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    Venue: WITS Great Hall

     July 10 2014

    Mapungubwe Institute

    Third Annual Lecture

    10 July 2014


    For Africa to Live, the Nation Must Die?

    The fluidity of African identity in a Changing Continent


    Graca Machel


    Your Excellencies

    Distinguished Guests

    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 training.

    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 must die.’

    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 initially are.

    To read more, download the PDF: MISTRA 3rd Annual Lecture Graca Machel.pdfMISTRA 3rd Annual Lecture Graca Machel.pdf

    Joel Netshitenzhe, MISTRA Executive Director


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