Khaya Dlanga
Khaya Dlanga

Africa, the motherland

We must not ridicule nor confuse genuine emotional responses with ignorance when African Americans first land here. The ignorant ones are those amongst us who so readily dismiss this response without a moment’s pause to consider or understand the reason for the reaction. (For a while, I was in this number. I too used to laugh. I am no better than the ones who still do.) Simply calling African Americans who do that when they get here is proof of our own ignorance. We who laugh are the ignorant ones. I don’t think we understand the overwhelming emotions that African Americans go through when they come to Africa. I was at the stadium last night when American songstress Keri Hilson said, “it’s good to be in the motherland”. There was much giggling, some even said they knew she’d pull the motherland line. That is said from a place of ignorance and a failure to empathise.

Instead of ridiculing people when they express this, we ought to feel nothing but humility, that we were blessed. It is a blessing that our ancestors were not removed by force to be sold as slaves. A form of slavery where men and women did not give birth to families, but instead bred slaves, much like one would breed cattle, where one’s children were nothing but a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. Families and people from the same villages were separated so they could not pass on stories about their native land to one another. Clearly we don’t understand. We may never have been slaves, but our lack of empathy and lack of understanding might as well be slavery — of our own making and choosing.

In the 80s, when the late great American comedian Richard Pryor decided to leave it all behind for a while and live in Africa, he went to Zimbabwe. I remember watching (it was DVD obviously) him do stand-up about his experience. He said, I may not be quoting him word for word but he said something like, “I went to Zimbabwe. I know how white people feel in America now,” he paused, “relaxed”. We have no idea what it’s like to be black in America.

Yes the kissing of the ground and saying I’m in the motherland may be old. It may be so for us. But it’s not old for the person who steps out of a plane and lands here for the first time. For them, that feeling, that overwhelming emotion is new and needs to be vocalised. Let us criticise ourselves before we criticise.

I have had several conversations with African Americans and when they find out how developed Africa is they say: “American television never shows positive images of Africa. All we see are children with flies, wars, nothing positive.” Granted, some have admitted to me and beat themselves over the fact that they didn’t find out more for themselves about the state of the continent and not just rely on the media.

As much as some of us blame them for having this image of Africa, some of us have one of two images of the African American: the ghetto-living, hoochie mama with her projects, gangster boyfriend. Then there is the image of the high-living rapper, basketball player or football player. We don’t stop to think that there may be those who live in suburbs. This too for us has been the image of the African American. Let’s look at ourselves before we judge them.

In other words, they make assumptions about us, we make assumptions about them too. So neither side has the right to feel superior. We are all wrong for not trying to find out more.

We can either chose to live in our ignorance or try to understand why they feel the way they do when they get here. In fact I would suggest that not just African Americans should feel that way about the motherland. Everyone should. After all, this is where humanity started, if you believe in evolution that is. Some of the world’s oldest human fossils are found right here in Jozi in fact. They are right, this is the motherland. Now leave them alone.

  • Sipho Hlongwane

    Khaya, I understand that it may be important for them to feel like they have a certain connection to a piece of land somewhere in the world, but what else do they share with us (aside from skin colour?)

    As you rightly point out, the Cradle of Humankind theory holds that Africa is the birthplace of man. Does that necessarily give *everyone* who comes here the right to pull the ‘motherland’ line? I don’t think so. African Americans are Americans.

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  • speech

    i see what you are saying, but now what about those who come here just to get paid. i mean we have seen a lot pull the motherland line to put wool over our eyes trying to get our trust and say it without meaning

  • ignorant one

    I am sorry I still maintain that it is annoying… I am not ignorant enough as to suppose that America is all ghetto and rich and nothing in between…if u think this is ur motherland then keep it to urself…quite frankly it is annoying…yes slavery was a very bad thing but its over now…if you want to return to your roots then nothing is stopping you from doing so, pack ur bads leave America and return 2 ur motherland… Everytime they say that I feel like poking a needle in my eye… a gold medal for you Khaya for understanding but whenever they say this I just want to kick them… furthermore Miss Keri Hilson really pissed me off when she said that statement about how we have everything including happiness…aarg…felt like … point is there is google, and it usually gives you a lot of perspectives about a country, its not as one sided as the media’s portrayal of Africa, which by the way is not one country… And more we defend this ignorant perspective of “the motherland that has happiness too” the more we allow stereotypes to flourish!

  • David J Smith

    Great article, man.

    I remember once coming back to South Africa with a colleague who is English but of Jamaican descent. Without sounding cliched or cheesy, it was quite a sentimental thing. He was super chuffed and quite moved by the experience. But what was funny was he acted really familiar with all the black people he met.Like he had known them for years. But a lot of people were a little taken back by his behaviour. You got the feeling they thought he was a little bit mad or something! But really he was just stoked be back in what he considered his spiritual home.

