Parallel Times: The Concept of African Personality as the basis for an African Revolutionary

Dr Luvuyo Mthimkhulu Dondolo

HAVING joined the University of Fort Hare in November 2017, one of the themes we cover in our “Life, Knowledge, Action (LKA) Grounding Programme”, which is compulsory for the first year students, is Pan Africanism and African Citizenry. The aim is to expose the students to the Africanist thought, African history and African diaspora studies. The Centre for Transdisciplinary Studies, which houses the LKA programme, is based on three pillars. These are African philosophic thought, humanising pedagogy and transdisciplinarity.

Whenever I facilitate the aforementioned theme I am taken aback by the level of unfamiliarity of most students to African history. This points to a number of issues but in the main is the content of what is taught both at lower and higher levels of education. Through an engagement with the students, it is apparent that most students do not know or have a minimal knowledge of African history, African philosophic thought, and Africanist thought. This begs the question: Does this mirror the South African society or just the need to decolonise our education including content?

In exploring the aforementioned theme there are many individuals such as David Walker, Edward Blyden, Henry Sylvester Williams, W.B.E. Du Bois, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, Marcus Garvey,   Cheikh Anta Diop , Chinua Achebe, W.B.M Rubusana, S.E.K. Mqhayi, Ntsiko, Magema Fuze, Kenyatta, Azikiwe, Malcolm X, Leon Damas, Aime Cesaire, Leopold Senghor, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, George Padmore, Frantz Fanon, Pixley Ka Seme, Selepo Thema, Anton Muziwakhe Lembede, A.P. Mda, Anthony Bogues, and many others. For the purpose of this article, I’ve chosen Kwame Nkrumah. 

The intergenerational conversation of the African intelligentsia, the evolution of the Africanist thought and the progression of the idea of Pan Africanism embedded the essence of an African revolution – the quest for free Africa, freedom and justice for the oppressed Africans and the dismantling of the minority domination, rule, and white supremacy and nationalism.

The dialogue was epitomised by convergence and discursive divergence of outlooks and thoughts between Seme’s ‘Regeneration of Africa’, Thema’s ‘New African Movement’, Du Bois’ ‘New and Free Africa’, Lembede’s Africa-centered thinking and African nationalism, Nkrumah’s concept of ‘African Personality’, Senghor and Kaunda’s ‘African Humanism’, and Sobukwe’s ‘Africa reborn, Africa rejuvenated, a new Africa’, and one human race thesis – humanity. These thoughts, concepts and theories enrich the evolution of Africanist thought, Pan Africanism and African nationalism, and Africanist scholarship in more than one way.

For some Africanist scholars, the concept of Pan Africanism originated in the Americas in the context of the African diaspora’s struggles and quest for full citizenry in their countries. It is in this context that Nkrumah (1972) argued that Pan Africanism has its beginning in the liberation struggle of African Americans, expressing the aspirations of Africans and people of African descent.

From the first Pan African Conference, held in London in 1900, until the fifth and last Pan African Conference held in Manchester in 1945, African diaspora provided the main driving power of the movement. Pan African Congress then moved to Africa, with the holding of the first Conference of Independent African States in Accra in April 1958, and the all-African People’s Conference in December of the same year.

These are most significant epoch making of the ideology and concept of Pan Africanism. However, the works and writings of individuals such as Tiyo Soga and Walter Rubusana, David Walker amongst others, as from 1829 more so in 1865 to the turn of the twentieth century, and Lembede in the 1940s, and Sobukwe between 1949-and 1959, which can be viewed as the foundation of modern concept of Pan Africanism (and African nationalism) and their signature on the footprints of the evolution of the notion of Pan Africanism, cannot be ignored or left out of the marathon of the historical progression of the ideology and the scholarship.

