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Africa ReImagined Creative Hub A Letter From Simphiwe Dana

(A letter of invitation to the first ever ARCH gathering, 2014)

What does an Africa at peace with herself look like? What of an Africa that basks in her own glory? What if she could forgive all the pain that she cannot help but remember? For too long we have wallowed in a past mired with blood, gore, tears and division. Memories of separation from love. We have forgotten that the love the world knows stems from our teachings. We have forgotten because love dies when children suffer. Love dies when children go hungry. A memory etched so deep in our subconscious that even in times of prosperity we have been changed. Everything turned to ash. What does love become, after helplessly watching her children ripped from her breast to serve a soulless world?
What if we could forgive all the pain that we cannot help but remember?

An Africa at peace with herself. A prosperous Africa where children’s laughter populate the air. We cannot change the past but we can sure influence the future.

When we look for solutions to Africa’s schizophrenia we always bypass the arts. I have mulled over this blind spot in my mind and I finally understand. Of course! We have traveled so far with our heads to the ground we have forgotten the beauty of our path. Beauty is a term that has been lost in Africa’s vocabulary, unless used with condescension, seen through a colonial lens to describe how colourful we are. Never knowing that we are just subscribing to routine without ascribing meaning to it. Do not get me wrong. Even as we go through the motions something keeps us on the path. Our roots are too deep for us to be lost completely. I once had a fight with an English professor who insisted that our cultures were the envy of the ‘free world’. What culture? The one that has us scrambling for crumbs of validation from the master’s table? Using each other’s heads as stepping stones to neocolonialism? Which culture? The one that has us jealously maintaining borders of division that we never invented? Now Africans think they are better than each other. A conundrum, unsolvable.

This is where we are. The world is moving on without us, but with our resources. A continent that feeds the world but cannot feed its own. We are too divided to see how easy it is. And no one else benefits from showing us this but ourselves.

Art is where we go to get familiar with each other. Art is where we go to cultivate trust for and from each other. If we cannot trust each other we cannot do business with each other. Business does not happen between two big conglomerates. It happens between two ordinary folk who influence conglomerates. The arts are the missing link to Africa’s progress.

I dream of a train that travels the width and breadth of our continent and the diaspora, collecting all our children. A train that carries us to ourselves. We have been strangers for too long. At each stop some get on and some get off. Those who get off go on to preach our gospel, that of our beauty. Those who get on learn the gospel. It is a simple dream because that is how simple it is to get this troubled continent’s engine working. It is when we appreciate our beauty that harvest time will be upon us. It is time for the dance to come home. For the storytelling to go around our fires. This is how we will find our way home. And we find we have been home all along. And the othering finally comes to an end. And the children come out to play. An Africa at peace with herself. When remembering is no longer the source of our schizophrenia but a source of strength and unity. It all starts with this dream. A dream that I pray will go viral in its negation of all we know of the African story. Because it is only in the othering that the African story is riddled with disease and distended bellies. An Africa at peace with herself ushers in the vision that Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, overwhelmed with duty, unleashed on us – 50 years after Kwame Nkrumah said it was possible. It is possible. Because we are here. And the arts are the only vehicle. The train that travels the width and breadth of our amnesia to bring us home. To the laughter of children and the sound of the first rains. Yes I was there to taste that first drop.

And now we have been tasked to bring you to the fold.. It is time to reimagine Africa in all her splendor. What is the role of the creative economy in the progress of Africa? What is our vision for Africa in 2063? How can the arts carry the aspirations of a united Africa? If our cultures are rich our children should not starve. How do we unlock development using our rich cultural heritages? What is the role of the arts in this?

We invite you to come share your thoughts in Addis Ababa from the 20th to the 25th of May 2014. It will be a grand gathering. Indeed it might be the best work we have ever done to ensure a secure future for our children’s children. It will be this generation’s contribution towards ensuring that Africa’s place under the sun is secured.

Yes, I envision an Africa that holidays on its own soil. Carried there by the smells, sounds and rhythms that seem all too familiar even as they are strange. And the whole world will come to our shores too – to taste our sadza, dance to our kora and drink our palm wine. I envision an Africa that is home to its own. No more xenophobia, I call it Afrophobia. No more tribalism because Africa is one tribe. A tribe that has forgotten its source – like a river that cannot see itself for its tributaries. In the near future I envision Oumou Sy known as the mother of Africa’s high fashion. I envision Toumani Diabate and Princess Magogo’s music being the mainstream curriculum in our music institutions. I envision Shakespeare being replaced by Ben Okri and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I envision Chinweizu being our reference point when we think of Africa’s politics. I envision the day Okonkwo ceases to exist in our subconscious – because Africa will no longer carry the image of the emasculated patriarch but that of a griot bringing gifts to a young world. I envision the death of patriarchy in our cultures, (it was always a foreign concept) women shall take their rightful place alongside men. I see the revival and elevation of Africa’s spirituality. I envision the death of religions that seek to divide us along colonial lines. I envision schools of African excellence in Timbuktu, Egypt and Tanzania, which will carry our knowledge through the ages. I envision an Africa that harvests its knowledge systems never to be exploited by others again. I see grand inventions that the world will otherwise never give birth to. I see sustainable cities whose Afrocentric architecture will be sensitive to our planet. Means of travel will not pollute our skies. Medicine will not pollute our bodies. Because invention should be a spiritual art, lest it be harmful. I see an aggressive overhaul of Africa’s arrested cultural development. I envision an Africa that can communicate with itself no longer with a colonial voice. An Africa that speaks the same language in the same voice. An Africa that leads the world with love.

We were never meant to stand still – but how could we not hold on to whatever little knowledge we had of ourselves, when everything we are was turned into a monster that lurks under little children’s beds. We stood firm and refused to move and we arrested our own evolution. And ended up being exactly what we had feared we would become. Cultural monoliths, anthropological finds, stagnant waters.

We taught the world everything it knows. We are not helpless. We just feel defeated for now. It is this defeatist mentality that we must overcome. The false idea planted so many moons ago that we cannot take care of ourselves. That we should not love ourselves. The old ones say we once were one. We can be one again. We will be one again else all is lost. It is the arts that can run a thread through all our cultures. Forever binding us to each other. It is the arts that can create a binding covenant of love and family. It is through the arts that Africa will be reimagined. Through the arts that Africa will be united. Through the arts that Africa will be familiarized with itself. We can no longer afford to take comfort in our cocoons, as artists are prone to. We can no longer afford to protest from the outside. It has dawned on me that we do not understand our own power. We are the ones delaying the new dawn. No other force is more powerful in commanding the people’s will than the artist. It is time we took our rightful place at the center of Africa’s development.

The time is now for Africa to bask in her own glory. The artist is the conduit to a united Africa. This is my dream, my vision and my prophecy. Reimagine Africa. Look at it through my eyes. Find a new perspective. Do you see?

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About Simphiwe Dana

Musician, Writer, Activist, Mom

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