  • Heather

    A very interesting and thought provoking read. Thank you.

  • Kholekile Tshunungwa

    Spot on, brother ! It always amazes me how Black South Africans think they can ridicule and resent African-Americans yet not-so-secretly envy them and want to be like them.

    Throughout our urban history, we have always wanted to emulate African Americans in education, religion, urban arts, urban lifestyle, civil rights, politics, everything. Just ask the Manhattan Brothers, Hugh Masekela, Sophiatown gangsters, the Americans, the Black Consciousness Movement, the entire SA jazz scene, etc. We still do, even in the vulgarized expressions and arts of today as Model C students, ghetto hip-hop stars, kwaito stars, etc. And we will jump at the opportunity to go to America to fraternize with them too. Ask any Black person.

    Yet somehow, we find these odd moments when we feel as if we can call them out on their perceived shallowness/fakeness about Africa, and their unconvincing emotion and relationship to Africa.

    We want to prescribe for them how they express their feeling for Africa. I remember a press conference around 2000 in Joburg where we once had them explaining themselves, as if this was necessary.

    We need to take it easy with the love-hate thing. It is equally shallow on its own, for it is not based on a real appreciation nor a knowledge about African-Americans, just generalizations and stereotypes. We end up like the pot calling the kettle black. Then we want to take pictures and autographs, all up in their faces wanting to touch and

  • Ramsay

    I agree with you- I do however feel that people in south africa have a better general understanding of america in comparison with an americans general understanding of africa. personally that’s where I become annoyed with african american’s who arrive in africa claiming to have returned to the mother land when they have no idea what it means to actually be here nor what alot of the people have to offer- apart from flies and famine. To me they are still tourists no matter what their historical backround.

    If this is the cradle of humanity, then surely every person that touches down in africa irrespective of colour should claim it as the motherland whether their ancestors have been captured as slaves or arrived as traders?

  • Kojo Baffoe

    What you say does make a lot of sense. I personally get irritated with it because sometimes it just seems like the thing to say. My experience has been that some African Americans come here, spend time in Sandton, etc, do the Soweto tour, say the right things while seeing themselves as superior to Africans here. Go to Ghana, to the slave forts & the guides will tell you the same. A lot of times, it feels like lip-service. If this is your Motherland, establish a relationship with it.

    Ps. I also love the Richard Pryor set on his time in Africa. Watch the Jamie Foxx one. I threw it away. He talks about how Africans smell, fear of catching disease, etc.

    That said, it is by no way the majority (at least in terms of my personal interaction) & often just feels like it’s the celebs, etc. I guess the giggling is because the whole Motherland thing has been so overused by artists who are paid to come here.

    My two cents. Hope I articulated it well enough.

  • MuAfrika

    And here I agree with you. And in my line of work i meet a lot of them through artist exchange programes. And yes we are both equaly ignorant of each other.
    Facts worth celebrating
    Filmmaker and UNESCO Award winning director Owen Alik Shahadah UK/Germany made Durban his second home in Africa..
    Activist and Poet Myesha Jenkins made Jozi her home long ago..this list is longer why then do we focus on migrating ‘white South African’

    Here Khaya you have my nod!

  • nikim

    Excellent article!

  • MySon

    It is so overused, this motherland thing.

    They only remember it as the motherland once they get paid to come here. They never bother as tourists.

  • Mike

    Hypocrates you dont want to treat African Americans as Africans, yet you refuse to accept white South Africans who have been in this country for just as long as Africans!

  • CoCo

    They were laughing because she said Motherland and not Mother city. You know Capetonians…

    I totally disagree with you and agree with Kojo.

  • Crystal

    GREAT article. I am African American and I have never been to the continent of Africa in my life but I am astonished by the South African views. No I don’t have a connection to the culuture or know what it means to be African. It’s hard growing up without having a connection to your ancestor’s culture. It’s hard growing up A.A. in a country that from day one lets you know you are not from here and your ancestors were not considered citizens but property or to listen to your grandmother talk about her brother that was lynched and tortured.

    People migrate here from other countries with a sense of self but being born here you never quite have that because you know you are a displaced people. Maybe artist that come there are not as genuine as you would like for them to be but people such as myself would be. It’s not easy being “African American” any where because of the stereotypes but I never realized that other Africans shared in those beliefs. Slavery succeeded in creating a great divide amongst all Africans. We are our own biggest critics.

    If people are happy to be in AFRICA be happy for them. It takes nothing from you to share in their joy but gives them everything to be able to experience it. Cleary by visiting they are educating themselves and choosing to be informed.