Five years before the abolishment of slavery in America in 1834, a man of African descent, David Walker, who had been born ‘free’ in 1785 in America, wrote a pamphlet titled ‘An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World’. The pamphlet “represents one of the earlier written expressions of common purpose and destiny of African people. Essentially Walker’s writing and work are ones of Pan African or internationalist context” (Karrim Essack in Stanley Kamana, 1993: 5). The essence of this primary Pan African booklet was more on slavery, class and race injustice, solidarity amongst Black people and the importance of education as a weapon in the struggle for better and just society. Karrim Essack in Stanley Kamana, in the book titled The Road to Liberation: The Pan African Path, discussed the seven key pillars of the pamphlet. More importantly, is the highlight of “The need for black people to develop a far greater sense of solidarity, especially between the ‘free’ and the captive population within the United States and BETWEEN THE CHILDREN OF AFRICA HERE AND AFRICA IN THE REST OF THE WORLD. (This was the first clear widely publicised call for Pan African Solidarity)” Karrim Essack in Stanley Kamana, 1993:8).

Years later, the ideology of Pan Africanism evolved to be this solidarity movement and platform for all Black people across the world in their struggles against racism and for independence, just society and the civil rights of the African descendants outside the continent of Africa. Furthermore, the idea of solidarity amongst Black people was also mirrored in all the Pan African Congress from 1900 onwards.

The Black people human material conditions pan Africanised the struggle against colonialism and apartheid in South African and the struggles for the African diaspora. The political camaraderie and solidarity throughout the world is a testimony. Stokely Carmichael in his speech in London in July 1967 stated: “Black Power to us means that black people see themselves as part of a new force, sometimes called the Third World: that we see our struggle as closely related to liberation struggles around the world. We must hook up with these struggles. We must, for example, ask ourselves: when black people in Africa begin to storm Johannesburg, what will be the reaction of the United States?… Black people in the United States have the responsibility to oppose, certainly to neutralize, white America’s efforts” (Olsson, 2013: 1).

The month of April (27 April 1972) marks the death of Kwame Nkrumah at the age of sixty two. The meaning of Nkrumah on the African continent and in the diaspora is multi fold. The existing literature on Nkrumah covers both his strengths and weaknesses. I am not intending to enter into that discussion but rather to celebrate the life lived by an African icon and his intellectual tradition and vision for the African continent and Africanist scholarship. As he stated in his speech at the Congress of Africanists scholars held on the 12th December 1962 in Ghana that: “It is incumbent upon all Africanist scholars, all over the world, to work for a complete emancipation of the mind from all forms of domination, control and enslavement” (Nkrumah, 1972: 212).

Nkrumah in his Midnight Pronouncement of Independence on 5/6 March 1957, ended by stating that: “We are going to see that we create our own African personality and identity,…We again re-dedicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipation of other countries in Africa, for our independence is meaningless unless it is linked to the total liberation of the African continent”. (Nkrumah, 1972: 121). This dedication and commitment epitomised his political life until death.

In his speech of welcome to the representatives of the Independent African States in Accra on the 15th April 1958, among other things he cautioned the representatives about the colonialist agents, neo liberal tendencies in post- independency and further promoted unity (economically and politically) in Africa. “Today were are one. If in the past the Sahara divided us, now it unites us. And an injury to one is an injury to all of us. From this Conference must go out a new message: ‘Hands off Africa! Africa must be free!'”(Nkrumah, 1972:129).        

According to Nkrumah, “An important aspect of Pan Africanism is the revival and development of the African Personality’, temporarily submerged during the colonial period. It finds expression in a re-awaking consciousness among Africans and people of African descent of the bonds which unite us- our historical past, our culture, our common experience, and our aspirations.” (Nkrumah, 1972: 205). Nkrumah through his philosophy of ‘African Personality’ and conceptualisation of African revolutionary path and Pan Africanism, which were the main purpose of the total emancipation of the continent of Africa and its people, the African cause was for total liberation of African continent, an All-African Union Government/ United State of Africa and (scientific) socialism.  

Nkrumah’s concept of an ideology of Pan Africanism was based on four main stages. These are “(i) national independence, (ii) national consolidation, (iii) transnational unity and community, and (iv) economic and social reconstruction on the principles of scientific socialism”(Nkrumah, 1972: 131). There are parallels between Nkrumah’s basic principles of Pan Africanism and the views of the Africanists in the African National Congress Youth League and later in the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania.

