To begin with I am White when the very word ‘African’ implies Black. Even Americans who have added the word African to their identity, seem to have a greater claim on the continent of my birth than I do. To complicate matters, I am the child of European immigrants, always suspended between two cultures and two continents, never fully belonging to either.
Then there’s the issue of language. I do not speak Zulu or Ndebele or Swahili. Instead my English tongue is that of the colonial plunderers. My second language, Afrikaans, is at least rooted in the African soil, but is often remembered as the cause of the Soweto Uprising when scholars protested against learning in, what they considered, the language of Apartheid.
My country’s southerly position distances us from our African neighbours. We are the tip of the spinning top that is Africa, often whirling wildly with its struggles of poverty, terrorism, famine, disease and war. Geographically removed, we have a tendency to deny that our neighbours’ concerns are our own (even though we have many of the same struggles). Recently South Africans even turned on Africans from other countries in violent acts of xenophobia.
But today is Africa Day, and it seems like the best day to declare that I am indeed a child of Africa. I was born under her angry sun and my young feet slapped through her red dust. Ultimately being African is not about skin colour or language or latitude. It’s not about the clothes you wear or whether you have natural rhythm or not.
Being African is a matter of the heart. The African heart is big and spacious, like an expansive bushveld sky. It respects those that are older and nurtures those that are younger, lifting up the needy in a warm Ubuntu embrace. The African heart dances in the face of difficulties and sings deep, resonant songs that pulse with eternity. The African heart is stronger than any other I know. It is unhurried, recognising and enjoying simple moments and pleasures. It is a joyful, generous heart.
Through the violence and fear of recent times, we’ve lost sight of what it means to be an African. Today, a day of unity, should remind us again. I aspire for a heart that is truly African–one that beats with the very best of humanity.
Nkosi Sikelel‘ iAfrika!