Inspired by Thabo Mbeki’s iconic speech, IOL MOJO’s Theolin Tembo gives his take on what it means to be African.
What does it mean to be African?
The beginning of the “I am an African” speech by former president Thabo Mbeki pops into my head whenever someone asks the question – “What does it mean to be African?”
“I am an African. I owe my being to the hills and 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.”
Before he became known for his #MbekiLetters, the former president was known for his iconic speech that he gave on May 8, 1996 when the constitution was adopted.
However, my feelings on being African are more uncertain and contradictory.
To be African means to be an individual, but one that forms part of a whole. It means to celebrate our diversity in a way that promotes understanding and to focus on the challenges facing our continent. This while still prioritising the struggle of my own nation.
Being African is to be complex.
It is to be aware of the issues facing Africa but not letting it consume your soul.
The genocide caused by Boko Haram, the recruitment of young individuals by Islamic State, the murdering of innocent people because of their sexual orientation, ineffective leadership, drug trade, human trafficking, xenophobia, the rampant freedom with which pirates control the seas, the history of slavery, and countless health issues facing the impoverished, are all issues that need to be addressed.
While these issues weigh heavy, we also celebrate our beautiful people, the diversity among individuals, the warmth in which we welcome tourists, our never-ending natural wonders and our enduring human spirit.
Being African is to come from a land of complexity. It is to live with the horrors of the past and present, but welcome the excitement of the unknown future.
I am an African.
Not because of my coloured skin or how I look and speak.
I am African because of everything I have been taught by the people of this continent and everyone that I have met.
No matter where I go, I will always be an African. I will share stories and experiences on what it has been like growing up in Africa, while gaining others from those around me.
I will lose myself in the abundance of westernised culture but always appreciate, love and celebrate the cultures that I have found on African soil. Even those I have yet to learn.
I will celebrate the human rights I have while aiding in the struggle of those who do not.
I will understand that regardless of race, Africa is a home to many, and I cannot dictate who or who not may call themselves African.
I will be African. Now, and forever more.