Here is a very uncharacteristic piece. Uncharacteristic as it is neither related to health or development. At least not directly. As the month of May has drawn to an end – I have reflected upon what May 2019 meant to me. I recall one of my favourite speeches – and most profound in its timing. Delivered by a great African leader: Former President Thabo Mbeki.
I have also been thinking about identity. The identity of being an African – as well as a South African. And increasingly, with great nuance, I feel the desire to merge these identities or minimally, redefine their discretion for myself. Not to suggest that national pride does not have its place – particularly in a conglomerate of 54 states on the most genetically diverse continent on earth. But rather as a nod to unity, shared experiences and an acknowledgment of our shared similarities, despite vast differences.
And so, as I do at least once a year, I revisited a great speech by one of the great African leaders of our time. A member of the ‘old African intelligentsia’ and a role model to me since the age of 15.
This month, in 1996, Mr Mbeki gave a speech that would come to be defined as a landmark moment in South African history. He proclaimed, with great eloquence, the substance, the character and the meaning of being an African. I have included a video of this speech as indeed, 1000 words I may write here would not communicate the message as profoundly as it was delivered in the historical 1996 address.
“I am an African. I owe my being to the hills, the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land…. A human presence among all these, a feature on the face of our native land thus defined, I know that none dare challenge me when I say – I am an African” – Pres. Thabo Mbeki, May 1996
Looking back, the past month was an important one for me, a South African. It was this month that we took to the voting stations, to exercise our now 25 year old constitutional right that we possess owing to the blood, conviction and persistence of those who came before us.
We argued vigorously, as we do. And watched our leaders do the same. We subjected their assertions to great scrutiny – changed our minds and changed them again. We demanded accountability, watched and listened as results poured through and new debates ensued. It is not in our nature to be overwhelmed with optimism. Yet it is no more typical to be entirely devoid of hope. What we want is to be better. To do better, to function equitably within a healthy economy, to feel safer and above all to stand up tall and take pride in that age old assertion – “I am an African”.
Bringing back to the fore the importance of this great speech.
Video courtesy of Nnanna Ude – Youtube.
Cover photo from Mail & Guardian South Africa