Africa will have to dig deep into her reservoirs of knowledge and wisdom if she harbours any intention to undo many years of both colonial intellectual plunder and apartheid exploitation. This realisation became the clarion call at the third International African Writers Conference held last Friday in Tshwane.
The conference saw important papers delivered by Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa, Ghanaian award-winning intellectual, academic, political leader and daughter of Ghana’s first post-colonial president Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Samia Yaba Nkrumah, as well as internationally renowned heritage expert Dr Zagba Oyortey, literary scholars and authors Prof Andries Oliphant, Dr Marlies Taljard, Mesmedames Suzy Nkomo and Kedumetse Motlhankane. All speakers reflected on the conference theme of Governance in Africa, acknowledging the significance of it being held on 20th anniversary of South Africa’s freedom and democracy, culmination of the OAU’s formation and 130 years since the Berlin Conference where the continent of Africa was dissected and shared amongst Europeans as spoils.
“The average African, who is by the way a young person, is suffering from this unequal relationship with other continents,” said Nkrumah, reflecting on how decades of Africa’s liberation still have to close the gap between consumers and producers of commodities. Skating carefully on the legacy of the late Dr Nkrumah who advocated for indigenous solutions to Africa’s problems; arguing that there’s nothing unique about European knowledge systems apart from how they were forced onto Africans, Samia argued that “We cannot prioritize our cultural, spiritual and educational needs in such conditions.”
Titled ‘Towards Africa’s Socio-Cultural Liberation’, Nkrumah’s address sought to position African knowledge producers and custodians within the vast spectrum of the continent’s development. And with November 7 having been declared International African Writers’ Day by the then-OAU in 1991, the underlying relationship between literature and liberation was not lost.
Adding to a chorus by prolific pan-Africanist thinkers such as Steve Biko and Franz Fanon, Nkrumah bemoaned how corruption, greed and the ‘selfishness of some politicians in successive governments have severely damaged trust and respect for political authority to the extent that the majority of ordinary citizens believe government is incapable of improving their already challenging economic conditions’. She said, “Passion for the nation has been replaced by money” which she said results in the African nation rapidly losing its compassionate nature.
The same call for Africans to find common values between their past, present and future was made by Minister Mthethwa. With South Africa having inherited an apartheid legacy of low self-confidence and hopelessness, Mthethwa said, “Africa can be proud that she is home to four Nobel laureates of literature and it is in this spirit that we continue to raise the profile of African writing and its contribution to our shared histories.” Those laureates are South African Nadine Gordimer (late), JM Coetzee, Nigerian Wole Soyinka and Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz (late).
In his alignment between literature and liberation, Mthethwa echoed the seminal words of Sekou Toure, “that it’s not enough to write a revolutionary song; that writers must fashion their song with the revolution of their people”. It was a challenge to post-colony and post-liberation authors to reflect as much as possible Africa’s status quo in their writings instead of behaving aloof to the continent and its people’s challenges.
“The liberation flame, although feeble and glimmering, still grows brighter each day. And the time is now for our writers to give us a new light on how we see ourselves.” Mthethwa echoed.
Both the minister and Nkrumah were adamant that writers should be accorded the same respect and dignity in society as any other worker and not be treated as step-children of other disciplines and professions.
“One such group of actors often overlooked are cultural activists, especially writers and intellectuals. Our cultural activists have always been at the forefront of our struggle for social freedom” Nkrumah said.
Morakabe Raks Seakhoa is Project Director of Africa Century International African Writers Conference and MD of the wRite associates
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