I thank you, Programme Director, for the opportunity afforded me to address my people. I extend my greetings, and gratitude, to Mkhulu Nsingisa of the Zindzi Mandela Foundation, leaders of political parties, cultural organisations and other formations or structures in attendance here this morning. Colleagues and all members of the audience, I greet you.
The year is 2019, two thousand and nineteen years. I don’t know how many decades or years since 1886. And Afrikans after the so-called independence are gathered at Unisa, in Afrika, to try and talk about an ever-elusive dream, the dream of Afrikan unity. From my viewpoint, this is a serious indictment of unfathomable proportions.
Secondly, we are gathered here as Afrikans to try and justify, or even reclaim, the relevance of an Afrikan reality, the Afrikan Calendar, in Afrika! Even worse, it is Afrikans, together, who are seized with something that should not be happening in the first place. That is, the aberration of black-on-black attacks. All of these take place decades after 1886.
We find ourselves in this lamentable situation all because of a carnage called colonization, which has caused untold black pain over the years and, unfortunately, it persists even today because a post-colonial Afrika is yet to arise. Whether you call this coloniality or neo-colonialism, at the end of the day we are faced with colonization. In other words, as Afrikans, we have collectively failed to deal with this problem. Of course, I know that some Black political leaders have embraced colonization so much that they cannot simply imagine themselves out of it.
As the Institute for Dispute Resolution in Africa (IDRA), we are very keen to work with, and indeed engage in concerted initiatives, with any organization in order to contribute to a peaceful society, a conflict-free Afrika. However, I need to state that we have figured out that a conflict-free Afrika will remain elusive as long as our institutions and systems follow a colonial or Eurocentric template to conflict or dispute resolution. We frame our approach on Afrikan wisdom, values and principles, which are rooted in our communities. As a research institute, we consider Afrikan communities as sites of knowledge and therefore we, as a university structure, should consider ourselves as co-creators and co-participants rather than experts in knowledge generation. The reality is that expertise on Afrikan practices resides in Afrikan communities.
This university (University of South Africa), has branded itself the Afrikan university. It is a commendable commitment, though very ambitious. I think the university has underestimated the monstrosity of the Pan-European Academy, which is in fact a Euro-American epistemological power, the power that dominates the world. Afrikan-ness is a state of being, and not what one calls oneself. For me to say “I am an African” does not necessarily translate into me being an Afrikan. It is about the character, the attitude, the content, the atmosphere in the university space, the curriculum and most importantly the ideological base and ethos of the institution. Like all other universities in the world, Unisa is undeniably still steeped in the Pan-European Academy. This academy, for me, is more like a dangerous reptile, a python, that has constricted and swallowed African epistemologies. In this regard we can talk of theft, distortions, or even genocide (epistemicide, linguicide and so forth).
Colonialism and, indeed, white supremacy has over the years sustained itself on the twisting or bewitching of our minds, and dividing us for its convenient rule. The Afrikan nation will continue to struggle to deal with white supremacy and European dominance because of the failure to unite and create a counter to the European onslaught. The extent and magnitude of mental colonization amongst us is such that it has become normal for Afrikans to get divided rather than to get united; it has become normalized for us to hate ourselves and maim each other, rather than to love, to embrace and to reconcile as Afrikans. But when it comes to loving or reconciling with other races, we are unstoppable. This is the story of how zealously we jumped into the dream-wagon of the rainbow nation in this country.
Therefore, Ma-Afrika, this is a very important day for us, as IDRA, to be in a rare space where Afrikans from all directions are gathered together to push back against disunity and ignorance in favour of Black reconciliation. And there can be no better timing than on the occasion of the celebration of the Afrikan New year. Let us therefore start afresh and rejuvenate our thinking, our attitudes and our approaches.
I thank you.
David Letsoalo (Acting Head of Institute for Dispute Resolution in Africa (IDRA) College of Law, Unisa)