«ANSA Alternatives to Neo-liberalism in Southern Africa The search for Sustainable human development in Southern Africa Editors: Godfrey Kanyenze, ...»
We have universities teaching little that bear directly on Africa and Africans. In these universities technological and scientific know-how on the whole does not practically engage with the problems of their immediate societies. Knowledge is not produced which satisfies the visible needs of mass society. This is because the processes of the production and reproduction of knowledge in Africa are not cast and founded on social structures, which are meant to seriously address these needs. They are crude imitations of metropolitan Western institutions, which often are also intellectual offshoots of respective Western colonial traditions peculiar to specific colonial powers. Thus, the culture of modernity in Africa is misrepresented in language, form and address. The media is linguistically overwhelmingly non-African. Less than 10% of African newspapers publish in African languages.
2.2 African cultures in the shadow of Western dominance Africa is one of the most diversified cultural areas in the whole world.
While such extensive diversity is not unique to Africa, given the geographical size of the continent as the second largest continent in the world, the profusion of this cultural variegation sometimes gives the impression of unending differences. Closer anthropological examination, however, reveals extensive convergences and structural similarities between superficially distinct cultures. The traditional religious systems of Africa, in particular, display a great deal of formal and structural unity across the continent. Ancestor veneration is central to this. The dynamics of clanship show very little variation over wide areas and often involve groups, which are considered to be distinct and which are scattered across existing state borders. Thus among the Sotho/Tswana peoples of Southern Africa clanship and the allied totemism of the Bakwena (crocodile people) involve communities in Lesotho, South Africa and Botswana.
The point has been made elsewhere that in Southern Africa, as indeed in the rest of Africa, all languages and cultures are cross-border realities.
Thus the cultural and linguistic minorities that we have cannot be discussed strictly within the framework of the existing state borders. This is one of the main reasons why language policy planning and orthographic revision need to be treated regionally if they are to be meaningful (8).
Within Africa, traditional cultural homogeneity is much greater in Southern Africa over wider geographical areas than anywhere else. For example the two language clusters, Nguni and Sotho-Tswana, between them cover over 50% of the area. What this means is that it is possible to share cultural development efforts more easily than for example in the language differentiation and "fragmentation belt" of West Africa. There is however, hitherto, no indication that the dominant local elites in the Southern African region have any intention to employing this advantage to profitable use. These cultural unities become even more perceptible when viewed as ethno-linguistic characteristics with age-long foundations. These ethno-linguistic or cultural realities of Africa provide Africans with senses of identity, which often transcend the identities that emerged under colonialism.
The colonial state and the defining borders, which have been largely inherited in the post-colonial arrangement, defied the age-long identities that ordered the lives of Africans. Colonial power imprinted new identities and labels. Little attention was paid to the implications of colonial borders for Africans. They negated the realities of African identities and autonomous African perceptions of the world. A great deal of the tensions which plague contemporary Africa are tied to the difficulties of constructing so-called nations which have no deeply rooted contiguities with African history and cultures. These ersatz nations are not able to provide democratic expression to the peculiarities of history and culture of the various ethno-cultural units caught up in the borders of the states defined and bequeathed by the retreating colonial powers at independence. The post-colonial/neo-colonial elites, which inherited the colonial states have also consistently demonstrated little or no political will to grapple with the problem and have been more concerned about maintaining the status quo, their powers and related interests.
The emergence of the colonial state meant a revision of the sense of identity that Africans had prior to the establishment of colonial rule. These new terms of reference over-rode and downgraded the pre-colonial identities but did not obliterate them. The pre-colonial identities were submerged, but continued to exert powerful influence on the thinking and practice of colonised Africans. This remained particularly so for those whose mode of livelihood and existential conditions were close to their time-tested habits and traditional practices. Whereas those, such as the new urbanites who were more radically drawn into the economic, social and political nexus of colonial society, more easily accepted the identities imposed by colonialism, for the teeming majorities whose lives and modes of livelihood were anchored more firmly in traditional and rural society, with interests closely tied to the old order, the new points of reference for identity, introduced by colonialism had a much lesser effect. But, even for these groups, colonialism suggested new ethnicities, labels and identification based on colonial administrative units, missionary engendered linguistic identities and other novel points of identification.
During the course of the colonial period, colonial administrators and missionaries elevated small dialects and narrow local groups to the status
of 'tribes' or ethnicities through:
Considerations of administrative expediency and convenience • Evangelical work and biblical translations, in particular • The tendency among some ethnologists who have been inordinately keen 'to discover' their own tribes.
In this drive, 'tribes' have been 'discovered' that are more appropriately sub-units of much larger groups and extended cultures. Banda writes, "The manner in which African languages were transcribed left much to be desired. Through the random selection of African languages to be standardised, dialects that had been standardised had their status unnecessarily elevated at the expense of others. Thus, different nations were created out of people who otherwise spoke more or less the same language and belonged to the same linguistic and oftentimes same geographical boundaries"(9). Themba Msimang provides another example of the Eastern Cape in South Africa, where the Thembu and Gcaleka dialects were harmonised and elevated to form standard Xhosa at the expense of the Bhaca, Mpondo, Ntlangwini, Hlubi and others that were reduced to an inferior position (10). Banda also makes the point that "the emerging of Sesotho, Setswana and Sepedi as distinctive languages owes much to the three different missionary societies whose activities were centred in different areas where Sotho was spoken. The London Missionary Society was active in the western side and the Sotho language there became Setswana; the Catholic missionaries were active in the south and the Sotho languages there became Sesotho, while the Lutheran missionaries were located in the north and the Sotho language there became Sepedi. As a result, not only were three varieties of the same
language created, words pronounced the same way were now speltdifferently" (11).
