Marius Redelinghuys
Marius Redelinghuys

Africans are humans too

We are not all humans, Africans are!

Thought Leader has, among many other brilliant things, provided us with a new brand of virtual stand-up comedy. The claims, rants and musings of many here are often laughable or hilarious.

It has also generated a new brand of pseudo-intellectuals who by virtue of contributing here dare to claim to be thought leaders. I don’t blame the platform for that, I blame Wikipedia and Google which have instilled in some the arrogance to think their Wiki’ed or Googled “original thought” places them on par with leading academics in their various fields.

The most recent perversion, near-rape, of paleoanthropology, evolutionary biology and population genetics is done by none other than our very own Sentletse Diakanyo. His latest rant entitled “We are not all Africans, black people are!” reads like an excerpt from an apartheid-era history textbook.

His spurious and unsourced — not to mention unsubstantiated — claims about the recently discovered oldest Homo sapiens fossil discovered in China reads a bit like a pissing contest on a pre-school playground.

Sentletse and his thinking is a relic of the past, something that can equally be branded a living fossil: simple creatures who still roam the earth with a particular strain of thinking rooted in narrow nationalism akin to those remaining after the collapse of apartheid and more recently spawned from the likes of Julius Malema and other black nationalists.

His latest pseudo-scientific commentary is hardly done in the name of true scientific inquiry and is clearly a sad attempt at politicising — and polluting — science such as the apartheid and other equally racist regimes have done.

It is equally laughable that he should speak of white revisionism after 1994 when, as outlined in Giliomee and Mbenga’s New History of South Africa, these so-called Afrophiles started in the 1980s (with Julian Cobbing). Furthermore, the “Out of Africa” hypothesis — as brilliant as South African paleoanthropologists might be — is not the brain-child of an African, and definitely not a white African and quite honestly way before 1994.

Strange how white South Africans are revising an academic hypothesis that has held sway for decades and naturally in support of some evil political motive. Had Sentletse read more than Thabo Mbeki and Marcus Garvey on the subject of human evolution he would have discovered that there is, of course, an alternative to the Out of Africa view: the multi-regional hypothesis. Had he embarked on scientific investigation he would also have discovered that the fossil evidence — and more importantly — genetic evidence in support of the former is more convincing. Especially because at the genetic level the study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) shows that an unbroken genetic train can be traced back to a common ancestor from Africa and that there is little evidence of a genetic contribution from non-African populations.

I guess what really pisses Sentletse off is that, as the celebrated and recognised scientist Stephen Jay Gould claims, “under the skin, we really are the same”.

Before this kind of living fossil was discovered, and while he was living under a rock somewhere left to muse over the natural scientific greats of our time — including Mbeki and Garvey — humanity (“African” and otherwise) moved beyond studying bags of old bones and refined the study of more compelling, actually living, traces of human origins: human, or population, genetics.

All studies of global mtDNA divergence have shown that African populations have the biggest mtDNA divergence (followed by Asian and European populations). The fact that Africans have the greatest mtDNA sequence variations proves they have amassed the most mtDNA mutations, providing compelling evidence for the idea of African origin of humankind because the population with the most diversity is almost certainly the ancestral population and all other population groups seem to be subsets of the diversity found in Africa, further buttressing the argument for an African origin.

Unless it is your mother-in-law, a bag of old bones don’t speak, and its mere discovery certainly reveals nothing more than its age (which very few women are reluctant to do, and often even lie about).

Even on the human evolutionary timeline a mere 60 000 year difference says very little. On a timeline of epic proportions Australopithecus have been around since four million years before present (MYBP), Homo habilis made the first stone tools in Eastern Africa 2,5 MYBP and Homo ergaster (Homo erectus) spread through Africa 1,5 MYBP and left the continent 1 MYBP. It is only between 200 000 and 100 000 years before present (YBP) that Homo sapiens evolved and its presence in South Africa dates back to 115 000 YBP. Finally, the migration of our modern human species about 80 000 YBP from this dark continent of ours, when a small group left (like many do today, for Europe, Australia and New Zealand) replaced the Neanderthals in Europe and settled in Asia, and eventually (like many of them do today) in Australia and South America.

Who’s African and not then depends on which species you’re talking about, when all modern humans indisputably have a direct ancestry linked to Africa — white, Chinese and black. Sentletse casually seems to overlook that even Asian Homo sapiens had to come from Africa, and unfortunately for him, remained the same species with direct mtDNA links to Africa.

Unless of course he implies that the entire modern human race came from Asia, China in particular, in which case he as a black man is really also Chinese. A further possibility remains: that Sentletse claims that modern black people residing in Africa have no link with these modern humans from Asia (or Europe) and are therefore a different species altogether. A claim that would make most white supremacists jump for joy. Unfortunately for them, and Sentletse, we now know that modern humans are all the same species, and Africans are humans too.

The entire article is a cheap political shot and narrow African nationalist revisionism, quoting largely not from paleoanthropologists, geneticists or evolutionary biologists, but from black nationalist political figures like Garvey and Mbeki (who was not a virologist despite his revisionism of HIV/Aids and its origins). Shall we become petty and start investigating which country we came from? Or date our ancestral heritage back to the first life on earth (in which case we’re all oceanids)?

Continents, countries and race are social constructions, and underneath it all, we’re all humans: humans who came out of Africa. We are all Africans, Mr Diakanyo, whether you like it or not.

  • This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Steven Hussey, a geneticist and biotechnologist who has read up extensively on human evolution and the origin of our species. In his spare time he is also my fiancĂ©.