Lwadilik’ udonga was this amazing IsiXhosa novel by Chinua Achebe. I read as a kid. This novel introduced me a world that was beyond what I knew, tribes I’d never heard of; interesting names whose meaning I never knew, like Okonkwo, Umofia, Nwoko, and a country called Nigeria. It was something new, something exciting. The story was captivating.
Years later, I learnt that this classic novel was originally entitled Things Fall Apart. Nigeria was actually not the very first African country I’d heard of, Ethiopia was. I was told: iEthopia yindawo yabantu abalambayo (Ethopia, a place known for its poverty and famine).
Skinny kids used to be the butt of jokes in my village. “It’s like you’re from Ethiopia,” they would say. These were the early 80s. The first school I attended was named Tiyo Soga Primary. I never knew who this Tiyo Soga was, and nobody bothered to tell me until I learnt in my early twenties that he was one of the greatest Eastern Cape pioneers that ever lived.
My other introduction to other African countries was difficult to escape as it was natural or automatic in the Transkei to be aware or conscious of the struggle against apartheid, even if you lived in a remote village. As kids they always told us: “Tambo is in Lusaka,” “Mkhonto we Sizwe in Tanzania.” They used to talk about “amaqabane aselubhacweni eAfrica” (Comrades in exile in Africa). The slogan was: “Mayibuye iAfrica” – even though I never really understood where Africa had gone to now that it has to come back. I was a kid!
As I grew up, I remember was being taught about the OAU, the names and number of African countries and their capital cities. It ended there. Life continued. I grew up. “We are in South Africa. They’re in Africa.” That’s what I kept hearing.
This was bound to grant me a certain perspective or understanding about Africa which was limiting, diluted and far from exciting. It never allowed me to open my eyes to all the advancements we’ve made as a people of this continent and the potential we carry in achieving an Africa that is free, peaceful and prosperous. In my quest to know more, to understand, and to figure out our people, I’ve met and interviewed different types of people.
The Believers: They told me Africa can no longer wait… That I must walk confidently and do so unapologetically because as an African, I’m a child of God too, and my dreams are meant to come true no matter the colour of my skin or background. They told me I’m capable of thinking and being exceptional like any other person in the world, and anything different is a lie. They told me Africa shall and will take its rightful place in the world and doesn’t need permission, aid or instructions to succeed. They instructed me to learn more and celebrate the achievements we’ve made as Africans and be part of the bright future that is upon us.
The Teachers: These are indigenous writers who taught me my language, culture and my history. These were great lessons but their teachings were limited to a certain extent. They mostly taught me how to be more proud of who I am as a Xhosa man and not much as a Black man. It might have made me feel taller among other tribes but not when I stand against the world of oppression, racism and injustice. I had to dabble to other teachers like Malcolm and Marcus, Tambo and Mandela, WEB Du Bois, Biko and Hani, Sankara and Lumumba, and Thabo Mbeki. These are teachers who taught me that it’s okay to be black. It’s beautiful to be African. The struggle of my fellow brothers in Somalia and Sudan, Burundi and DRC or any part of the continent is my struggle too. Their success is mine to claim.
In my quest, I’ve also met the non-believers, doubters, sceptics and some who call themselves “truth tellers.” They told of an Africa that is forgotten, lost and that never will achieve. They tabled down what they called proof or evidence: the collapsed leadership, neglect, poverty, unpunished corruption and unused ideas… the rise of new and black oppressors, the marginalisation of the poor, and the brain drain. The list was endless.
Listening to them might be tempting or, as some “truth tellers” tell me, justified… to throw hands and walk away and search for faraway lands supposedly of milk and honey.
In all this, as a young African today I say, I’m here and ready, to make sure that Africa’s mission of freedom, peace, prosperity, justice and equality is accomplished.