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What Does it Mean to be African?

Categories: Africa

I never chose to be an African! I have never even contemplated the question of why I am an African. But here I am, a born and bred African for all my thirty years of life, and I couldn’t be more proud to stand up and say that I am proudly an African.

Africa, the land of hope, enriched with a past filled with plenty of sadness and pain, but above all, filled with so much beauty and diversity. The vast resources this continent holds, from the diamonds to the gold and even more the incredible people that we know as Africans that are born and bred here that contribute to this land, the ones who invest their time, money and blood sweat and tears.

The ones who speak the local languages, the ones whose hearts pump for Africa. Being African is more than skin deep, it has nothing to do with color or creed. The colour of our skin does not determine what makes us African because we as human beings are sharing experience in this body in this world.

We are souls before we are bodies, what is inside us counts for more than that of the tone of our skin.

The past may never be wiped away from all the pain and suffering that occurred. As Thabo Mbeki said: “in its remembering, should teach us not and never to be inhuman again.” If we could use our history to help us understand that dividing a nation as unique and as diverse as ours will never propel us forward.

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The only way forward is to go backward and evaluate how we as a nation can unite, with all of our differences to propel forward to make this and the next generations fruitful.

Togetherness is what we as Africans need to do more of, we must rise together to the challenges that affect us all, and find ways in how we can improve the quality of life in Africa for Africa’s people.

Our hearts are the shape of Africa although there may be bends or cracks in the paths, that is where the Ubuntu light shines through. As Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu said about Ubuntu; “We are all connected. What unites us is our common humanity. I don’t want to oversimplify things – but the suffering of a mother who has lost her child is not dependent on her nationality, ethnicity, or religion. White, black, rich, poor, Christian, Muslim, or Jew – pain is pain – joy is joy. In Southern Africa, we have a concept called Ubuntu – which is that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. You can’t be human all by yourself. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas what you do, what I do, affects the whole world. Taking that a step further, when you do good, it spreads that goodness; it is for the whole of humanity. When you suffer or cause suffering, humanity is diminished as a result.”

Xenophobia is based on racism on an entire nationality. Ubuntu as a practice should be used in reference to the xenophobia we have in Africa. The foreigners that have come to this country came for a better life and a chance to make a living. Unfortunately, in all cultures and races, we have the few that can cause a bad name for the entire race, those few should not reflect poorly on an entire race.

“South Africa is Africa’s most industrialized country, and it attracts thousands of foreign nationals every year, seeking refuge from poverty, economic crises, war and government persecution in their home countries. While the majority of them are from elsewhere on the continent, such as Zimbabwe, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Ethiopia, many also come from Pakistan and Bangladesh”. As a general rule, foreigners may be inclined to accept jobs at a lower rate of pay and this seems to enrage our locals as a large portion then have no work. I believe togetherness and standing up to the government to make sure it protects its people, would help curb the xenophobic attacks.

We as Africans should all stick together because we as Africans are our sports teams, we are the “braais” and vuvuzelas, we are the wildebeest migrating through the Serengeti, we are the Masai tribal warriors, we are the Nile and the Zambezi. We as Africans are “born of a people who are heroes and heroines.” 3

A “Nelson Mandela” is in each and every one of us, if we only took the time as he did to realize that no one is better than the other, underneath it all we are all one. We were born Africans and we will die Africans, no amount of hatred, stereotyping, or generalizations can take that away from us. We may all be from different cultures, different religions, and different backgrounds but we are all Africans.

The phrase “I’m an African” could be stereotypically construed as a person that is of black skin color. Some foreigners still think, being African means leading a nomadic lifestyle in the wild. Being an African is so much more than that.

As Thabo Mbeki said, “It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and White.” “I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas, and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land.”

My identity has been impacted in many ways, some do not think white people are African, but how can I not be when African is all I know. To me, I am more African than some. As a child in 1994 starting grade 1, with a classroom filled with multi-racial students was clearly a pivotal point in South Africa, little did I know back then how important that was. We as pure children did not judge one another, we all became friends regardless of our skin tone. I will never forget playing Barbie’s with a Zulu girl on the playground at breaks, she had a “black” Barbie and I had a “white” Barbie and we were so eager and so excited to make a trade as we loved how different we were and how different our Barbie’s were. Twenty-five years later I may even still have that Barbie, as I hold on to it for memories and to pass it on to my own children. My children will learn what it truly means to be African and what Ubuntu really stands for, having this common bond amongst us all, through all the interactions with human beings. We are humans first before we are anything else.

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What Does it Mean to be African?. (2019, Dec 17). Retrieved from

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