Miti notes, "In Zambia where the Protestant Paris Missionary Society based in the Western Province, devised a largely disjunctive writing system for siLozi, in contrast, the Jesuits designed the conjunctive system of writing in the ciTonga orthography. As if to ensure that they differed from both the Paris Missionary Society and the Jesuits, the Roman Catholic White Fathers who settled in the Northern Province, introduced 'an amalgam system of conjunctive and disjunctive spelling' in the orthography of iciBemba" (12).
In pre-colonial Southern Africa, the spectrum of Shona varieties actually ran from Mozambique, where the Ndau variety predominates, through possibly eight variants, ending up with Kalanga in the northern Botswana border area. By the third decade of the 20th century, rival Catholic and Protestant missionaries had orthographically created three distinct written forms as separate languages out of this reality. Remarkably, although Trappist Marianhill missionaries and Jesuits were denominationally both Catholic, they constructed ciManyika and Zezuru, both mutually intelligible Shona varieties, as separate and distinct written languages.
It is for these and other considerations that some have argued that ethnicity is a colonial invention (13). This latter argument, however, throws the baby out with the dirty bathwater. While colonialism conveniently created ethnic labels for groups which were neither sufficiently distinct from their neighbours nor were regarded as separate or distinct from others by the people themselves, from pre-colonial times to the present, cultural features such as kinship systems, belief systems and religious practices, mythology, languages, cultural value systems and other customary usages have been real.
Ethno-cultural features of African societies were not invented or created by colonialists. They are the sub-units of culture around which socialisation occurs. As historical and societal categories, they are hardly fictitious. Indeed, they characterise the lives and influence the social behaviour of most Africans, as they do for all other people in the world.
Ethno-cultural characteristics are in themselves not inherently detrimental. Doubtlessly, colonialists have exploited them in the past for their own purposes and from the late colonial period through to the present they have been frequently misused by African elites to mobilise narrowly based support for even narrower interests. The challenge is to turn these ethno-cultural realities to positive use through judiciously selected policies and above all democratic principles. In the African experience of the past half-century of post-colonialism, brushing ethnocultural features under the carpet in the name of national unity or the fear of tribalism has nowhere succeeded in destroying them. Again and again, with the slightest prompting by rival elites, they have resurfaced with venom and served as easy, conflictual and divisive fault-lines in the social fabric.
3. Settler-colonialism and culture in Southern Africa
It is not possible to explain the cultural make-up of contemporary Southern Africa without reference to history; history which goes beyond the last hundred years. The cultural fabric of pre-colonial Southern Africa bore much resemblance to what could be found in most other parts of the continent. However the point needs to be made that in the modern history of Africa one of the most profound differences between Southern Africa and the rest is the experience of settler-colonialism in the South. Thus, while Southern Africa shares important features with the rest of Africa, as a consequence of the colonial encounter, settlerism created its own peculiar distortions of social engineering anchored in the confluence of race and class. It has been called colonialism of a special kind. The key difference between settler-colonialism as experienced in Southern Africa (and Kenya) and colonialism as featured in the rest of Africa is that the colonialists in Southern Africa implanted themselves and forcibly appropriated African land for their use. To work the land thus appropriated, Africans were drafted into settler-serving labour through various stratagems.
The settler created a new world, which was as much a reproduction of Europe as opportunity and ingenuity permitted. Such practices were common in the colonial world, but were particularly emphasised in the settler-colonial areas. Indeed, it is in Southern Africa that the most successful reinvention of Europe in Africa was achieved. In many instances, settler communities tended to adopt exaggerated cultural emblems of their European home country. Halloween and Guy Fawkes are celebrated as intensely, if not more so, in South Africa than they are in Britain. First generation working class settlers in South Africa, even after a few years, are frequently keen to adopt a stiff upper-lip and "the queen's diction". Names of all principal rivers were changed to European cultural, geographical or historical references while mountains were often given new names. Almost all the African names for the fauna and flora were changed. Place names were chosen to reflect the Western experience and even the triumph of colonial conquests were celebrated with names of generals and figures drawn from the "pacification of natives". This is how we got names such as Salisbury, Livingstone, Luderitz, Lourenço Marques, East London, Pretoria, Graaf-Reinnet, the Orange River, Lake Victoria, Brazzaville, Rothschild giraffe, Thompson gazelle, Burchett zebra etc. Even the names of people were changed to 'Christian names' which simply meant European names were in many instances forced on new converts to the Christian faith or otherwise chosen by natives as a way of asserting their cultural and social acculturation into the newly created colonial system. In this new system, vertical social mobility was linked to the extent to which natives had been acculturated. Thus, in places such as Mozambique and Angola the assimilado was the native who had abandoned his nativism and had become linguistically and culturally lusophone. In francophone Africa, the equivalent of the assimilado was the évolue. In short, the reality of the African was effaced and replaced by the reality of the coloniser. The African was made to sing in his master's voice.
In Southern Africa, since the formal end of settler-colonialism, we have gone some way in rolling back much of this legacy. Angola, Mozambique and particularly Zimbabwe have registered the strongest results. Bearing on imperialism and culture, Horne has perceptive remarks, which deserve recall; "in these colonies the imperialists, in the name of preventing anarchy, caused it. Taking advantage of the native's powerlessness, they imposed their own civilization within the native's civilization but as something apart... attempting to change it but mocking it and eroding it, walking through it as if it were not there, and pulling off any bits that got in the way" (14). It was in the settler-colonial areas that the damage was most far-reaching.