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Do we need Africa Day?

This post is in response to the recent Community of Mandela Rhodes Scholars (CMRS) “Conversations for Change” sessions held throughout the country in May. As a platform for constructive interdisciplinary debate and intellectual enquiry, the sessions sought to bring together academic institutions, public intellectuals, social activists, students, and community members with the intention of facilitating dialogue between these different stakeholders. The theme for this year was “The Role of Education and Entrepreneurship in Advancing Social Transformation”. Discussion history can be found on Twitter with the tag #CMRS.

By Suntosh Pillay

“The majority of Africans aren’t free yet. Africa Day is another great tool to educate ourselves about our common struggle and fight the scourge of Afrophobia. Without dialogue we can’t take any transformative actions, so I think events like Conversations for Change have immense potential to light a progressive fire in the bellies of young scholars and activists.”

These are the thoughts of Dr Mvuselelo Ngcoya, a speaker at the Durban leg of a national series of debates hosted by the Community of Mandela Rhodes Scholars (CMRS).

That elusive goal of social transformation was debated, with special focus on education and social entrepreneurship. The idea was to create a vibrant space for dialogue and, hopefully, action. The Durban event, sponsored by the University of KwaZulu Natal’s corporate relations division, coincided with Africa Day, May 25, to highlight our chronic postcolonial struggle to break the shackles of history. What is Africa’s place in the global village? And do we need a special day to commemorate one continent?

Shabashni Moodley, a sociologist and educational activist, was cautiously optimistic. “Africa Day, like Women’s Day, Aids Day, Workers’ Day etc, always carry [sic] the risk of becoming a nostalgic commodity and a token measure of pseudo-growth. However, they also operate as spaces of agency for those who work tirelessly to make a more equitable society happen.” She describes the CMRS as an “access enabler” that ensures the opportunity for visibility “becomes more accessible”.

Moodley founded The Inkubator for Social Entrepreneurship in Durban as an expression of both social action and academic rebellion. “I hope this intervention will influence the dialogue and pedagogy around community colleges in South Africa. I’m aspiring to become a professor so that I can teach sociology at the secondary schools I live amongst in Inanda, Kwamashu, Ntuzuma, and Newlands East.”

Ngcoya is an academic and research analyst who taught in Washington DC, and now lectures in developmental studies at UKZN. Born in Phatheni, Richmond, he dabbles in poetry, plays and coaches soccer, and even struggles through Spanish classes in his spare time. He has a PhD in international relations and has interests in political theorist Frantz Fanon, the socio-political importance of ubuntu, and indigenous knowledge systems. He lamented the “seven deadly sins of our education system” and our “low standards and expectations”, urging black African students to squash their inferiority complexes and strive to achieve more. Moodley called on students to form cooperatives, because the SMME culture of business was based on narrow individualism that did not advance social transformation.

These two colourful public intellectuals feel that despite the inequalities that continue to haunt our continent, there is reason to be hopeful and even optimistic about the future of Africa. “Events like these are tools for challenging incomplete truths, inspiring creativity and sustaining hope. Africa’s hope becomes a greater possibility when the power of collective creativity replaces the fear of losing privilege.”

Ngcoya agrees, poetically quoting one of his favourite local artists, Vusi Mahlasela: “For the pregnant woman jumped the fences and still gave birth to a healthy child. This is what gives me hope about Africa,” says Ngcoya. “The resilience of the African woman, the multitudes of inventive Africans who walk this planet with their chests pumped up and heads high, even as they face seemingly impossible obstacles.”

Africa Day, it seems, is needed and wanted.

Suntosh Pillay is a clinical psychologist in a public hospital in Durban. He can be contacted at [email protected]