An important aspect for Leopold Senghor and Kenneth Kaunda’s conceptualization of Pan Africanism is ‘African Humanism/ Humanity’. Senghor employed this thinking as an “affirmation of Africanite in the face of the politics of assimilation and post-war French imperialism… Senghorian Negritude is a search for and an attempt to overcome the ‘loss of identity suffered by Africans due to a history of slavery, colonialism and racism. For Songhor, Negritude is the awareness, defence and development of African cultural values” (Rabaka, 2015: 200).

On the 24th February 1966, a joint military and police coup overthrew Nkrumah and the Convention People’s Party (CPP) from power. He then went to exile in Guinea under president Sekou Toure.  

In the South African context, the 27th April represents the ‘freedom day’. As the previously oppressed majority exercised their democratic right to vote for the first time on the 27th April 1994. These first democratic elections paved the way for the first black president, Nelson Mandela

The first 25 years of ‘freedom’ can be summed up into the politics of transition and consolidation of power, and complexities and dialectics of the two. Mandela’s presidency can be presented through the lenses of transitional government/ government of national unity, Mandela euphoria, Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), national reconciliation project and the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC). National reconciliation was not accomplished under Mandela and even under Jacob Zuma, who used Mandela legacy to legitimise himself. There can be no reconciliation without the social and economic justice, and the unfinished business of the past.

The Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma presidencies were of consolidation of power. Mbeki’ two terms (1st term, 1999- 2003) in the highest office on land was epitomised by a transition from the notion of rainbow nation to an African-ness. Through ‘I am an African’ speech and other African centred political and economic posture, Mbeki defined himself away from the Mandela brand, Mandela the legend. Of course, his stance on AIDS/HIV and the neoliberal economic policies that grew the economy but could not create enough jobs also characterised this period.

His second term (2003-2007) in the main was highlighted by economic growth, African Renaissance; NEPAD, promotion of free trade amongst African countries. He gained popularity at an international level while in the country, especially within the ANC and its alliance, he was losing ground. Further, with no major shift at the national sphere.  

Jacob Zuma’s two terms (2007-2018) mirrored politically indebted-ness, corruption, power of arrogance, state capture, police brutality, Marikana massacre, dwindling support of the ANC. All these episodes went parallel to each other throughout his two terms.

On the City Press of the 22nd January 2012 in an article titled Meditating on corruption by Njabulo Ndebele, he summarized perfectly the current state of affairs in post-apartheid South African government and the present ANC’s modus operandi as that of ‘corruptive collusion’. He stated: “These corruptive collusions become new foundations for solidarity. They effectively replace the old solidarities of struggle. The latter, though, can continue to be invoked as a necessary mantra of commitment, and far less as an objective to be pursued. Corruptive collusions offer group protection and will be hostile towards any regulatory means whatever their merits, which emanate from outside the group. Even the National Constitution is an outside phenomenon”.

This is at the backdrop of Fanon’s warning of the pitfalls of national consciousness post-independence. He argued: “The national bourgeoisie steps into the shoes of the former European settlement. It considers that the dignity of the country and its own welfare require that it should occupy all the posts. From now on it will insist that all the big foreign companies should pass through its hands…The national bourgeoisie will be quite content with the role of the Western bourgeoisie’s business agent, and it will play its part without any complexes in a most dignified manner. But the same lucrative role, this cheap-jack’s function, this meanness…In the colonial countries, the spirit of indulgence is dominant at the core of the bourgeoisies…On the other hand large sums are spent on display: on cars, country houses, and on all those things which have been justly described by economists as characterising an under-developed bourgeoisie…The working class of the towns, the masses of unemployed, the small artisans and craftsmen for their part line up behind this nationalist attitude; but in all justice let it be said, they only follow in the steps of their bourgeoisie. If the national bourgeoisie goes into competition with the Europeans, the artisans and craftsmen starts a fight against non-national Africans” (Fanon, 1963: 122-125).

The struggles that the Fallists (fees must fall and Rhodes must fall movement) – including decolonisation of higher education – faced and continue to face could have been avoided by government and the ruling party, if they had been decisive, provided leadership and had a clear unapologetic plan. But, that was not the case. Further, this is as a result of being concerned about white fears over black peoples’ expectations, which has been the experiences since 1994.

