Proudly African

We have recently been chatting about our South African identity. Many say that it is not only our diversity that is characteristic of our nation but also our celebration of it. To them, we are, as our country’s Constitution (of 1996) puts it, “united in our diversity”.

I concluded my previous blog with the thought that the best point of departure in this debate may be to look not only at our national identity but also at the next level – our African identity. I would now like to expand on this.

Being South African necessarily means that we are also African. Our country is, after all, part of this continent. But what does it mean to be African?

It is not just about geography. The African identity is also about certain values. And at the heart of it is the idea that I am person through and with other people. This view of life is known as ubuntu.

Linking your own humanity to that of other people implies two things: you empathise with all people; and you treat all people with respect. This is what makes you human; this is what it means to be part of humankind.

The advantage of this is that it creates unity where there is division. The emphasis falls on what we have in common rather on what sets us apart. So, even if you and I do not look the same, even if we do not speak the same language, even if we vote for different parties, we still have something in common with one another – our humanity. And this is why we act with humanity towards one another.

It is appropriate that a view that traces our identity back to something as fundamental as our very existence should be associated with Africa. After all, based on archaeological and genetic evidence this continent is the origin of humankind. In fact, some of the oldest humanoid fossils were discovered in our proverbial backyard – at Sterkfontein on the West Rand. This area is not called the Cradle of Humankind for nothing.

As I said on Afternoon Talk on SAfm, presented by Naledi Moleo, on 16 August 2013 (find podcast below), I believe that we owe it to Mrs Ples and all who came after her and scattered across the earth to pay heed to the centuries-old African wisdom that we are people through and with other people. It is with this heritage as our foundation that we can build a better future for the next generation of South Africans.

This means that we accept and embrace and celebrate our diversity because what matters is not that we can be excluded from this or that subgroup for whatever reason, but that we are all included in the overarching collective – humankind itself.

That’s why I am proudly African.

  • What do your South African and African identities mean to you? Please comment below (click on the heading above if necessary) or tweet me @RusselBotman. I look forward to hearing from you.
  • Click here for a podcast of Afternoon Talk on SAfm, presented by Naledi Moleo, on 16 August 2013.

(This blog follows on from an initial thought leadership discussion about the South African identity that I recently convened, and links up with a radio talk show on Praat Saam on RSG, presented by Lynette Francis on 2 August 2013 – click here for a podcast)