African albinoIn this weeks Sunday Times (South Africa) on page 4 in the main section in the bottom right corner is a small piece with the title, ‘Party debates what to do about race’. In summary the question being asked by the ANC is this, in a post-apartheid South Africa, does the characterisation of race contradict the Freedom Charter which states that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”? And a secondary question is, what is meant by ‘African’ in the context of a non-racial South Africa?
Both these questions are difficult to answer as they don’t just exist within a South African context, the answer is also complicated because South Africa and South Africans find themselves participants of a larger transition of society and generation. The ANC would be making a mistake if it did not take at least these two other transitions into account when sitting to find some answers.

Part of the ANC’s difficulty is that it has constituents from several generations spread over, in some cases, one hundred years. One cannot ignore that the world view of these various generations is different (sometimes extremely different). Today’s young people cannot easily appreciate the world their grand parents came from. The issues that their grand parents have, are not and cannot be the same, not in a world that has undergone so much change in such a short period of time. This is often forgotten by those that stand on the edge of our society and commentate. They fail to look at the current issues and events through the ‘different eyes’ of each group, and therefore often miss the subtleties of each point of view.
Take, for example, the first question. Should race characterisation be used? How do you answer that? It’s obvious, because it’s both yes and no, to varying degrees. Older generations in South Africa struggle to view people different people they come across in terms beyond race descriptors. It is often their ‘natural’ reflex. Of course it is. Stop and think of their world for a while. On the other extreme we have a group of young people, who do not only not know the full south African story, but also do not find race as a primary descriptor when describing people who are different from them. It’s not that they don’t see race, it’s just that they default to different descriptors.
We cannot get rid of race descriptors, ever, but we will one day arrive at a place where there will be other more useful descriptors to use. The task of the ANC working group is to decide what the next set will be, and when the correct time to phase one out, and the next in.
The second question is possibly more a land issue than anything else. From the Agrarian economy onwards land has played a central role in our human story. Wars, marriages, empires, victories, losses, liberation, colonialisation and more, have all had the issue of land somewhere close the core. Even today in many parts of the world, land remains a contentious issue. Are we seeing a shift in the importance of land, and will today’s young people be less focussed on land, as a central component to the creation of their history?
The internet and mobile phones has ushered in a new way to connect. Historically we’ve used our nationality, but today, it doesn’t matter if I’m South African, or not, when I join my ‘tribe’ on the internet. It used to be tough being the only one-legged person in Bizana. Now I can talk to, write to, and sit ‘face to face’ with millions of one-legged people all over the world. We are becoming less defined by geographically and more by biology. It used to be important where I was born, what colour I was, what surname I had, what language I spoke, or what gender I was. That was a world in which change played a large role. Today my future is more defined by choice. I can be anyone I want, and who I am, and where I come from are not the only ‘trump cards’ I need to play.
So what makes one African? Isn’t it time we moved away from a geographical description, or race description, or even language? The world has moved away from that way of thinking, and so should we. We should define African by movement, not by boundary. Boundary is the lowest common denominator, and the descriptor African deserves more than the lowest common denominator. If I were African through movement, then the ANC workgroup’s task is to decide ‘movement toward what?’
In my view you are African if you are moving toward some of the following….
I stand for something;
Because, I am African
I honour those who suffer for justice and freedom;
And respect those who work to build and develop;
Because, I am African
I believe that anyone can be African;
It’s about the choices you make, and not where you live or what you own;
Because, I am African
I am not defined by my past, but the hope of our future;
Because, I am African
I have committed myself to the pursuit and acceptance of diversity;
And engage others in healthy debate in order to learn and grow;
Because, I am African
I am determined to play a significant role in the improvement of the quality of life of those around me, in order to free the potential of each person;
Because, I am African
Those are a lot of thoughts. But this is an important question.
Nuf sed.

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