Africans must define the pathway

The latest of this unproductive debate was carried in the edition of 10-17 of this fine newspaper. It was about a recent delegation of European and American pilgrims to Africa, this time to Zimbabwe.

This group of descendants of colonisers and settlers has come back again “to Africa to apologise and to confess our sins and seek repentance and reconciliation to our African brothers.”

The encounter brought together more than 24 representatives of African countries in Harare to hear this message. The pilgrimage somehow coincided with Adriaan Vlok’s surprise act of repentance and washing of Rev. Frank Chikane’s feet in Pretoria.

The visitors were listened to but rebuffed consistent with the futile and never ending arguments for their insincerity and limitations: “These people may simply want to feel good about themselves through this initiative.”

Africans demand apology but our option seems to be dialogue of the dead and not of listening and presenting a viable counter-offer.

Somewhere in the article I read a reference to Malcolm X to the effect of “When someone sticks a knife into my back nine inches and then pulls it out six inches they have not done me any favour.

They should not have stabbed me in the first place.” Malcolm X was not only “our own shining prince” of extraordinary courage and devastating eloquence but he was also a pragmatic leader who was ever conscious of his duty to his people.

That’s why his image is more than “bared teeth and upraised fist”. Malcolm X was as well a public advocate “for debt payment by US Government”, including land and resources to Black America for slavery.

“By any means necessary” is one thing, settling down to engaging the wrongdoer for “debt payment” calls for dialogue and understanding. A people’s liberator is always armed with a gun in one hand and an olive branch in the other.

The raging American debate on reparations has been placed on the international agenda by the 2001 Durban UN World Conference Against Racism, never mind walk-outs and all.

Now back to the Harare story of unfortunate misunderstanding. The descendants of Africa’s villains and exploiters have been straight-jacketed and cannot do anything right.

There is the repeated demand from Africa for them to acknowledge our humanity and apologise for past injustices. But when they do, as the latest example shows, the rebuff is thunderous and uncompromising, as if there is no common ground to begin a dialogue.

Just as the latest pilgrims were made a laughing-stock for offering repentance and reconciliation, Adriaan Vlok too is being treated the same way. I hold absolutely no brief for this rogue of a person but I welcome his gesture.

I have actually of late come to a strange conclusion concerning our intentions and somersaults on slavery, genocide, colonialism, apartheid, apology and reparations. We preach one thing and practice something else.

I find it a peculiar syndrome. The impression is as if we are in effect coverting holding onto past horrors and limitations inflicted upon us by slave traders and colonisers.

We seem jealously to holding onto the ugly past for fear that dialogue would make of us lesser of patriots robbing us of the heroic legacies of the struggle that brought independence and restored our human dignity. How can we be afraid of our own demons?

Dark Ages in human history represent evidence of discontinuity of creative thinking at a certain point along the way between ingenuity human beings were capable of as in the past and the subsequent breakdown of intellectual prowess that had earlier produced many illuminating wonders of the world. As a result, the latter day disconnect produces doldrums in our societies as well as mental inaction and lack of innovation.

Presently, Africa is seemingly basking itself in a miserable hiatus unawares of the dilemma of indecision on policy and intellectual fronts. AIDS, economic woes and poverty in Africa are ringing together a loud wake-up call but nobody is listening.

If we, Africans, are not disturbed by this human disaster than the obvious conclusion is inescapable. We are denying history, willfully or inadvertently, its duty to teach us both its glory of the past but also of betrayals of missed opportunities, not least about what happens when leaders become spectators of decay.

Are we here in Namibia on an isolated island unaffected by Africa’s antsy? Aren’t we also Africans? On 14 August 2004, Mrs Wieczorek-Zeul, German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development filled with emotions offered a sincere apology to the Namibian nation and asked for forgiveness at the hallowed Ohamakari battlefield for the crimes committed against our people by the German colonial regime during the 1904-1908 anti-colonial war.

For a full century, Namibians had been demanding and awaiting for an apology from German authorities. Now, finally we got it in clear and categorical words from an important Cabinet Minister speaking on behalf of the Federal Government of Germany. As Prime Minister, I welcomed that powerful official pronouncement of Mrs Wieczorek-Zeul.

Then I called upon all Namibians to act in a spirit of unity of purpose and resolve. In that way we would be able to begin a process of a real dialogue internally and present a common demand to the German side.

Already then, not to speak of today, some intellectual cynics and the Tower of Babel like political confusion has taken hold of the issue for their selfish reasons. They are busy sprouting futile arguments on semantics and hierarchy of distribution of bounty, forgetting that counting your chickens before they are hatched is bad economics. Two years on, we are still hollering and wandering to no avail.

What I summarise here about Namibia is the same problem I mentioned earlier given our common tendency of opting for escape instead of making bold decisions and acting on them.

We are at a standstill perhaps contemplating an ostrich’s option, seeing and hearing nothing! In Namibia we are behaving in ways of waiting to hear genocide apology and offer of reparations from Kaiser Wilhelm II himself, maybe Chancellor von Caprivi or perhaps from Jos’ Manuel Barosso, President of the European Commission, since Berlin (1884/5) was an all-European conspiracy.

But what about the Americans who were also in Berlin? It’s going to be a doomed waiting and a costly one at that.

We must reject the ghosts of Von Trotha, along with Hans Dryer, Cecil John Rhodes, along with Ian Smith, Hendrik Verwoerd, along with Adriaan Vlok and all other devils of their ilk before and after them. They must and will not serve as parameters of our creative thinking and reflexes. We know our history and pain. Our security and development priorities are for us to becoming winners now and in the future by relying on our brains and our sweat.

Just as greening of Africa calls for our sweat, escaping from this bondage of founded souls depends on our courage to rise and reclaim our right and become winners.

Let us sooner rather than later get our act together and deal with Africa’s pressing challenges collectively. We cannot succumb to lack of imagination and policy paralysis.

Who is to be blamed but we. “Something attempted, something done, Has earned a night’s repose.” I also recall the great Chilean Pablo Neruda’s, one of the sharpest enemies of colonialism, reassuring words, when he wrote: “Everything will pass, you will be living. Someone is hearing me without knowing it, but those I sing of, those who know, go on being born and will overflow the world.” After all, what is the meaning of African Renaissance, if not a wake up call for our renewed struggle on the battlefield of minds and hearts of men and women to achieve a new dawn for the African masses in today’s world of globalisation?

Theo-Ben Gurirab, MP

Speaker, National Assembly,


September 2006
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