“I sang struggle songs with the South Africans when they were in Kenya hiding from the government.”
Granted my uncle later admitted that it was after a few rounds at a local watering hole and he might not have gotten all the words correct but the sentiment was there. This is a fuzzy snapshot of the pan-Africanist history of our continent. The idea that as South Africa limped towards that finish line the continent fed it orange slices, cups of water and urged it on.
Fast forward to the present day and the history of the interconnected nature of our countries is quickly forgotten, not only within southern African but across the board.
The few who stand against the scourge are those with an unofficial PhD in pan-African history that will begin to vaguely wax lyrical about how so many liberation heroes were hidden in African countries. That some nations gave so much love that they were even allowed into the Southern African Development Community despite clearly being in east Africa.
Here is looking at you Tanzania.
But after the struggle soot has settled how relevant are these arguments still? It would seem that now that independence has come we cannot hold onto, or even remember, the past.
History moves on, thanks for the help we will send a fruit basket.
Which is understandable as one cannot ask for a constant thank you. That time is gone and the common enemy has fled into the murky waters.
Everyone is free and everyone is on a level playing field pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.
But South Africans seemed convinced that foreign nationals are not only trying to steal their bootstraps but the whole damn boot.
I recently saw a WhatsApp/BBM message making the rounds that stated:
“We have just come out of an oppressive regime whilst you in the North have been enjoying freedom since 1960, 1975 and 1981.”
It then went on to urge foreign nationals to go home so they could enjoy their freedom in peace, the idea being that this freedom has operated in, and continues to operate in, isolation. This in itself is not particularly shocking.
It is not hard to discern how we got here. A skewed history of the liberation struggle not only affects people outside the country but those within. Think how many home-grown heroes have been written out of the liberation narrative, and they were right here. Many who loot, harm and burn do not know the extent to which other countries were involved in helping South Africa obtain the freedom they now accuse foreign nationals of stealing.
The glaring hole in the narrative, which the ANC and President Jacob Zuma have gone on record as saying, is that not enough has been done to educate South Africans on the role of the other African nations in the liberation. Outside of my uncle singing struggle songs Zuma spoke of how African foreign nationals hid liberation soldiers, carried guns for them, housed them in different countries and even came back into the country to help.
They also do not understand that of all the people who are truly looting their freedom it is not the man from Malawi. It is the lack of service delivery, a struggling economy, crime so concrete it should have its own ministry, people starving, an “official” unemployment rate of 24%, disenfranchised youth and the wealth of the country remaining in the hands of a few.
What South Africans (and Africans in general) tend to forget is we are each other’s last hope, because frankly the world out there does not love us. Bric(s), unfortunately, is not your international BFF, but time will show that eventually. The Chinese barely love the people next door, the Europeans still see us as the help, the Middle East would rather enslave us than welcome us in and in parts of Asia they will not give you an express visa by virtue of being black and will then send you an official email stating so.
And the US? Well go there and try being black on a good day.
The sad thing is the world, as an African, does not love you. Go through an average visa process if you forget that.
The person who calls you brother and genuinely means it is your neighbour.
A new type of pan-Africanism is needed because we are in the exact same situation that brought us together in the first place. It is just in a new outfit and calling itself the global village. We are still the kids on the playground who no one will play with but at least before, we had each other.
It might be time to all meet in a pub somewhere and sing some struggle songs, because on a number of levels they are still relevant. And at this point we could all do with a stiff drink.