Politics of identity and recognition continue for Africans in South Africa post 1994. The colonial and apartheid configuration of South Africa was, borrowing from Fanon, a ‘cultural struggle’. It was as it promoted colonial and European epistemology, Christian doctrine and conceptualisation over the local indigenous knowledge systems. In the same spirit of colonialism and racism, and the notion of whites as the ‘guardians’, the ‘trustees’ of the Africans, Frantz Fanon’s comprehension of de-colonalisation of Africa and self-determination, and envisaged free Africa is also linked to a cultural struggle, white supremacy, and superiority and inferiority complex. Fanon in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ he reasoned that:

Adherence to African-Negro culture and to the cultural unity of Africa is arrived at in the first place by upholding unconditionally the peoples’ struggle for freedom…Colonial domination manages to disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people. This cultural obliteration is made possible by the negation of national reality, by new legal relations introduced by the occupying power, by the banishment of the natives and their customs to outlying districts by colonial society, by expropriation, and by the systematic enslaving of the men and women… Every effort is made to bring the colonised to admit the inferiority of his culture which has been transformed into instinctive patterns of behavior, to recognise the unreality of ‘nation’, and in the last extreme, the confusion and imperfect character of his own biological structure (Fanon, 2001: 189 – 190).

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa adopted in 1996, which is globally regarded as one of the best is a liberal document. The crafting of the Constitution, I submit, has African philosophical and contextual deficit. It is based on the western concepts of the 19th and early 20th centuries of liberty, rights and justice.

It is not based on African philosophy (including Ubuntu) and thinking. For instance, it is in this context that Kumkani Dalindyebo’s case can better be understood. The South African judiciary is based on Roman and Dutch law at the expense of African/indigenous law. This Eurocentric underpinning and framing permeates thoughout all the post-1994 pieces of legislations in South Africa.

The Constitution is framed and moved from the worldview of the ‘Freedom Charter’ adopted by the ANC in 1955 as a peoples’ document. The content and the authorship of the latter, was questioned by the Africans within the African National Congress but that was in vain. Instead a different narrative of its authorship, contrary to the peddled dominant account, has emerged in Rusty Bernstein (2017) – “Memory Against Forgetting”.

Because of the Congress Alliance politics, the ‘Freedom Charter’ moved away from the Africanist thinking to multiracialism, liberal politics and minimum demands of right to vote as Neville Alexandra (2013) suggests. Thus, the Constitution is neither underpinned by African philosophical thought, nor ‘African Personality’ or ‘African Humanism’.

The white fears and black expectations complex also find expression in the Constitution. The Constitution (and its authors) were fearful of unsettling the white privileges (property rights, the land question), white monopoly capital, and the neoliberal policy trajectory. Against black peoples’ expectations of better quality life, dignity, respect and land ownership, and humanisation of the previously de-humanised indigenous people. 

Lately, the nature of negotiated settlements has no total winner and is epitomised by compromise. As such, in South Africa, we observe a reformist approach that does not dismantle the colonial and apartheid configuration of modern South Africa.

The same line of thinking is applicable to the national symbols such as the national flag and the national anthem, as the former was initially temporary but has become permanent without having been reviewed. 

In conclusion, Nkrumah like many of his peers such as Padmore, Du Bois, Senghor, Azikiwe, Kenyatta, amongst others, left a rich revolutionary heritage of historical epochs and Africanist scholarship that continue to inspire the present generation.

The 27th April remains one of the important days in South Africa and on African history. Though, it brought political changes, there is still a lot that needs to be done not just in economic and socio-cultural spheres, but decolonisation of the mind too. The black man’s quest of the past is as relevant today as was in the past. My wish for the next decades is for South Africa to conceptually and philosophically think and act like Africans in Africa. Not impersonate – legislative underpinning and framing of the West – but promote ‘African Personality’ and ‘African Humanism’.


Dr Luvuyo Mthimkhulu Dondolo is a historian, heritage studies specialist, museologist, the former Rockefeller Scholarship holder at Emory University (US) and the former Fulbright Scholar at Cheyney University (US). He is the Director and Head of the Centre for Transdisciplinary Studies at the University of Fort Hare. He is writing in his personal capacity.


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