The roots of Africa Day date back to 1963 when the ‘Day of Africa’ was instituted in Ethiopia during the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Since then, 25 May has acquired international recognition as Africa Day, a day when, regardless of their whereabouts or situations, Africans celebrate the notion of African unity.
Africa Day provides the opportunity for those Africans who are separated from the mother continent to reconnect with Africa. For those who remain on the continent, but find themselves outside of their countries of birth, I believe it is a reminder of our connectedness as Africans - of our common struggles, challenges and achievements.
But I do wonder if we - individuals and governments - are doing enough to honour these connections. In a context in which many countries continue to experience civil unrest, civilians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. The conditions in which they find themselves in some instances are far removed from the notion of African unity. We need only think back to the xenophobic violence that rocked South Africa last year to see this.
So while I certainly enjoyed celebrating at the concert in Mary Fritzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg on 24 May, I could not help wishing for more. The music was great, people were happy, but I wondered how many of them gave a thought to the significance of the day. Surely it should be more than about the music?
The event, which was broadcast live on SABC 2 and to the rest of the continent via satellite, was co-presented by actor and comedian, Kenneth Nkosi and Shane Phure Maja. They made jokes as they introduced the different acts and even at one point sang the now infamous ‘Umshini wam’. While this was highly entertaining, they did not take the time to mention the reason for the celebrations. That they saw fit to occasionally call out the names of great leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyata and Nelson Mandela - without any explanation of who they were - constituted a big mistake for me.
It seemed to me that presenters were more moved by artists’ performances than the meaning that the day should carry. I believe they missed the opportunity to utilise the event to educate the youth about African history. For me, it was clear they had no idea who these African leaders were - evident in the fact that the crowd cheered only when Madiba’s name was mentioned. This was extremely disappointing.
I was not the only one who felt this way. Nigerian engineer, Temitope Adewunmi, who lives in Johannesburg, told me rather sadly, that South Africa should rethink how it celebrates Africa Day - bringing musicians from other countries to perform at concerts was not enough. Similarly, my Cuban, German and American friends were also disappointed.
“I am an African
For her people greet me as family
And teach me the meaning of community”
These are the words of a poem titled ‘I am an African’ written by writer and pubic speaker Wayne Visser. Sadly, I think that many of my fellow Africans in the audience did not feel this sense of family.
Maja and Nkosi did not make the effort to greet in languages other than South African ones. They greeted in isiZulu and Sepedi and made jokes about African National Congress Youth League president, Julius Malema - as if millions of Africans watching all around Africa even know who Malema is!
Without denying South Africans the right to love their country, I think it is shocking that South African performers only shouted “viva South Africa viva!... proudly South African” and did not say a word about the rest of Africa, or the continent as a whole for that matter!
“It seems like the rest of Africa is non-existent and meaningless” said Salsa trainer, Leonardo, an Afro-Cuban national who attended the concert, hoping to reconnect with the land of his ancestors.
Is it possible that this lack of consideration contributed towards the 2008 xenophobic attacks in townships such as Alexandra and Diepsloot, which claimed 62 lives and displaced many? In realising our Africaness, we need to transcend skin colour and cultural cleavages.
In his famous speech entitled ‘I am an African’, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, said: “I am an African…the pain of the violent conflict that the people of other African countries is a pain I also bear…the dismissal shame of poverty, suffering and human degradation of my continent is a blight that we share.”
I commend South Africa for doing its best to make Africa a ‘war-free’ continent. It is only through peace that Africans will be able to live together, irrespective of their race or nationality. Africa Day can be used as an opportunity to highlight the importance of working together and supporting each other to confront the socio-economic challenges we face.
I believe in the potential of our continent.
I am an African.
Adam Mukendi is the project officer for the SANGONeT / Hivos Citizen Journalism Africa Programme.