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18 May 2020 | Story Dr Marinkie Madiope | Photo Sonia Small (Kaleidoscope Studios)
Dr Marinkie Madiope.

In IsiZulu, there is a saying that goes, ‘indlela inbuzwa kwa ba phambili’, which can be loosely translated into, ‘direction is asked for, from those who’ve walked the path’. According to the illustrious Credo Mutwa, in his seminal masterpiece, Indaba my Children, 

“these are the stories that old men and old women tell to boys and girls seated with open mouths around the spark-wreathed fires in the centres of the villages in the dark forests and on the aloe-scented plains of Africa. Under the gaze of the laughing stars the Old One sits, his kaross wrapped around his age-blasted shoulders, staring with rheumy eyes at the semi-circle of eager expectant faces before him – faces of those who have taken but a few steps along the dark and uncertain footpath called Life – faces of the ones yet oblivious to the pain of life’s bitter scourges – faces yet unmarked by furrows of bitterness, ill-health and anger – the fresh, pure, open faces of…children. The fire dances in the middle of the round clay fireplace like a virgin revelling in the simple joy of being alive. It devours the dry twigs and logs that a little girl is constantly feeding it, leaving nothing but glowing ashes. It mocks the silent sky with a redly luminous column of smoke against its starry face and by sending up short-lived stars of its own”|

As the birthplace of humankind, the motherland, homeland, and ancestral origin of everyone on the planet, Africa is a blessed, special, and beautiful continent. It is an expansive abode of rich diversity, striking complexities and ornate nuances and peculiarities, both in its people and in its biomes.

With approximately 2 100 languages spoken by more than 3 000 ethnic groups in our population of just over 1,3 billion individuals spread across 55 countries, Africa is culturally, philosophically, and linguistically a very wealthy land.
Our shared, priceless heritage is littered with shining examples of the excellence, resilience, ingenuity, fortitude of character, strength, spirit, and love of our people. We have adapted to desertification, unshackled ourselves from slavery, replenished ourselves from years of famine, battled deadly viral diseases, nursed ourselves out of internecine conflicts, liberated ourselves from colonial oppression, and together, through it all, held fast the inherited role we collectively hold as custodians of humanity.

As Enock Maregesi spiritedly states:
“We are the children of Nelson Mandela; we are the children of Kwame Nkrumah; we are the children of Haile Selassie; we are the children of Samora Machel; we are the children of Robert Mugabe; we are the children of Patrice Lumumba; we are the children of Julius Kambarage Nyerere. We know who we are!”

And in this reverent knowledge of who we are, where we come from and what we have experienced to bring us to this present day where we celebrate our languages, our customs, our traditions, our ethnicities, our similarities and differences, our uniqueness, our Africa, and by virtue of that, our Africanness, we not only remember, but resonate with the heart-stirring words of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, “I am not African because I was born in Africa, but because Africa was born in me!”

We are grateful for the providence with which our continent has been virtuously spared from the unprecedented eventualities that have become synonymous with the leap year of 2020. The onset of the global lockdowns following the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic, averted a situation that could have escalated into a third world war; decreased the worldwide carbon emissions and pollution drastically; and served as a clarion call to unite humanity in the common goal of the preservation of human life. In spite of the hardships that came with re-adjusting our focus back to self-sufficiency, self-preservation through social distancing, and redefining what we term as essential, all of humankind has joined in remembering. Remembering how to do for self, remembering to care for those in need, remembering to cherish and respect the planet, and most importantly, remembering their African ancestry.

As we dutifully charter forth through the eternal passage of time, continuously evolving in conscious intelligence, consistently preserving human existence and steadily riding the throes of modernisation by globalisation, we invite all of humankind to take heed of our guidance, and ask for direction from those who have walked the path before. Let us illuminate the way forward for our planet by using the knowledge and ways that have been laboriously and painstakingly preserved for us by our forebearers though centuries of oppression, apartheid, discrimination, and derogation. 

We overcome. We inspire. We rise. We adapt. We thrive. It is our legacy to steer humankind back home, back to basics, back to mother earth. The historic events that have marked the first half of 2020 have highlighted to the world the inescapable importance of the cardinal African values of Ubuntu and a sustainable co-existence with nature. 

No, we are not African because we are born in Africa, we are Africans because Africa is born within us. Let us construct for the world a new model of being, a model of old, a model of nature, a model of our African nature.

On this Africa Day, go forth African child, and remember your sacred duty. Live your glorious destiny. Show the way for the rest of humanity. Mayibue!!!

Dr Marinkie Madiope is the Principal of the South Campus of the University of the Free State.

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