Through Vangi-tinted glasses

Perspectives from an African

The Reddish-Brown Biting Ant that breaks away from the trail is the one that turns into the big black ant February 28, 2012

Filed under: From Consciousness straight to you — Vangi Gantsho @ 12:21

The spirit of ubuntu is an ideal that has always been recognised throughout the African continent as an authentic way of life.  It is a spirit that embodies a movement of people as one:  where the trials and jubilations of the people are shared and carried communally.  This has, for the longest time, been the driving force behind African civilisation.   Being African has always come with the understanding that I am because you are, and my strength lies in your strength, thus when you are weak, I am affected.  Sadly, however, this ideal is fast-becoming a foreign concept to our people.  In a continent ravaged by war and poverty (contrasted by corruption and stark affluence), the images of villages raising children and neighbours being neighbourly has become an urban legend of sorts.

When one examines the dynamics of African society, one cannot escape the truth of the colonial inheritance.  Exploitation, ethnic tensions, war, corruption… these are all undoubtedly consequences of the manner in which countries where colonised and subsequently gained their independence.  The way colonial powers divided and ruled, then allowed for conditional independence or facilitated full on wars, which left a beautiful, imperfect, yet communally prosperous continent devastated by war and a multitude of insecurities and dependencies.  But we were not designed to be victims!  So at what point do Africans start taking responsibility for their own situation and stop look for a time machine to go back and make things better?!

The truth is that African people hurt African people.  It is our leaders who turn on us.  Our people who sell us out.  We are the cause of our own suffering.  Because in all that has transpired, we have forgotten that umntu ngumntu ngabantu (a person is a person because of people).  Yes, slaves were bought and taken to various parts of the world, but they were SOLD by black people!  Black policemen agreed to be recruited to persecute black people during apartheid.  Black liberation fighters became black criminals in office.  Black people abuse transformation attempts such as Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment and Affirmative Action.  Black loan sharks trap black families, and black people continue to vote in black politicians who only show up at election times.  In the movie Blood Diamond, Djimon Hounsou’s character speaks of how disappointed he is in his people.  He says that there must be something in our skin, as black people, which makes us loath ourselves.  How else can one explain why we kill one other and rape one other, and promise one other brotherhood, then turn around and exploit one another?

South Africa has, for the longest time, prided itself for being the “exception” to the African phenomenon.  As a people, we have thought ourselves exempt from the fate of war because our liberation was won through negotiation and minimal bloodshed.  Then we paraded the Truth and Reconciliation process on the international stage, trying to convince everyone that we would be different.  But in the midst of all this pretence, we suppressed unresolved racial tensions and there grew a divide between black people.  Politicians got on board the gravy train and the private sector remained largely white-owned.  The black diamonds emerged and grabbed the spotlight with both hands, fooling people into believing that this was transformation, when in fact the media was filming from a merry-go-round.  The hungry became hungrier and watched as the people who promised them food ate lobster and caviar, without ever making eye contact.  And a select few moved out of the townships and rural areas, and rented mansions in the suburbs; only ever going back for weddings, some funerals and the occasional ‘shisa nyama.

The Basoga and Baganda people of Uganda have a saying:  The reddish-brown biting ant that breaks away from the trail is the one that turns into the big black ant. Apparently, the reddish-brown ants, known as the nsanafu, move fast, in wide and lengthy columns, and have a piercing, venomous bite.  If their columns are disturbed, these ants become nervous and disorderly, attacking the perpetrator through poisonous bites.  Although one big black ant (known as the kaasa) is likely to be found in every procession of nsanafu, these ants are mostly scavengers, feeding off dead ants and termites.  The kaasa, if provoked or threatened, emits a strong musky, pungent smell that can travel for a very long distance, but is not nearly as ferocious and effective in defence as the nsanafu’s bite.  According to the proverb, the kaasa is the deserter, the ant-relative who is solitary, reclusive, monopolistic and uncooperative, while the nsanafu represents the tradition of communalism and the recognition that strength lies in numbers and cooperation.  Nsanafu may be smaller than the kaasa, but they are able to protect themselves; they are survivors and triumph over imposing environments by working together.  And the small nsanafu that separates itself from the group proverbially becomes the bigger, weaker, single kaasa.

I’m not saying that we must all move back to the townships or rural areas to become nsanafu, I’m just saying that in our climb to the top, we should be cautious of becoming kaasa.  There is nothing wrong with pursuing and enjoying wealth, as long as it is not at the expense of someone else.  If tenders were given to capable people, BBEE positions filled by qualified candidates and wealth enjoyed with humility, we would be one step closer to a peaceful community.  When one understands that their domestic helper has a family to feed, they will understand that they should pay her a decent salary.  She may in turn have a little more to send her children to school with, and maybe put a bit more food in their stomachs.  They may in turn not feel the need to turn to crime to survive.  And guess what… we may have one less hijacking that month.  This sounds very idealistic, I know, but communities are made up of individuals.  Governments are voted into power by communities.  And it is the nsanafu-like communities who prosper.

In an interview with a Belgian TV station, Eugene Terra’blanche said:  “when the milk dies up, there will be war.  In any country” (translated).  As much as I can honestly say that this man was far from being on my Christmas gifts’ list, the truth in his words is undeniable.  We cannot live in a country (continent) wherein the bulk of the resources are concentrated in the hands of the few, while the majority scramble for scraps.  There will come a time when this provocation will lead to a revolt, and when that happens, the stink of the kaasa will have nothing on the bites of the nsanafu.

*FIRST PUBLISHED BY http://www.consciousness.co.za/ *( December 2009)

 

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