31 October 2019 / By Ntando Kubheka
I have battled with the definition of being African versus what being Afropolitan means. Does carrying an African passport naturally make one an Afropolitan? After careful consideration, I tend to agree with Greg Maloka of Kaya FM that your “passport might say you’re an African, but if your mind and your heart are not here, and if you’re not invested in the continent, then you’re certainly not an Afropolitan’. Recent African history took us through the most. We were stripped of our dignity through a systemic series of events that were designed to oppress us and keep us jailed in a deep cycle of poverty. Those two forces combined to keep us in a perpetual state of wanting and helplessness. Yet with all of that, our African-ness would show up every time.
Notwithstanding the difficult times, Africans found a number of ways to innovate and create means to make their lives bearable and easier. They found several alternative uses for everyday products such as the green Sunlight bar soap. The green Sunlight bar soap has been around since 1891. When Unilever created this special product, they only had the cleaning of dirty pots after Sunday lunch in mind. Needless to say, that Africans use the famous green bar soap for medical purposes, as well as a cleaning agent. Jeyes Fluid was designed to be a multi-purpose disinfectant suitable for use in a wide range of applications. This is a concentrated product meant to clean, disinfect and deodorise. Africans have used the same product to chase away snakes and bad spirits. Our mothers didn’t have refrigeration, yet we made jelly by setting it over night on the cold floor. We made art and toy cars using wire and recycled materials - this shaped our dreams. And now we drive those cars, we are commercialising our art creations.Our innovations have since become mainstream. In the fashion industry we have the likes of Rich Mnisi, MaXhosa, Mam Esther Mahlangu, Noni Gasa just to name a few who are on the world stage. We have our own mining companies extracting minerals from the belly of the earth. Trailblazers like Mam Daphne Nkosi and Patrice Motsepe have made us see that it is possible to buy these mining assets back, and more importantly, build these assets from the bottom-up.
Black manufacturers have been hard at work and our brands are now found going toe-to-toe competing for space at major retail stores. These shelves now carry products such as Tshepo denims, beverages such as Mofaya, Skyrule Twyst and Distinkt, a number of self-care products and hair care products. This is progress. This is part of owning and contributing towards our growth and that of the African continent.
The new gold rush is for banking and insurance licences. We are now starting to see significant progress being made by black entrepreneurs in financial services. Patrice Motsepe invested heavily in Sanlam and Tyme Bank, younger entrepreneurs have introduced alternative insurance products in the form of Sugar and Yalu. A black-led transactional processor, Yoco, has just over 50,000 merchants using its card machines on a daily basis.
In the area of research & education we have a number of world-renowned professors and researchers who come from communities that were predestined to fail through a system of education that was designed to produce only doers and not thinkers. Here I am referring to people like Prof. Mamokgethi Phakeng of the University of Cape Town, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala of the University of Johannesburg, Professor Tricia Naicker of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and Dr Mohlopheni Marakalala of the University of Cape Town just to name a few.
There are many emerging technologies and innovations that were built in Africa, to solve African problems but have since become solutions for the world. Mobile money, Mpesa, comes to mind. This solution was created for a non-banking market in Kenya and is now a solution the world over. Prepaid airtime was an invention of this continent introduced by MTN because of an African problem and it has since become a worldwide standard.
Africa has not lagged behind in developing technologies such as machine learning and AI, 4th AI for good, agritech, financial and commerce inclusion, smart city, healthcare, travel tech, security and privacy tech. We continue to make serious strides towards ensuring that the continent is part of the revolution and makes a significant contribution towards the new world that all nations of the world are creating.
In all if this, and through all our difficulties as Africans, never once did we lose our essence – our uniqueness that makes us truly African. The fabric of our being is still intact. Ubuntu. You see it in the design of family structures and communities. What some refer to as black tax, we understand it to be that thing that makes us, us. Perhaps this is the secret sauce through which Africa will grow into the Baobab of the world that it should be. People in the West say we are the next frontier. The Chinese are here. The Americans are here. The Europeans are here. All chasing the secret sauce that many Africans for a long time did not see. But a reawakening is in progress. Africans are building solutions for Africa. Solutions that are inextricably linked to our identity and our way of living. What is interesting is that what others see as African problems, are actually not unique to Africa.
There is a lot that the world can draw from African experiences. For me being Afropolitan means being invested in the continent. It means a heart and a soul that is deeply rooted in the continent. It means working tirelessly to create solutions that solve everyday problems, improve peoples lives, restore dignity and give hope for a brighter future. Being Afropolitan means having a keen interest in growing and nurturing the African economy and preserving the African legacy for generations to come. It means waking up everyday determined to make a difference not only in my own life but also in the lives of those around me. It invariably means being a catalyst for a positive change and creating an environment where the next generation has no excuse but to thrive.
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