WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED?

 

Power + Love = Peace
Power + Love = Peace

“We saw sanctions as an instrument to assist in the liberation of South Africa which they did. The effects of the sanctions were felt in the 1990’s here when the then minister of finance argued that White South Africa could not continue anymore. So in the end it was Economics, not racism, ideology that drove them to the negotiations.” Kader Asmal

I have learnt a lot these past three years about myself, friends, my family, my country, my continent, the world.  This year I learnt a lot about politics. Most of what I learnt about politics though had nothing at all to do pas du tous with universities and Ivy League institutions of education around the world. I learnt a lot about politics by living.

What do I mean?

Let me start with three smaller nyana stories, which I hope will best illustrate my point. I’ll get to the point – so Don’t despair.

True story. 1 RACIAL PROFILING

I have a brother in Senegal called Allasane Ndiaye. He is a talented fellow and last week he lamented that though he speaks better French than the French, is a better orator, writer and linguist than many of the French people he comes across, the French Government still won’t grant him a visa to visit their fairest country. It doesn’t matter that he shares the same ideals, quotes the same authors and reads from the same books. He is still not good enough for them. Though he’s helped countless Europeans to write books, do research, offered himself, his knowledge and skills. He could never be enough. Sorry it doesn’t count.

True Story. 2 AFRO-PESSIMISM

Some of you might already be tired of this but here goes. I was minding my own business one afternoon when in an effort to make idle conversation with me, this white South African guy looked at my hair and said “having a bad hair day huh?” It took a moment for me to reply because I had spent hours plating my hair, caring for it and on that particular morning it was a good hair day. I left my house knowing that my hair, in its natural state was good, not only that but I had gone to great lengths to care for it. But to this guy, my hair in its natural state was bad. So I decided to play along. “It’s a bad hair day every day for me broer (brother), and you  are you having a bad hair day too? I asked pointing at his straight greying hair. Ah no he said. I just get into a shower brush it and that’s it. “I do the same” I offered.

True Story. 3. SHOW ME THE MONEY

All things, including love, being equal I would be married today where it not for the tiny little matter of not having money. First to a beautiful black woman, then a beautiful black man; we shared the same ideals, hopes and dreams. He asked me to marry him, on Goree Island, the island of  slaves, on the 11th of May, a day commemorating the death of Bob Marley.  But when it came down to it, I had nothing to offer him. No trips abroad, no lucrative deals with NGOs.  No additional access. I was just an ordinary African woman trying to live my truth. In the end I lost out to a Dutch woman. She hounded me, all of us, from his childhood friends to his housemates. Until one day she struck it lucky and took the man on a month-long holiday to visit her family in Beautiful Holland.  He was in his element. He came back calling her parents Mommy and Daddy. Well done her! In the end it was not about religion or Islam or about language, forget love. It was about money. Luxury and  comfort, an easy life. Nothing wrong with that. She would add untold status to the family. The Dutch, my former erstwhile oppressors, are well-meaning non-racists, who manage a democratic, liberal society which embraces all nations and still commemorates Zwarte Piet (black slave festival) to this day in defense of their culture. They are the biggest funders of journalism education and training in Africa.  Yes I love you, know that. But we have to be practical about it. I thank the universe for small mercies. Ah well, personal sour grapes aside, this is what I’ve learnt…

NEVER A FAILURE, ALWAYS A LESSON.

So I imagine that my African forefathers must have felt crap like me.  They must have felt, so foolish like me, like Allasane, for thinking that after trying so hard to shake off the chains of “barbarism”, to become civilized like the white man, to sip cognac, and smoke cigars in exclusive elitist and largely male establishments. After learning all they could learn, acquiring degrees upon degrees, Phds, even being honoured in the best Tweede suits money can buy. After learning to be more articulate debaters,  orators, learned men and visionaries. They were still not enough.

HEARTBREAK SUCKS, BUT YOU CAN LEARN FROM IT.