  • MLH

    People all over the world are ignorant about other countries. My son spent a year in Oz and his girl-friend asked whether she could have a maid if she came here; she’d already decided what she was going to name her! Said son was aghast! But then, that how the Aussies still think…
    But when push comes to shove, South Africa and its people have had a lot of great press from Black Americans, whether they are paid to come or pay to build us schools. Don’t be too fussy, when you wanted sanctions, they imposed them; perhaps it’s just payback time.

  • Ernesha

    As an African-American living in South Africa almost two years, I refer to the continent as the Motherland and will continue to do so–without judgment or ridicule or ignorance, for that matter.

    I have come to really love living in South Africa, the people and the land. I felt an instant connection to this place when I first came as a tourist several years ago. I won’t front. I was taken aback to find South Africa resembling any urban US city, with all its amenities. But let’s not get it twisted. I’ve also had the fortune of visiting the disparate provinces of this country (and more than a dozen other African countries). Truth be told, much of the country/continent does remind me of the pervasive media images–sans the sponsorship infomercial requisite naked child with flies crawling all around. Actually, it’s these most rural places that have held me captive.

    I Love This Motherland: the villages, elders, traditions and families that hold me close when I feel the ache of being 8000 miles from “home”.

    So yes, thanks for the understanding you articulated in the article. Let’s hope the dialogue that results is as insightful and encouraging to both the Africans and the Americans…and those of us caught in-between.

    And, if there is any profit to be made, may it pay the debt of gratitude I owe to ancestors who chose to survive so that one day I could come “home”.

  • Nkuli

    Great article Khaya, I’ve been in America for 7months and I totally agree that “We have no idea what it’s like to be black in America”- I still don’t. This has been an amazing experience for me It’s helped me learn and grow, and now I know that there are African-American’s who would give anything just to set foot in Africa, there are African -Americans who would give anything to meet Nelson Mandela or go explore Robin Island and we sit there and judge them when some of us don’t even care…
    I don’t blame them for calling Africa the mother land, because they know that that’s where it all started that’s where their ancestors are from. It’s a shame that Africans always complain about the African youth being too Westernized and losing their culture but they judge people who try to do the opposite. I finally understand the importance of traveling and meeting people and I wish everyone could do this so we can have a clear understanding of peoples feelings and thoughts than what we see on tv.
    Africa is the mother land, some lines are just over used and get boring sometimes but the meaning is remains the same…

  • Ladyfingers

    If a chap called Arno Koekemoer kissed the ground in Ireland, he’d be laughed at.

    Africa is as much a country as Europe.

  • MuAfrika

    I recommend the soon to be released film Motherland by Owen Alik Shahadah shot in Afrika, US, Europe on the above ssubject and the future of the African American and African diaspora outlook and future possibilities.

    Ladyfingers what is your point? How does Koekemoer fit into a debate about African American and Africa. Must everything be about Europe, can’t we just discuss our issues without white people trying to hijack that, is it not enought the colonisation, slavery, capitalism, funding wars and stuff….Hawu bakithi kanti ningenwe yini!

  • Saberah

    Great article Khaya… but, the Ignorant One’s comments also ring true – what’s stopping them from coming back ‘home’? We haev all the facilities that American has – Macdonalds, English and the ghettos….

  • bewilderbeast

    All I know is I’ve been reading a lot about the slave trade, the Arabs and African and Europeans who shipped millions of slaves out of Africa. Man, anyone who doesn’t get tears in his eyes and feel devastated at what happened is a hard unfeeling bastard. It was worse than you could ever imagine. Such cruelty is beyond imagination. I think African Americans are told about it (we were never taught about this “holocaust”). Maybe thence their response?

  • Bulie

    Khaya, are you being sarcastic?

  • cheryl

    Great article and one that will certainly make me think. i get angry when black Americans come to South Africa and refer to it as “their roots”. Their roots are in mid Africa not here. But now i will not be as judgemental about them. Thank you Crystal for your comments too. i never realised that you could feel so unwelcome in your country. To Khaya – i do hope you accept white S.Africans the same way. Remember that i am as African as you are. i have no ties to any european country and no desire to even go to europe. that is often forogotten by my black brethren here. Whoopie Goldberg once said that she hated the term African American as it denied her American heritage, like the whites there didn’t want to admit she was American. An interesting take!

  • Joe Moer

    1) African Americans are dumb, could anyone and I mean anyone imagine a white Canadian or Australian or American becoming so emotional about Europe, to do so would be racist and stupid.
    2)Slavery was evil, the vile people who enslaved their fellow human beings ( Africans ) and sold them to European,Arab,Chinese and Americans are to be condemned.
    3) Fifty years after Slavery was abolished in Europe, North African Ships were raiding European shores as far North as Ireland, England France and Netherlands for slaves and Harem concubines, this was only stopped when France was forced to occupy Algeria,Morroco and Tunisia.The last slaving raid on Northern Europe took place in the 20th Century, where is the compensation that Europe is owed by Africa ?

