There is an Akan proverb that says “Anomma nnua ne nea wone no da dua koro”, translated as birds who sleep in the same tree are most likely brothers. This proverb is similar in meaning to birds of a feather flock together.
It is September here in Johannesburg. The promise of the purple on the jacarandas and the scent of pollen in the air can only mean one thing: its braai time or spring if the seasons mean so much to you. After months of hibernation, the city is finally shedding its winter garb.
At my first braai of the season this past weekend, I noticed two things. First, is that we are getting old. Gone are the days of music-blaring house parties, hands waving in the air screaming out mundane lyrics like “go girl it’s your birthday, open wide, I know you thirsty” or my favourite “kiss me through the phone”. These days we just want to sit, put the music at a reasonable volume and have a conversation. The second thing I noticed was how the themes in the conversations of the different groups in the room proved the Akan proverb above.
There was the proud young married crowd with their partners by their side. Standing chest out, heads high and eyes glistening with pride, they toss among themselves stories about the far off places they went to for honeymoon. Standing by the fire were the boys holding on to their youth. Drink in hand and almost inebriated at only 4 pm, they discussed how they can avoid this marriage thing as long as possible. In the house and at the kitchen were the unmarried and desperate late 20’s and early 30’s women. High on stilettos and with too much make up considering that it is only 4 pm, they mourn the lack of good men and wonder whether men are scared of them because they are too career-focused. Their conversation is interspersed with brief pauses to check their emails on their blackberrys.
I settled, as usual amongst the group that I call the Pan-Africanists. This is the most passionate group. The subject of their conversation is the poor state of Africa and how the west is to be blamed for everything on the continent from corruption in Nigeria to the famine in Ethiopia. Here the aim is not to find a solution to Africa’s woes but to see how many vague, unproven theories you can squeeze into your statements while confusing your audience with overly used quotes from African philosophers and factually remixed 14th century African history about Timbuktu and the Carthagian Empire. As more and more girls join the caucus the more pressure you feel to litter your arguments with words and names like: Neo-Western Colonisation; Negritude, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Dead Aid; Ali Faka Toure and Thomas Sankara. When the night ended, we gave each other “African brotherhood” hugs, called ourselves African brothers and dispersed with hearts swelled up with pride at how passionate we are about Africa.
About 10 hours later, I was standing in the middle of a shack in one of the slumps in the Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg. The space in which 6 of us stood looks like it is half the size of my bedroom yet in this space was the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and sitting room. Standing in front of us is the lady we are visiting Mme Baloyi. She explains that she has five kids, the eldest is 22 years old and is working at the nearest petrol station and we see the youngest aged 3 years old, lying peacefully on the bed. There is no mention of a father. She struggles to hold back her tears as she tells us about her sister lying in hospital with tuberculosis. Our only comfort is to give her hope in the form of a prayer.
As I walk out of the shack into the open air, I see Mme Baloyi’s sad story repeated 1000 times in the sprawling slumps surrounding me. At this moment I realise that I am in a vastly different world from the one of the previous night and despite our good intentions, our passionate discourse does nothing to improve the life of Mme Baloyi and many others like her.
Debating is good as it leads to ideas. The most powerful civilisations are ones built on ideas that seemed impossible at birth but grew to be giants today that we can’t live without. But ideas need to evolve into actions. With Africa’s growing heap of challenges, it is time that our generation start putting their passion for Africa into action. Actions that will impact on the Baloyi’s of this world so that in 50 years time our children will not be standing at a braai still mourning Africa’s woes and seeking pride in Africa’s 14th century history and not the present.