Adaptation is a process in self-preservation but can quickly take the form of assimilation to a degree of self-catabolism. We have all borne the pretence of assumed opulence when an African visits or lives abroad, returning with a 2-minute-noddles accent. The more Africans I meet here, the more I witness an active abortion of what seems inferior, a breaking of the tongue into new phonetics, teaching it to swallow words, swallow home. I worry about my own tongue, my essence, what it will learn, what it will lose. My anxiety over the loss of cultural architecture also surfaces in my thoughts for home.
The advancement of social media and global access has resulted in Africa’s landslide towards the West as the standard of affluence. In our attempt to adapt, we have also assimilated to American/Western culture, turning from guide to follower. Even so, Papama Mtwisha’s bold call continues to be timelier, “Africa Your Time is Now!”. It is a call to the world to take note but more urgently a call to African actualisation.
My heart broke when I realised that there is not a single mall in the UK devoted to African businesses and narratives. Instead, we are shelved as a niche experience, something to pick-up, then put down, never to aspire towards or hold up as mirror for reflection. The reality of the reverse is ludicrous if not criminal. African cities are bursting at the seams with mega-malls stuffed with European brands, while we marginalise our own businesses and support them as if it were a favour. Is it not time we see ourselves?
We are a cultural colliery. The depth and vibrance with which we show up in the world is the essence of our magic. We radiate in contrast to European blandness. Nothing can be compared to the undercurrent of seduction in a Xibelani dance, the ever-evolving township music and fashion subcultures, or the comparable strides taken in the medical industry in this pandemic alone despite overwhelming challenges. We are the promised land, the drumbeat, the heat of potential. In my time here, I have arrived at this: The West is not better, it stole a head start, and hired a great publicist.
It is impossible to dream away the yoke of corruption that cripples any believer as some version of Animal Farm plays out in most African countries. In South Africa, the deconstruction of traditional community started with colonial industrialisation but has been propagated by centralisation. We often wonder what it is to be African in the modern age on the continent and diaspora. Beyond the cool Afrofuturistic outfits, modern and future Africa can bear the resemblance of its younger self: community, vumhunu. If we unthread ‘Avuxeni’ into ‘It is a new day’, or ‘Sawubona’ into ‘I see you’, we find in the tapestry of simple greetings the acknowledgement of time, of the other and therefore of oneself. We cannot return to our villages, but we can recreate the ecosystems that sustained their thrive. A practical translation of ‘Community’ is the “Buy Black” movement, villagically, townshipically, nationally, continentally, globally. Not because we should hate anything other, or as a form of reverse racism but because we are each other, we are all be we have; we are the ecosystem. And because change is that simple.