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Turning to Afrocentric paradigm of conceptualising the 'nation'

15 May 2016 at 07:53hrs | Views
As I sat to write this piece my mind was taken back to the academic wars that raged in the lecture rooms of my political science class. There were controversial modules which fuelled these gross debates about national belonging and politics in Africa. The most notable of these modules were political theory, political philosophy, political ideology, culture and change.

I was very vocal in my own right, though I could not outshine other radicals like Nhlanhla Sigabade Moyo, Sydics Muradzikwa, Artwell Chiwandire and Pardon Chabata. Beyond grappling with issues of national and continental identity the classroom became a space battling our ideological egos. Therefore, our ideological diversities nurtured us to be readers and critical thinkers with respect for one another's views despite our diverse fraternal tags in terms of ideology. We had liberalists, socialists, feminists and one classmate was nicknamed Aristotle. I called Artwell vaPepereki and he called me vaMahoso. Pardon was our own Chivaura.

One of the issues we struggled with was the aspect of 'national identity' since views of scholars like Raftopolous, Mlambo, Mazarire, Mashingaidze, Mandaza, Masipula Sithole and Ndlovu-Gatsheni had a huge bearing in shaping our understanding of 'national belonging'. Much of these local scholars' theoretical grounding was drawn from other sources of high critical thought hence their energetic deconstruction and interrogation of the the idea of the 'nation' emerging from an Afrocentric perspective. Continued exposure to these borrowed perceptions of understanding the academia has shaped debates guided by hesitancy to associate the African-self from the idea of the concept of the 'nation'. The greater part of the fear to be associated with the idea of the 'nation' has also been constructed by the works of Western scholars like Anthony D Smith, Benedict Anderson and Robert Nozik. Within the continent voices of Mamdani, Mafeje, Mbembe and Mazrui still influence a radical rethink of the post-colonial state.

Most of my colleagues have remained in that paranoia of embracing the Afrocentric paradigm of conceptualising the nation. However, I am still struggling to arrive at a phase of absolute African intellectual renewal. I have found myself committing to pan-Africanism as my chosen space of intellectual interest. In a bid to intellectually transform myself in matters of understanding belonging to the nation and continent from an African perspective reading widely from my local has become a priority.

Fanon (1963) continues to neutralise my Afrocentric certainty to issues of national belonging. Nevertheless not defeating my quest to find the lost soul of the African nation as understood by our local thinkers like Phathisa Nyathi and Cain Mathema. Now this is the beginning of the search for relevant knowledge. The early end-result of this process was the publishing of my first book, Pan-Africanism from the Cradle, the Present and the Future (2014). This was coincidentally the same time I encountered Nyathi (2005) and Mathema (2013). To this day, the two books reflect relevant knowledge of understanding national belonging from scholars whose ideas resonate with my aspirations for integrating the ideologically dismantled people of Africa.

Of intellectual relevance
It is in 1947, the year my father was born. This is 17 years after the imposition of the ugly Land Apportionment Act in Southern-Rhodesia which at the time was federated with what the enemies of Africa christened 'Nyasaland'. That same year in another part of the country, Cain Ginyilitshe Ndabazekhaya Mathema is born. My first encounter with Cain Mathema, a contemporary of my father is in 2012 at the Midlands State University where he delivered a lecture themed after the title of his book; Zimbabwe Diverse, But One. Time for the plenary session of this lecture came, as usual I grabbed the microphone to contend part of his delivery as was the reason for my fame during those days when the university hosted public lectures. I was associated with the habit of challenging public officials during public lectures. Considering my eloquence flaunting my genius expressions was usually incentivised by endless rounds of applause by other students.

In 2013, I bought this very same book I am reviewing and it drew me more closer to the person of Cain Ginyilitshe Ndabazekhaya Mathema. Two years down the line Pathisa Nyathi's writing inspired me to invite him for an academic colloquium convened by Leaders for Africa Network. As indicated above, these two scholars are relevant because they are our accessible locals who share daily experiences and do not write about home based on what they absorb from polarised media and intellectual platforms. Unlike other local scholars writing about home -away from home, Nyathi and Mathema are relevant local academics thinking in local terms to explain local issues (iNdabazekhaya).

Cain Ginyilitshe Ndabazekhaya: The meaning

In the Hebrew tradition, the name Cain means a spear. The name is derived from the legend of Cain the first murder in the Bible after taking the life of his brother Abel. The meaning of this name is equally crude as the 'terrorist' tag used to misname the heroes of the Second Chimurenga. I find it interesting that the legend of Cain and Abel relates to our context.

As we find land being the centre of conflict (hondo yeminda) between Cain and Abel. Biblical record (Genesis 4) bears testimony to Cain's role of tilling the land while Abel specialised in animal husbandry. Cain was not pleased about the favour gained by Abel because of his trade. As a result, Cain (the spear) had to terminate the life of Abel.

Symbolically this may translate to the land reform process which saw the Black Zimbabweans uprooting the plunders from the face of this land as a continuum of the two historic Chimurengas which form the bedrock of our nationalism.

Remember Cain Ginyilitshe Ndabazekhaya Mathema was born in 1947, 17 years after the Land Apportionment Act was put into effect. Later in 1969 he found himself back from Soviet military training in a quest to demolish Rhodesian tyranny from the face of the land of his birthright.