  • sid

    Based on the inhumanity and disinterest exhibited every day by Africa’s leaders towards their people I have little doubt that their forefathers sold their people into slavery without a moment’s doubt. Little has really changed. The new buyers are probably similar to the old although there are probably more Chinese than in slave times. The commodities being sold by the leaders are not people but resources (timber, ore etc). They are generally sold cheaply and the people on the ground derive no benefit at all.

  • Mandrake

    Khaya, an image of Felicia Mabuza-Suttle just popped to mind.


  • Khaya Dlanga

    Bulie, there’s nothing sarcastic about slavery.

  • http://AOL Fergie

    White Americans always used the word that they are going to the old country or to the mother country and the people in Europe think nothing of it. When Blacks in the US or other countries in the Western hemisphere used the same terms, there is a problem in Africa with these terms among some Africans. I read Keith Richburg’s book “out of America” and he wrote about his five years in Africa and many people in the black communities condemned him for writing this book. One of the things he said in his book that being black in Africa was not an advantage because white were allowed to go to the front of a line in the store or waited on first in a restaurant. When he went to custom, his white American co worker was allowed to go through custom and he was told that he wasn’t an American. In Europe, hotels and restaurants were built for American tourists how come Africa doesn’t promote this?

  • Johan Meyer

    يــو مـور (That’s Ajami-Afrikaans for Jou Moer) Could you give some references to your claim of slave raids on Europe, as well as statistics?

  • http://AOL Fergie

    To the person that made the comment about slaves coming from just West Africa, I would like to tell that person that slaves came from all over Africa and this includes what is know today as SA. As a matter of facts, we have a Zulu parade in New Orleans every Marda Gras because so many people were brought to this city as slaves. Finally, I met many Africans and Brazilians in the US and they all told me that the history of the slave trade was never taught to them in schools in their countries. I hear many African leaders talking about colonialism but, they never talk about the slave trade because their ancenstors took part in this crime.

  • Joy

    Great Article Khaya!

    I have always believed in “Live and Let Live”. If African Americans feel a kinship with Africa, even though they were not born here and dont live here, that is their right! Nobody has the right to criticise or ridicule them. As Voltaire supposedly said, “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Surely this applies to emotion as well?

    Africa definitely has a “Call”, and all her “children”, regardless of race, colour or creed, have the right to heed the call.

  • jjones

    Those who express irritation or wanting to “kick” African Americans truly do not understand American history or African Americans. Yes we are Americans but our American experience has been defined by our AFRICAN descent. Our skin color is a function of being of African descent. We’ve been told to feel inferior or less than and run from it. For African Americans, acceptance of Africa represents embracing the very thing for which we have been persecuted. Setting foot on the ground represents a symbolic reconnection with our heritage. It is similar to when Black South Africans want to be buried in the land of their birth or where their family comes from. How can you not understand that. Also, what does it say about you when people approach you from a place of LOVE and your response is irritation or wanting to “kick them” Its cynical, condescending and hypocritical!! Who gives you that right! No one questions Jews going to Israel. Why should African Americans be judged for wanting to connect with the continent from which they descend. We were enslaved, beaten, killed, and discriminated against because we were of African descent. How can we not have an emotional connection. Just as you take Americans to task for not understanding Africa, you should be taken to task for not understanding America.

  • todd kidd

    Excellent article. I am African American who resides in New Iberia, Louisiana. I found your article right on target. Good Job.

  • http://AOL Fergie

    @Kidd, White Americans see Europe as their motherland and the people in Europe don’t see any problem with this. When blacks from the US and other parts of the Americas call Africa their motherland some Africans have a problem with this. I tell you why, blacks in the US have the highest income of any blacks in the world per capital and many Africans think that they are making fun of them for calling Africa their motherland.

  • Don

    Fergie, I know a lot of the Irish kinda mock the endless stream of irish-american tourists coming in looking for their ‘roots’.

  • Muzi

    Once again. Well written. This one left me speechless.

  • Mandrake

    What this article and your new one tells me is that the South African education curriculum doesn’t come close to educating our Youth and even our elderly about SLAVERY.

    In retrospect, i lived 10minutes away from the Slavery museam in Cape Town and i have to admit that i’ve never set a foot inside.

    Something to think about.

    Enkosi yihlo

  • kgomotso

    If it is indeed motherland, let them come discover their roots, not in Sandton or Capetown not through a Soweto tour. Thats not where their ancestors are. Let them come on a journey of self discovery, learn the ways of the Africans and maybe we can cut them some slack.Freed slaves have a home in Africa, that place is called Liberia. Lets see them there.They come here for shows/concerts and they claim Africa!!