Privilege of the Platform. On July 13th I had the opportunity to address members of the diplomatic corps accredited to New York at the South African Consulate General in New York.:
Africa My beginning, Africa my ending,
Africa the land of broken and silenced identities.
I am an African, and African lives matter. I am an African and African lives Matter. I am an African and African lives matter.
Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to New York,
Ladies and Gentleman,
I reiterate those sentiments that Africa Matters because it so clear in the current context of our society today, our continent and our people do not matter. Africans do not matter to other Africans. Africans do not matter to African leaders. Africans do not matter to the rest of the world. This should not be the case. As a young African mind, with a passion for the region and its people, it would be trivial if I sat back and watched my continent bleed and that is why we as young Africans have decided to say no, we must be heard. Since its inception in 2015, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of The Africa Matters Initiative core team, a youth led initiative dedicated to creating spaces for African expression and robust dialogue by embracing our diversity, identity, and history through online platforms, workshops, and summits rooted in Afrocentricity. It is an initiative that rejects the notion that Africa is hopeless, that Africa is poor, and that Africans are not worthy. It has allowed me to begin my journey in filling in the pieces of my African identity.
I acknowledge that I am African first, before I am South African. So I like to think that my story goes beyond the confinements of the South African boarders, and so my South African story cannot be isolated from my African identity. It saddens me deeply when I see the South African narrative of Ubuntu being tarnished by rampant Xenophobia. In a turbulent space such as South Africa, we need to always unpack our historical context. We cannot disconnect our history as a country from the very same people that played a formidable role in our struggle for liberation. Perhaps this is a reflection that we suffer from selective pan-African amnesia. They treated us well in our time of need and embraced us as their last born on the African continent.
My time as an intern at Freedom House, an opportunity through the South African Washington International Program has opened my eyes to the need to strengthen our mechanisms for tracking and identifying emerging hotspots for this kind of injustice and human rights violations. We also need to be proactive in building the capacity of local organizations to identify and mitigate tensions before they result in violence. At the same time, perhaps we as young people can learn from the entrepreneurial spirit of our brothers and sisters from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi right through the horn, the west and the Maghreb, so that we can diminish the current issue of unemployment and restore a sense of entreprenurial pride amongst our young people.
Today, I also want to take this opportunity to allow ourselves to reflect deeply on our transition from apartheid to an inclusive democracy, which has not been an easy road for many of our people. Amongst the many challenges discouraging youth development in South Africa, from a staggering unemployment rate, increasing drug, and alcohol abuses, irrational xenophobia, and a lack of access to quality education, our young people have been derailed from forming their own national identity, and that is a deterrent that I want us to address today.
We are expected to be at the heart of this project of national unity and social cohesion, yet those that are in control of both power and discourse, continue to dictate and police the actions, visions, and aspirations of young people. We are told to be in control of our own future; to be entrepreneurs; to be excellent and critically engaging students; invest in service to our communities; good husbands and wives; we are constantly being told to be strong; not too wear revealing attire; to stay away from drugs and alcohol; and to be submissive to our elders. There is very little room for us as young people to just be, to establish our own identity, future, and to shape our own voices so that the issues pertinent to us are heard loud and clear. As we continue to be marginalized from discussing our own challenges, hopelessness continues to reign. I still believe that we will rise to the occasion.
As young people of this young democracy, and as we navigate ourselves in spaces that afford us the opportunity to dream, to be ambitious, and to have a voice, we need to determine what our identity is, shape our own identity, and subsequently what our role should be as change agents. We need to grapple with the facts and figures and collectively engage and figure out the answers ourselves. We need to be in charge and dictate the conversation around the obstacles that we are grappling with as young people, and we need to collectively implement those social solutions for social problems, much like as African people, we need to implement African solutions for African problems. We can no longer be at the receiving end of our own lives, because when one is continuously promised a better future, but is provided with a poor education, is unable to get a job, and has their voice silenced, despair becomes ones friend.
With that being said I also want to remind you that young people are not a single entity of despair. Just take a good look around you, and you will see some of the most exceptional and consistent young people in our country, with dreams, hopes, and visions to emancipate South Africa and its people from economic and social poverty. This is SAWIP. A program that has allowed us to expand the realms of possibility and pushed us to think bigger. A program that is filled with extraordinary young people, doing extraordinary work in their communities, and this is what gives me hope for our country. However, we need to capitalize on our numbers as young people and work on a national scale to bring about both social and structural changes. We need to be at the forefront of everything that is youth related, we need to occupy the right spaces, and as my team Letlogonolo likes to say, “we need to be strategically positioned”.
Yes things are not perfect. We as individuals are not perfect. And we as a country are most certainly not perfect. The legacy of not belonging is still felt. Two decades after the defeat of apartheid, we are still confronted with militaristic responses to activism. As we begin to find our voices as young leaders, we need not only question the legacies of historical leaders and icons such as Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Steve Biko, and the likes of Martin Luther King, but we need to also devise a new language of struggle.
I would just like to leave you all with the powerful words of Angela Davis who sums up this message beautifully when she said: “even though there are no guarantees that we will reach the futures we dream, we cannot stop dreaming and we cannot stop struggling. There will always be vibrant legacies, there will always be unfulfilled promises, and there will always be unfinished activism”. Gone are the days when the only lens to view our continent was one of despair and indignity. Gone are the days of isolating and silencing the identities and voices of young African people. But now are the days that that we need to collectively devise and collectively implement solutions to restore South Africa and Africa to its former glory.
“Africa my beginning, Africa my ending”