It must have really irked them, that despite their best efforts to rid themselves of their blackness, African-ness , to apply what  knowledge they gained at the master’s institutions of learning, after they had absorbed all they could. Still in the end they were no more than silly little boys to their colonizers, to the imperialist. They were never considered equals. They were still just mere toddlers in the game of world domination. Pawns still, to be moved around at will on a whim in an elaborate illusion of a chess game. Those who tried harder to beat the master at his own game, who despite all of the above retained their  “African-ness” preached unity among African nations, those who preached the good news, the gospel of  do it yourself: Were quickly silenced because words are sharper than that the sword,  mightier than the  gun. Their lives were traded for money, power and influence, sold to the highest bidder by their very own brothers, who saw them as threats to their project of self-enrichment. They must have cried hot boiling tears when they discovered that the only way to “advance” is to give everything to the powers that be, their hearts must have been broken to pieces when they realized that the imperialists were never the gentlemen they claimed to be, that they would never give in, that they would even kill their own people to keep the system alive. They said one thing but meant something else. They must have felt like rats, trapped with their molars firmly on prime-cheddar that they would never live to enjoy unless they became obedient, servants.  Their hearts must have sunk low, like mine, when they discovered that  n reality they didn’t meant it. Love was an illusion. He never truly loved me.

Those who are alive today, must feel so conflicted:

“Ons ry nou ook in amptelike slap motors. Ons word ook onderdaning ge-ja-baas, ja-meneer, ja-minister, ja-alles. Die nee-mense van di struggle het vinning en onverklaarbaar ja-gewoontes angeleer”

“Now we, too, ride in official limousines. And humbly get yes-master, yes-sir, yes-minister, yes everything. No-people of the struggle have learnt yes-habits swiftly and without explanation”   Mathews Phosa – the price of freedom

the matter that came up about sanctions, we need to encourage these other people. You need to be providing these carrots, so that when they move they take a step forward you need to say well done, in our own interest, but please take the next step. But for the positive steps you have taken, please have these carrots.”   Former South African President Thabo Mbeki

They never became respected equal partners at the negotiating table. Despite all the concessions they made,  despite  compromises  for the love of the people towards a more equitable African future the were met with dead ends.  

“We seek to ensure that we move away from the donor-recipient relationship with the developed world to a new partnership based on mutual respect as well as shared responsibility and accountability” Thabo Mbeki.

“They have defined a new paradigm for the development relationship. We are dancing to their tune, but at least it is our own dance” UK Foreign Office on NEPAD

“Let them have their experience in liberty, either they give Africa the example we give Europe of a united self-respecting, hard -working nation or else the primitive roots sprout again. In which case we have control of the army, the militias, planes, the tanks…….

“What is independence to them? They are not a nation. They are a bunch of tribes, the Bulubas detest, the Luas, detest the bacongo,  colonial rule holds the country together”  Belgian Officials discussing the The Independene of Zaire  now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Extract from the movie Lumumba.

AFTER  HEARTBREAK THEN COMES… REAL LOVE.

But our forerunners, our forefathers tried. They did they best could, given the knowledge  and understanding at their disposal. They used the tools given to them to do their best both on a personal and collective levels.  Yes mistakes were made. You make mistakes too don’t you, at work, at home? some are very bad, some not so bad. But mistakes they are still. I have the utmost respect for them and their collective efforts. They weathered the storm, they charged forward – were leaders in the truest sense that they still to this day, lead by example. The best we can do is to learn from their mistakes and continue the fight.  They  did make  significant in-roads. I thank them for their courage, their resilience, their tenacity. We can learn from them, from their efforts.

The Moral of the story? You can’t dismantle the master house, using the master’s tools. But perhaps that is actually not the point. The point perhaps is not about dismantling the Master’s house. Perhaps the point I’m making is its better to build your own house with your own tools. Is that a far-fetched idea? What have you learned?

Credits: Quotes from:

Behind the Rainbow – a documentary film on the ANC by Jihan Al tahri

Thabo Mbeki and the battle for the Soul of the ANC – a book by William Gumede.

Lumba – the film on the first Prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Patrice Lumumba.

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