AFRICA DAY - whose names did we call?

03 June 2011

Africa Day provided an opportunity to reflect on those people who were part of Africa's wave of collective struggle for freedom or independence. Millions of people located in the place we now call Africa were involved in these struggles. As we celebrated this day at UCT this year, whose names did we choose to call?

Worker strikes were a core part of South Africa's struggle for liberation. Many names come to mind: Frances Baard, Lilian Ngoyi, Lydia Kompe, Liz Abrahams, for example. Today I remember Emma Mashinini. Mashinini was a founder and president of the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers of South Africa. She led many workers strikes in the 1960s and was arrested in 1981 under section six of South Africa's Terrorism Act. She published a book titled Strikes Have Followed Me All My Life about her experiences in Pretoria Central prison.

Then there is the role of spiritual leaders. In reading about Zimbabwe's liberation struggles, one cannot avoid the name. Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana (c1840-1898), a spirit medium of the Zezuru Shona people. As a spirit leader of the Shona, Nehanda was a source of inspiration and revolt against the British South Africa Company's colonisation of Mashonaland and Matebeleland (now Zimbabwe). She was believed to have provided military advice to rebels through local codes for combat. She identified colonial military targets. In 1897, Charwe Nyakasikana, the spirit medium of Nehanda, was charged and hanged for the murder of a Native Commissioner.

As a child I heard strange stories about a woman called Alice Lenshina, who founded the Lumpa Church in Zambia in 1955. It was a Christian church that carried out baptisms administered by Lenshina herself. The church quickly grew to over 150 000 members in the northern and eastern parts of the country. Lenshina's leadership and the church were influential in Zambia's liberation movement. Unfortunately, due to tension between her followers and the United National Independence Party (UNIP), many members of the Lumpa Church were killed in a gun battle. In 1964, the year Zambia gained independence, Alice was arrested by the new government led by Kenneth Kaunda. She died on 7 December 1978, still under house arrest.

Lenshina's story reminds me of the violence that occurred within Africa's liberation movements. I will never forget stories I heard from Pauline Dempers (see my conversation with her in Feminist Africa) who was tortured and imprisoned at the hands of her colleagues in the South West African Peoples Organisation (SWAPO, Namibia's liberation movement).

These are but four people among many. I often wonder how many undergraduate and graduate courses at UCT address Africa's complex history of resistance against colonial rule. How many of us who work/learn at UCT have family or friends who were involved in these struggles? Whose names did we choose to call as we celebrated Africa Day this year?

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Monday Monthly

Volume 30 Edition 08

06 Jun 2011

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