African I Am, African You Are
I am an African, even though my complexion sometimes fools people. I have been called many things: umlungu, igxagxa, vazaha and mzungu (amongst others). Much worse, I have been mistaken for someone from France, America, Sweden or England. The truth is, even though my skin tone is several shades lighter than what people expect, I am African to the core. I am African no matter what words you have to describe my exterior. I am African because diversity is what makes Africa great.
“What makes you African?” you might ask. The answer is verbose, coming from a simple man with a complicated mind. The first argument, while not strong, is enough to satisfy the least curious of minds: I was born in South Africa. That, in itself, does not solely make me African, because while having a home in Africa, you are not African until there are words of affirmation escaping your mouth with pride, zeal and enthusiasm. Being African isn’t about being born in Africa, because iconic singers such as Johnny Clegg and Joao da Fonseca (aka J’Something), the lead singer of Mi Casa, were not born in any country on the continent, yet both are more African than many dwelling in South Africa. It is a matter of assimilation: if you are willing to absorb one of the many cultures of Africa and proclaim your pure aspirations to be or become African, then your desire shall be achieved and African you will be.
Proclamation alone is not enough because words without action are like lions which do not roar. Speaking the languages of Africa brings you one step closer to being African and another foot deeper into being engulfed in its cultures. As such, to make my argument for being African stronger, I speak enough isiZulu to know when to run away from danger, to start a party or when I am the topic of a conversation. I speak Malagasy to the point where I can have basic conversations on the minibus ride from the big city of Antananarivo, to the small village of Maharidaza; or engage a classroom full of students; or surprise people on the street with unorthodox humour. I know more words, especially greetings, and songs in other African languages than most people of my complexion, and, to add to that, I now have a strong objective to speak more native tongues found in mzansi.
Acknowledging the beauty, simplicity and uniqueness of each African language, I want to embark on a project to create an online digital archive with the purpose of preserving, teaching and sharing these languages and their associated cultures. I believe this is possible because I have the skills: being a software developer always seeking to improve; because I have the passion, seeing the need to preserve Africaness in the wake of globalisation and Americanisation; because I am not alone, there are many friends who agree with the idea and who are willing to help. This harks back to a commonly used proverb: if you want to walk fast, walk alone, if you want to walk far, walk together. In Shona, there is another proverb: Rume rimwe harikombi churu (one man cannot surround an ant-hill). If none of that means I care about being African, then I will sing the ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ on repeat in a room with those who disagree with my Africaness until they submit.
Having more knowledge of the languages has given me more insight in the many cultures and subcultures of South Africa as well as Madagascar and, furthermore, how other great nations have influenced both countries. With this, I also discover more of the history, not all of it pleasant. The more I discover, the more I want to distance myself from the exploitation done by my ancestors, and demonstrate that I am an African of European descendant working for the benefit of the continent, rather than being a European descendant trying to impose a foreign way of life in an inappropriate context, or, like many others, try to elope where my forefathers may have come, for what is perceived to be better life. Perhaps the grass is greener on the other side, but I’ve heard it said that it is just as hard to mow.
Taking what I have learnt, and leveraging the skills I have, including software development and music composition, I want to start a software company which is uniquely African, creating software products and games for specific markets, each intending to promote a specific set of uniquely African cultures and languages. This is, as what Paulo Coelho would call, my Personal Legend. Even though the company does not exist yet, I have already started working on one of the projects, which is a fighting game set in Madagascar with a completely Malagasy script and dialogue. Another project is a fictional graphic adventure set in Durban, about a female police investigator who discovers a political conspiracy, featuring much dialogue in isiZulu and also addressing many stereotypes, stigmas and perceptions held by South Africans about the police service, corruption, gender balance in the workplace and racial, cultural and tribal discrimination.
Acknowledging that I am African, I am unafraid to walk the streets of cities where other residents claim danger. My philosophy is to walk the streets without being afraid, because Africa is my home and thus I should not harbour fear. From the grid-like streets, blending into hills and inclines, found in Durban; to the dirt roads and foot paths littered with animal dung in Carion; to the flat, never-ending organised boulevards of Johannesburg; to the confusing, steep and small roads of Antananarivo; I have walked kilometres of each on a mission to prove that the best exploration of a city can take place strutting on roads and pavements. I have always felt safe because I understand my surroundings and the languages found within its context, ready for whatever life may my throw at me, acknowledging the strength of living in the moment and in freedom. You are free to walk wherever you want and if you educate yourself you can avoid danger, should it truly exist and/or if there is someone who intends to harm you. Darkness only envelopes those who are not willing to shine. It pays to be street-smart and book-smart.
My personal goals in life are to inspire people and bring them together, in the spirit of ubuntu and fihavanana. Instead of merely creating concepts for what I want to do, I have decided to immediately turn the words into action for what I have in mind to reach my goals. All of the projects I want to work on have all been started, because I believe there is no better time to inspire African societies to to share their unique, and sometimes undisclosed, value with the world. By working with like-minded individuals, leveraging their skills, intellect and, most importantly, their exquisite Africaness, we, together can forge works which the world has never seen before. Together, we can bring perspiration to the witnesses of our flaming hearts, we can bring inspiration to a world stuck following trends, we can bring gestation into the minds of Africans to grow freedom, peace and creativity. Above all, we can promote Africanisation over Americanisation. If these are not stepping stones to the African Renaissance, then I think I should keep singing ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’.
I might not appear similar to what the perception of a true African looks like, but my spirit is African, my heartbeat steps in time with the rhythm of the savanna, it accompanies the words of ancestors ascended above, it roars at the injustices of the past and it senses solutions to the challenges of the present. I believe in umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (I am a person because of people), I believe in hakuna matata (have no worries), I believe in mitsikitsiky lava (always smile). I believe that if you believe something about yourself then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe I am African therefore I am. Every morning, I am more African than I was yesterday. If you wish to join me in being African, if you truly believe you are African, regardless of skin-tone, shape, size, hair-style, culture, language, then you will be African. You will be African today and tomorrow even more African. Through your will, nothing can stop you, and if you wish to join me, we can together take Africa to new heights.
About Matthew: “I am a South African software developer and digital music composer who comes from Durban KwaZulu Natal. I participated in the 2016 Youth Advocates for Change programme with the African Alliance of YMCAs in partnership with YMCA South Africa and YMCA Madagascar, and have lived in Madagascar for five months. I love to travel and explore, meet new people, learn new things and push myself beyond my capacity. I have in interest in music, gaming, visual arts, performing arts and literature. I also have an interest in how all of those disciplines reflect the cultures and history of the world. I believe that life is short and that we should all live in the moment, freeing our minds to the infinite possibilities which the world provides us.”