It is finally here! The very first VIP Debate Club session finally kicked off yesterday at the Bannister Hotel in Braamfontein. The debate was facilitated by VIP’s very own, Lee Molefi. Panashe Chigumadzi, the founder and editor of fast-emerging digital platform Vanguard Magazine, was our guest speaker. Vanguard is a magazine for the young, code-switching urban black woman who constantly faces duality in her life made sharp by South Africa’s often culturally and economically disparate social dynamic.
“Who says we don’t want to be African?” was the topic of conversation. The conversation took different twists and turns but remained focussed on one theme…Africanism. What does it mean to be African and are we doing it right?
Through the years there has been a growing concern that urban youths are averse to the concept of African identity. True to this, a key concern that kept creeping into the conversation was that of Western culture influencing and erasing indigenous African culture – and with it any conception of an authentic African identity we may have or try to cultivate.
Many present agreed that this argument is true to a certain extent. We see it all around us, “through the way we dress and the way we speak”, somebody said. The media also plays a huge role in this influence: from the music we enjoy to what we see on our television screens. “Do we influence each other enough?”, soon became the question.
We live in a country that is still very deeply wounded by its past and therefore it was no surprise when the conversation soon encompassed race. Chika Onyani, in his book The Capitalist Nigger, spoke on the fact that as black Africans we have a culture of consumerism yet produce or export nothing of note. Panashe touched on the lack of African industrialisation and deficit of ownership over even African products when she pointed out the fact that one of South Africa’s most popular soaps, Generations is actually not entirely owned by Mfundi Vundla, but mainly by a white company.
Somebody later brought up another important issue that is quite concerning: the inclination to always bring up the Western world into conversations about Africa. This is true, as it seems as if we almost instinctively measure ourselves according to Western standards, there’s always the need among Africans to compare ourselves to the West.
The topic of Africanism has been widely debated and chances are it will go on for years to come. We live in an enormous global village and it is inevitable that one way or another, cultures will clash and it is a sad reality that some cultures will overshadow others – the hegemony of Western culture in Africa being a case in point.
Panashe raised the point that perhaps this is not entirely such a bad thing, pointing out that no culture is completely pure. She argues that even in English culture in itself is not pure particularly when you look at the language and words which originate from other languages.
There was a lot of questions that were raised and as expected, an equally high number of answers and viewpoints from different people, which is good for debate.
These are some of the questions that were raised:
- You (the African) will always be a second rate version of a European, so why try to measure yourself against European “standards”?
- Who are the originators of the systems used to measure who we are and how we relate to the world as Africans?
- There are so many things we’re trying to challenge but what does it even mean? Who has told, can now tell and will tell the story of what African culture is?
Join us on the 28th of October for our second debate session and don’t forget to send us topic suggestions.
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