A New Africa
The notion of Africa is a complex and diverse one filled with composites of darkness and blind optimism; barbarism and treasure; exotica and tradition. Defining Africa as a singular, one-dimensional plateau of land and livelihood is as problematic as it is erroneous, especially because it is “set always in relation to the full presence of the West” (Ferguson). I live in South Africa, at the sharp edge of it all, a country defined by its gruesome past and flourishing future, both resented and embraced as a part of Africa.
South Africa, as a stand-alone nation reflects the diversity and multiplicity of the continent as a whole. Just as there is struggle and hardship, there is harmony and serenity. Explorations of home link to ideas of heritage and Africa may be determined in terms of its history – a history of life, abundance, scarcity, fear, knowledge and freedom. Africa doesn’t begin with a location or boundary, but with an impression, captured perfectly by acclaimed writer, Wainaina. “If there is a miracle in the idea of life it is this: that we are able to exist for a time in defiance of chaos”. Africa breathes both in defiance of chaos and its lack, although some may not wish to spy the continents side of serenity. I consider myself an African not because of what my passport dictates, but because of the inherent strength, wisdom and composure gained from sheer existence here.
Although there can be no grand proclamation of an inherent Africa, as I attempted above, I know for myself that discovering home entails an open mind and the sacrifice of stereotypes “given the mischief done by depictions of ‘Africa’” (Ferguson). Literature, journalism and exterior investigation has created a breeding ground in Africa for incomplete notions of the continent and such perceptions not only “misunderstand social reality”, as Ferguson puts it, “they also shape it” . Thus, an individual may be attributed with an abundance of categorisation, being ‘South African’ or ‘White’ or ‘Female’ or ‘African’, but these methods of comprehension and labelling need to be achieved consciously so as to “overcome categorical subordination” as they encompass rank. As you move through life, you come to be defined according to particular aspects of the social realm you have constructed, be it by your family, your career or your age. We are fluid entities moving from one realm to another framed by specific transactions. There is grand variety within a short distance of Africa and it cannot be conclusively understood as a location of singular existence.
There is a mountain of misconception where Africa is concerned and specific models of understanding are thrust upon the continent in desperation to the detriment of legitimate comprehension. By models, I mean specific structures of understanding composed of particular ideas and fables. The most obvious being Africa the ‘Dark Continent’ as put forth by Joseph Conrad in The Heart of Darkness. This leads to the controversy of Africa, most commonly seen as a backward place inhabited by famine, poverty, idiocy, barbarism and outlandish mysteries.
It can be then be established that such perceptions are perpetuated through the media, external investigators and policy makers as well as enforced world value systems dictating state behaviour. Much of this stems from the difficulty in representing and defining Africa. Consequently, only stereotyped visions and ideas are considered to be authentically African. “Historically, Western societies have found in ‘Africa’ a radical other for their own constructions of civilisation, enlightenment, progress, development, modernity, and, indeed, history” (Ferguson,). In addition, any other depiction is quickly stifled and removed from popular understandings of the continent. Concerned author, Chimamanda Adichie is painfully aware of this harmful typecasting and begs an understanding of Africa as being familiar with it. Knowing, being and living African is seen to her as being legitimately so.
There are many notions of Africa, and all need to be considered to paint a balanced picture, the only problem being exactly the kind of equilibrium needed to achieve such a masterpiece. As more experiences are questioned as to their authenticity, so stereotyping prevails. Adichie points out that a story concerning the military, war and violence is perceived as more “urgent and relevant” than the pertinent issue of homosexuality in Africa. The issue of equality and sexuality is surely too ‘progressive’ for a continent claimed by “a series of lacks and absences, failings and problems, plagues and catastrophes” (Ferguson).
It is possible to authentically present and represent Africa, but it is dependent on whose terms, the definition of Africa and its perpetuated depiction.
I’d like to perpetuate my kind of Africa.