My mother and father never taught me how to be African. I never asked them questions relating to what it means to be an African. All I knew about being African is that I was born and as such I live in this dry, windy, harsh place they call Africa.
Africa is a big place, the only place I knew in this place they call Africa was Bhunya; my home town, Mbabane; my capital city and Manzini; my city of groceries, the Shangaan people and a lot of Portuguse. All these within this country under the King Mswati 111 of Swaziland.
These was me, this was all it meant to be me. To be African.
As I grew up I began to see things, perceive them and learn them. I however, never learnt to be African. I went to Torgyle Primary school, not fancy, then to Cana Combined School, and then to WEM School Swaziland. In all these school and all these years I never once was taught what being African is. Is it:
1. Being Black in skin colour
Once upon a time it was normal to be black, to have a black skin as they say. Personally, being of the Bantu-Negro stock, I never understood why they called us black. I never saw myself as black, nor did I see my mother or father or any of my friends for that matter. All I saw was a variety of the colour brown. Can this-being brown- mean that I am not black and therefore not African? Does the skin colour, body shape and eye colour qualify me or any of the Bantu of Southern Africa as African as a people?
2. Culture and tradition
The Boer/Afrikaner people are a people who are of European decent.
They came to Southern Africa as the Dutch and French to settle in the Cape of Good Hope. Due to problems in relation to disagreements on slavery and the black man… As they moved up the coast up into the Transvaal and ultimately into modern day Pretoria they came across many a Bantu languages, as such their language changed. It adapted to the environment-as would any other language-incorporating Bantu languages and influencing them too. Their Dutch soon became known as Kitchen Dutch and from there changed to modern Afrikaans. They learnt to love the fire, the land and the heat. They have been here for over two hundred years. By virtue of that history, do they not qualify to be African? I mean their culture is more African than many a European cultures.
Coming back to me, I have been here for only twenty six years-alive I mean. I spent most of those years in Swaziland and as such you could say I am Swazi. My trouble is, however, that Swaziland and by extension the Swazi are a very cultural people. I never went to the uMhlanga-reed dance, never participated in the Incwala-first fruit ceremony and never went to Lusekwane. All I knew was I couldn’t go there because I am the grand son of a Zulu chief, my allegiance therefore belongs to no other king on earth but the Zulu king Zwelithini. As I and many of my foreign friends grew up, we became aware of the dilemma of being Swazi by thought but be of another nation in blood. Our customs and whatever made us Swazi besides the royal events was on point. We dressed Swazi, talked SiSwati, dreamt Swazi dreams, had and lived by Swazi superstations and fiercely defended our king whenever we argued against those we thought more foreigner than us.
Does that mean I am Swazi more than I am a South African?
Or is this a more difficult choice to make simply because the no colour of skin is involved in this case?
Swaziland has many a white Swazis within its borders. This people of European decent attend Umhlanga, participate in Incwala and go to Lusekwane every year. Our Indian Swazi speak better SiSwati than maybe even me, they definitely credit it way better than I ever did and have gone to many a places within the Kingdom I have never even dreamt of going to. Knowing all this, can we then say these people, myself included, are not Swazi? By kukhonta, some have actually affirmed their allegiance to no other king on earth but that in the person of His Majesty King Mswati the third of Swaziland. They are our Libutfo (traditional warriors) and by tradition own land, cemeteries and ancestry in common with their black skinned Swazis?
Are they not African then? If so is this thing of being African merited, earned only by the blackness of my skin, the broadness of my nose, the thickness of my lips and the curvaceous-ness of this body I by default happen to own?
3. Going back to my roots
There are those among us who say that we ought to go back to our roots. That sounds simple enough but really: what are my roots, where are they and are they not contaminated? Have my roots stood still, not changed, moved or even mutinied? Are they still my own or am I to share them with people of other origins, known or unknown? Can I as I am still consider myself an African-no questions asked or is my Africaness very much undoubtedly questionable? Questionable not only to my grandpa but also even unto myself? One of the major principles of being African-at least as it is thought by some-is the concept of Ubuntu. It is rather a Nguni-centric term but it does in a way explain the humanness of an African person. The African is not important to himself, his thought, his actions, his perception, personality and his life is not his own. Everything that he is belongs to the group. He is-by definition-a being who is because they are and by extension, they are because he is. Full stop. Ubuntu, the concept means that I am my brother’s keeper. We do not eat if our brother is not eating, We do not own if our brother does not own, we all cry if our brother is crying, we share our pleasures, suffer each others pains and celebrate each others victories. This is Ubuntu; this is the African’s humanness, this who I am and this is who we are.
Trouble is; are we really a people true to this Ubuntu concept?
Can we still build a house for a homeless man, no question asked? Can we still donate him both a cow and its calf without expecting any thing in return, can we still trust each other’s food, can we still welcome a stranger into our home, give him food, a bed to sleep on and a person to wait upon his needs?
Can we afford to cast out this Eurocentric individualism, cast away these trousers mobile phones. Go back to my loin clothes, gown and headdress?
If I can’t, do I still qualify to be African? Does the failure to do this make me more European than African?
Answering these questions is indeed a very difficult thing. There are rather too many oddities for any one answer to or even a combination of them to qualify me or my white brother or sister African?
The truth is, I do not blame my mother for her never teaching me how to be African. It cannot be learnt, it can only be given as is. Not through learning but rather through raw assimilation of all the things, actions, perceptions and behaviors of all the personalities we as children born in Africa find roaming all around us.
Being African, European or Asian and American has nothing to do with the colour of my skin. It has everything to do with what I am taught. Why?
Well simply because we are born with empty minds, all that we are only filled into them, either directly or indirectly. It is that simple.
Key: Libutfo are Swazi/Nguni warrior regiments grouped in terms of age.
Thank you for taking time off to read this note. Please note that I am still a learner blogger and as such am prone making mistakes. Otherwise you are welcome to leave comments in the form of advise, requests or academic if not socially based critique. You are welcome to follow me @Masiza4000 on twitter.