Lack of conscious appreciation of Africa Day further divides fragmented country

A street vendor sells African-inspired ware which creates a business boom on Africa Day. File Picture

A street vendor sells African-inspired ware which creates a business boom on Africa Day. File Picture

Published May 26, 2024


YESTERDAY the country commemorated Africa Day, a day significant in its meaning but lost to those who should appreciate it.

Contrary to its significance more than 50 years ago, many in the country said they were not fully aware of what it was meant to celebrate, other than commemorate Africanness.

In reality, it was an opportunity to celebrate African diversity and success, and to highlight the cultural and economic potential that exists on the continent.

But, speaking to a range of people this week, many said they had no idea what it was meant.

Said one Pretoria street vendor: “For me, for us, it means a boom in business.”

His display of African-themed cloths, accessories, and other items were in high demand in the days leading to Africa Day every year, he said.

But, said 47-year-old Sinethemba Mbuyisa, he had no idea what the celebration around the day was. “When I arrived in Pretoria from Mpumalanga 20 years ago, it was to a culture that went big when the day approached, and so I jumped in.”

Saying his ware was in high demand as people bought anything and everything African so they could show up dressed and adorned for the occasion, he said even prices did not matter.

Elderly Ma Sukazi from Mamelodi, who said her beadwork was ordered way ahead on days leading to Africa Day.

She said: “I grew up in a home where we were taught to do beadwork, and when I started selling on the streets of Pretoria I realised that this period, the one leading up to this day, was successful.”

They and other hawkers spoke as they arranged their work beautifully on the sidewalk, and said besides Valentine’s Day and Heritage Day, this was the period of the year when they knew their products would sell well.

But, they added, while they understood what Valentine’s Day meant and why they all stocked up on red and white at that time, this day had no significant meaning other than that people would buy, wear, look beautiful, and they made a quick buck.

Cultural expert Dr Tshogofatso Mantini said the meaning was lost to people, especially at this day and age when Africans were intolerable towards each other.

“If there was a way in which the commemoration of such a remarkable event as that of May 25, 1963 was taught, passed down along public lines, schools and even on the street, xenophobia and intolerance would have no space,” she said.

The day marks the historic day when African nations came together to form the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor to the African Union, and the theme this year is Celebrating Past Successes While Building Towards the Future.

Mantini, a scholar in the field of cultural studies, said institutions of higher learning spoke of it, history tried to teach it. “But it is not a day we as a country and as a region look forward to; one in which we should look at fostering love and unity, sharing ideas and our rich history.”

Cape Town - 180525 - May 25th, Africa Day Free Lunch and display of African ware, music and food at Artscape. Amelia Zandamela orders Mozambican food consisting of chicken made with peanuts prepared with coconut milk and rice from Miza Khan. - Photographer - Tracey Adams/African News Agency/ANA

Instead, people dressed up for the day in whatever crossed their mind. “It is just another holiday on the calendar, pity it falls on a Saturday this year, otherwise it could be used for time to show off how beautiful we look when we shed Western garments for our own identity,” she said.

Said a group of Pretoria students on the issue and as they reflected on their own experiences, they said university culture was devoid of awareness and inclusivity.

Said Sindiswa Mahlalela: “It is not too bad, but we hardly recognise each other’s internal cultural quirks. Someone from one province does not understand or appreciate that of the other on any given day, how much more on an African scale.”

Echoing her was Portia Ntshangase, who said as a girl from KwaZulu-Natal, stereotypes were abound. “The students from Gauteng do not quite get us, we do not appreciate those from Limpopo, then there are those from the Eastern Cape who were also grouped together. From what I understand, we should at least, as children of a rainbow nation, be so united that we want to embrace our brothers and sisters from outside the borders.”

As it were, the students agreed that there were lines drawn in the sand, and often, crossing them alienated one from those to whom they felt closest.

That the day - and month, was supposed to promote cultural appreciation, global awareness, inclusivity and heritage, was something they did not adopt, even as they climbed the ladder of intellectual success, they added.

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