Likewise, biblically Cain and Abel's war was a struggle for birthright. Surprisingly the same allusion is used by Eshmael Mlambo (1972) in his book Rhodesia: The Struggle for a birthright in a bid to substantiate the birthright essentialism of being Zimbabwean. On the other hand, Cain Mathema's book has a prologue where he personifies himself as one destined to challenge the laws suppressing his people. This automatically places Cain and everyone else born in 1947 and many years earlier to the mandate of confronting the laws that had denied Africans their birthright.

At his birth in 1947, Mathema is already shouldering a cumbersome task to 'swallows stone' (Ginyilitshe). From birth, the new Mathema offspring is also accorded the burden of being a custodian of 'home-affairs' (Ndabazekhaya).

To this day he has carried that mandate following his service to Zimbabwe as a diplomat and currently as the Minister of State for Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs. At this point may I seek the reader's indulgence to argue that the prophecy carried by Mathema's names is fulfilled when he flashes back to 1969 in the first page of his book. As such I will inclusively call him: The 'Spear' (Cain) that 'swallows stone' (Ginyilitshe) in defence of 'Home-affairs' (Ndabazekhaya). His names (Cain and Ginyilitshe) symbolise bravery in defence of a home, a village and at large a country. In other terms, the narrative of his indulgence with the liberation struggle and many others he acknowledges in the book symbolises their collective bravery for defending the Black birthright. The 1969 flashback serving as a prologue of the book entails the 'swallowing of stone' or rather the bravery which was compulsory for every patriotic African to work towards the ouster of Rhodesian rule in our ancestral soil.

Mathema - the spear - swallowing stone - in defence - of home-affairs (2013: 3) further clarifies that the aspect of national belonging transcends difference in ideology and goes far beyond ethnicity. This is demonstrated in his poem 'A maze of blood' which speaks of intermarriages of the ancestors of today's modern Zimbabwe. According to Mathema, Zimbabwe was born out of the cordial ties of her indigenous people and not ethnic wars as we are conditioned think in order to legitimise tribalism. When he alludes to other compatriots in the ZIPRA camp in 1969 he clearly indicates that nationhood is formed out of the struggle which unified citizens were willing to overcome that time.

This justifies his dirge dedicated to the life of the late Vice President John Nkomo whose heroic status is endorsed by accolades which describe Nkomo as a nation-builder. Beyond that, the first chapter illustrates that Zimbabwe's homogeneity emanates from the common redemptive interests of those who fought in the First and Second Chimurenga. Moreover, from this perspective, being Zimbabwean is better described by one's patriotic stand in the country's contemporary Chimurenga against neo-colonialism and economic empowerment. Mathema's writing becomes significant as it clearly explains that the unifying values of this country explain the aspect of our national oneness - contrary to the divisive attributes associated with the idea of the 'nation'.

The submission by Mathema demystifies divisive pervasions of belonging grounded on political ideological difference. This is where Mathema and Nyathi's line of thought becomes relevant as it searches for the homogeneity of the Zimbabwean experience from a purely Afro-centred academic standpoint. It is this manner of thinking that Zimbabweans need to define themselves on the basis of common interest and a shared destiny bearing in mind that our plurality must be celebrated.

Phathisa: One who helps in reconstructing Zimbabwe's demolished cultural heritage

While Mathema castigates tribalism, Pathisa Nyathi offers a unique appreciation of ethnicity and the need to build on ethnicity to discover the true meaning of being Zimbabwean. From this stand point, Nyathi challenges all the divisive mechanisms grounded on ethnicity which have even largely constituted to Africa's war with herself since the time of the Biafra Crisis until today. In his introduction, Pathisa Nyathi clearly elaborates that the book is a response to the effects of colonially driven cultural change.

This coincides with Mathema's analysis on the challenges of nation-building which emanate from proletariat religions currently dividing Africa. One of these religions led to our colonisation and still carries high voltages of the colonial power. As such it was the same religion that has been on the fore of dismissing the new national pledge for being pagan. This reveals that Nyathi and Mathema's contribution to the body of knowledge will enhance the understanding of ourselves taken captive by alien ideological constructs. Therefore, Nyathi's contribution can be viewed as an attempt to relocate the colonised mind from acculturation to self-consciousness which is catalysed by revisiting culture as a medium of re-membering all colonial dismemberments.

Strengthening the weakened national thought-power

Religion and ethnicity (tribalism) are fingered in both books as divisive elements challenging the Afrocentric underpinning of national belonging. Therefore, redeeming the mind of the African from the colonial hangover to truly find belonging to the nation must take deep-seated intellectual warfare by Afrocentric knowledge handlers. This will be possible through culturally resuscitated African thought-power in a bid to reinvent a new being which is conscious of its potential to rebuild Africa if well-oriented in local knowledge.

Richard Runyararo Mahomva is an independent academic researcher, Founder of Leaders for Africa Network - LAN. Convener of the Back to Pan-Africanism Conference and the Reading Pan-Africa Symposium (REPS) and can be contacted on rasmkhonto@gmail.com
Source - sundaynews
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