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Baba Buntu is an Activist Scholar and Founding Director of eBukhosini Solutions; a community-based company in Johannesburg, specializing in Afrikan-Centered Education. As a Pan-Afrikan educator, writer, mentor and practitioner, Baba Buntu has more than 30 years of experience in conceptualizing and contributing to programs on social development, innovative entrepreneurship and cultural empowerment. He has founded a number of community interventions based on practical approaches to Black Consciousness and decolonial methods. With experience from working engagements in Afrika, the Caribbean and Europe, Buntu’s passion lies within people-centred development for practical empowerment of Afrikan youth, families and communities. He holds a Doctoral and a Master Degree in Philosophy of Education from UNISA.

My problem with the “I am An African” speech

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A critique of the speech made by Thabo Mbeki on behalf of the African National Congress in Cape Town on 8 May 1996, on the occasion of the passing of the new Constitution of South Africa.

I find this to be a disturbing poetic rendition of mixed up subservient statements and eloquently expressed notions, dancing in a frenzy of confusion – dressed up in appeasing lyrical garments to soothe broken souls. A perfume is not healthy just because it smells nice….

In detail: The problem I have with “I Am an African” is that, despite its many references and statements that evokes reflection on truthful history, identity sentiments, Afrikan unity and recognition of the unrecognised, it also carries some VERY problematic stanzas. I have selected a few, which to me are so destructive that I fail to appreciate the speech as a whole:

1. The recognition owing “…my being to the Khoi and the San”: Why use the names that most of the people indicated here do not use to refer to themselves? And why miss the opportunity to not only recognise them, but to also affirm their position in Afrika (since the general view is to agree that they are “not really human” and “not really Afrikan” – opportunity missed and ignored). Also, to say that they “perished in the result” is both an admission and a hopeless statement of a people not expected to be people again.

2. The incredibly racist “…I am formed of the migrants who left Europe to find a new home on our native land. Whatever their own actions, they remain still, part of me.” NO – I am not FORMED by them (unless you mean “completely dehumanised”), they did not leave Europe to FIND A HOME (unless this is an expression for “genocide and conquest”) and do, certainly, not “REMAIN A PART OF ME” (unless you mean “my colonized being and forced disalignment”). Nonsense!

3. And to mention that “…In my veins courses the blood of the Malay slaves who came from the East” – why mention only the enslaved Indians? What about the many enslaved Afrikans from the continent also kidnapped to the south?

4. The nonsensical “…I am the grandchild who lays fresh flowers on the Boer graves” (oh no, not me – FLOWERS?????) because “I see in the mind`s eye and suffers the suffering of a simple peasant folk”)????? What? Let me quietly ignore this….

5. And, then of course, the incredibly insulting: “It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.” This is not an assertion (it is a white EXPECTATION), it is not made by OURSELVES (when was this referendum held?) and SA must FIRST be returned to its indigenous people before any decisions on belonging can be made. Nonsense!

6. In addition, the many cleverly-articulated lies about the constitution, which are referred to as “…this magnificent product is the unique creation of African hands and African minds.”

7. And, why, when you could have used this opportunity to affirm so many relevant (Afrikan) languages we must remind ourselves of “…the Latin saying: Gloria est consequenda”?????

The speech gives me exactly the same gut feeling as when I witness the National Anthem. I rise in PRIDE during our Afrikan affirmations and am conflicted by violent rage the moment “South Africa” is sung and twists into “Die Stem”……..

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