter range of capes inspired by and made from traditional Basotho blankets – also known as kobo ea bohali, or kobo – showcase Makhetha-Kwinana’s heritage and share the story of her culture, with traditional prints enhancing contemporary cuts.
Bolstering the show of Basotho-inspired couture was a performance by Ndumiso Mthembu, who sang traditional isiZulu songs punctuated by his clan praises, as well as a show of stunning artwork created by artist Mlondi Khoza.
The SRC Africa Day event was organised to raise funds for AfriFund. Fundraising efforts are ongoing. Donate to help clear the debt of African international students.
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