Opinion Piece by Lauren Marx: Lest we forget African unity should be remembered June 2016

Lest we forget: African unity should be remembered

Africa Day is the annual commemoration of the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), presently recognized as the African Union (AU). It saw leaders of 30 of the 32 independent African states signed a founding charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The OAU undertook a number of important ventures, such as aiding liberation movements to overthrow colonial regimes, combating racism and apartheid and resolving boundary disputes among member states.  This facilitated particular assistance to South African liberation movements in the fight against colonialism and apartheid and saw South Africa and African states joining forces for their collective goal of freedom and independence for all. It spawned a widespread movement of regional support that became decisive in the struggle for liberty. It was a time where there was a collective goal for Pan-Africanism, African nationalism and freedom from the yoke of Western states.

Several decades later, Africa faces very different challenges in the form of widespread poverty, disease and poor education. We have also seen a surge of afrophobic attacks, particularly in South Africa. Afrophobic attacks which shook South Africa in 2008, left many people displaced, with at least more than 60 people killed. In 2015, another nationwide spike in afrophobic attacks against immigrants in general prompted a number of foreign governments to begin repatriating their citizens. It is my firm belief that if we remember the strong united solidarity of African states for South Africa and this information is disseminated to the people affected by violence, our political and economic landscape would look very different. Therefore, the focus should be on education of our past to understand our present and forge a prosperous future.

The issue of afrophobia is often attributed to unemployment among South Africans, wide spread poverty lasting for years after the end of apartheid rule and poor service delivery. Deeply rooted jealousy and business competition between foreigners and locals, especially in poor communities found a room due to this situation. African foreigners, especially refugees, are blamed for limited employment and other opportunities available to black South Africans who suffered under apartheid rule and who continue to suffer under the democratic dispensation.

This appreciation for our shared history needs to filter down to the ordinary South African people. The public and young people in particular, don’t necessarily understand how they were freed and this is not being taught in schools from a regional and continental perspective. By engaging South Africans and convincing them of the importance of the struggle for freedom in the context of afrophobia, South Africans can begin to create a sense of education and learning. The OAU continually stressed the importance of unity which is diametrically opposed to what is occurring in South Africa at present. This unity is the key to solving afrophobia. This unity stood against injustice and its removal was achieved. We need to forge ahead with this and not forget this unity and share it with those that were united. This will be a meaningful and unique approach to the discussion.  We also need to indicate how other African countries contributed to the economy of South Africa as youth have not studied the political economy of our country. During colonialism and apartheid, African countries provided cheap labour and this is one of the reasons why South Africa is industrialised. In a way, continental exploitation is part of the contribution to afrophobia. Mining bosses in South Africa provided cheap labour. The youth of South Africa need to understand that peaceful migration labour patterns existed free from afrophobia as far back as the 19th century.

Understanding the role of the continent in liberation of South Africa can act as a solution to afrophobia. It should become the responsibility of all leaders to educate the public about the role the continent and the rest of the world played in liberating South Africa from the shackles of apartheid. This will be a meaningful and unique approach to this burning discussion.  It also aims to equip South Africans with knowledge of the problem, insight into the complexities thereof, and possible solutions for the eradication of future afrophobic attacks. Part of the solution should be the political education we are advocating. Stimulating debate is intended to bring together many different people and ideas, in order to achieve some better understanding of afrophobia and generated valuable solutions and strategies.  A platform needs to be created for Africans to engage on the source of the afrophobic violence and to also examine the impact the attacks and threats have had on the country’s economy and image. However, it is important that efforts against afrophobia are on-going, and that everyone shares the experience with their communities.

It is the leaders of African states’ shared obligation to ensure that economic and political freedom, and respect for human rights are at the forefront of black African history and this needs to be remembered now in order to hold all parties to the higher standards that were espoused and helped bring down the colonial paradigm in Africa. It is an opportunity to seek realistic resolutions in order to support the plight of our people. Let us use this as a catalyst for good, not just in our relations with immigrants, but the way that we as a country and community behave towards everyone going forwards.

Lauren Marx is a Senior Researcher at Freedom Park

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