10 July 2014
to Live, the Nation Must Die?
of African identity in a Changing Continent
Comrades and friends,
It is a pleasure to join you this
evening to explore a few new, and not so new ideas. I thank MISTRA for
challenging me to reflect and share my personal experiences and views.
Let me begin by an anecdote of
how I landed in a Frelimo military training camp. I had just left university and I joined a
group of young women from the two provinces up north of Moçambique. In these two groups, none of the girls could
speak Portuguese. They had been
mobilised from their communities and villages. They had never been to the
capital of their province. The first time they came across electricity was at
the camp. They had no idea of what
Moçambique as a country was all about, and I landed up with them for military
It was at the end of the first
two weeks that the leaders of the camp realised that these women could not clearly
grasp the basic instructions of “To the left” or “To the right.” So my first shock was the first day of training
when our instructor said: “esquerda ire” (turn
left) and he had to turn to the left, so that the girls would understand in
which direction to turn. And then when he said “direita ire” (turn right) he would turn to the right so that the
girls could understand to turn right.
You can imagine for someone like
me coming from university, you have all these very fancy ideas of fighting for
independence and who you are, and I asked myself: “What? Who am I here? And who are my peers?” The camp had developed an extraordinary
programme; at the beginning all of us would have to tell who we are and why we
had decided to join Frelimo to fight for the liberation of our country. Each one of the girls of course had to tell
this story and that is where my education started.
When they had to say what
oppression meant for them, what colonialism was, and then what Moçambique was
and how they had decided to join the movement – I’m not going to go into detail
–it was the first shock for me to understand that what I always thought of as
Moçambique, was much more diverse, much more complex than I had imagined. I
learnt that there were people in my own country whose understanding of the
country was just the small village where they had lived. They had no idea of what the sea was; yet
Moçambique has 3000 kilometres of coast.
They had no idea what a building of three or four stories was. Their
understanding of nation and country, and the diversity of Moçambique, was
completely different from mine.
So we started the journey
together. We’d have to train and live together, many times communicating by
means of signs. Why I’m bringing in this
example is to illustrate that on this continent of ours, there are still
millions and millions of Africans who are born, grow and die in the very
limited space of their village and their community, without having an opportunity
of understanding the magnitude of what a nation represents; and remember, many
African countries are not like South Africa.
In many areas of the continent, Africans cannot read and write, and they
have no television. The only medium is
radio, oftentimes in local languages.
So I’m suggesting this as a first
reflection of what identity - of what a citizen who belongs to a certain
country - means. I think that our
initial relationships, family and others, our positions in our family, our
community, our society, our relationship with authority, with our elders, with
our peers – these are the first fundamentals which mould us as social beings.
This evening I have been asked to
address the implications of a quote from the great Mozambican freedom fighter
and President, Samora Machel. He stated:
‘For the nation to live, the tribe
If as a continent we are to
thrive, then we must make the time, take the opportunities to explore the
multiple questions that challenge our ‘African’ identities.
All of these are moulded by the
specific socio cultural context that we are born into. Common history and language are key components or
elements of cultural identity. These
become the references that build the social being, the human being that we
To read more, download the PDF: MISTRA 3rd Annual Lecture Graca Machel.pdf
Joel Netshitenzhe, MISTRA Executive Director