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Identity in Africa the topic of discussion at ACCORD’s Africa Day internal staff seminar

29 Jun 2015
ACCORD staff and guest speaker Ambassador Nhlapo during introductions

Ambassador Welile Nhlapo speaks about African identities during an ACCORD internal staff seminar.

In commemoration of Africa Day, on Monday 25 May 2015 the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) hosted an Internal Staff Seminar (ISS) at its Durban offices. The guest speaker, Ambassador Welile Nhlapo, gave a presentation entitled ‘I am an African: Identity in Africa – reflections on a pan-African future’. The talk was preceded by the screening of former South African President Thabo Mbeki’s ‘I am an African’ speech, given on 8 May 1996 in parliament upon the adoption of South Africa’s Constitution. Mr Vasu Gounden, Founder and Executive Director of ACCORD, shared the panel with Ambassador Nhlapo as a respondent.

The choice of the topic for the ISS was also influenced by a recent spate of attacks against foreigners in KwaZulu-Natal and other parts of South Africa. The theme of the event was based on a realisation that this 52nd anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union, was occurring during a time when the high hopes that many had for the unity and development of the continent are at risk of being compromised.

In his discussion, Ambassador Nhlapo reflected on South Africa’s colourful history leading up to the adoption of the Constitution in 1996. He explained that the speech was made at a time when it was necessary for South Africans to appreciate that all people have a common destiny, in spite of their different backgrounds and history. He added that there was then, and there remains today, an important debate that needs to be had and resolved about who is South African. This is especially so given the country’s history.

Ambassador Nhlapo emphasised that it is up to all Africans to find solutions to issues of identity that plague the nation and continent. He gave the example of the United States of America – a strong country that self-identifies as a nation of immigrants and uses that diversity as strength and towards its development. Ambassador Nhlapo emphasised that Africans need to learn from this case and use the diversity of nationalities, cultures and races on the continent to their advantage in nation-building.

This point was reiterated by Mr Gounden, who added that the large number of migrants in South Africa, which is often raised as a challenge, is in fact of immense benefit to the nation, particularly because of the country’s ability to attract highly-skilled and educated foreign nationals to its shores over the past 20 years.

Several noteworthy points emerged from a lively discussion following the presentations. The main argument raised was that many contestations around identity and acceptance in Africa can be traced back to the often unacknowledged fact that South Africa is a post-conflict country, which did not go through some crucial nation-building and reflection processes, particularly those aimed at providing spaces for discussion about who is South African, and what it means to be South African and, by extension, African. This consideration is especially important, given that the Apartheid regime’s fortress politics isolated South Africans from the rest of Africa for a long time. A key priority for the government now, it was suggested, is to find solutions to the lack of knowledge about the African continent and how South Africa fits into it and benefits from it, as the overriding internal narrative privileges South Africa’s dominance and the rest of Africa’s dependence on the country.

During the discussion

ACCORD ISSs contribute to the institution’s research and knowledge-sharing work which aims to encourage members of staff to engage around African peace and conflict issues and current affairs. ACCORD’s peace and security work supports the development and implementation of effective conflict prevention and resolution activities, which necessitates a comprehensive understanding of the continental policy theatre in order to promote sustainable peace and development across the African continent.

After the ISS participants united in their diversity over a ‘Taste of Africa’ lunch which featured a range of foods and delicacies from across the continent and beyond.

At the Taste of Africa lunch
  • Xenophobia
  • Vasu Gounden
  • Internal Staff Seminar
  • Identity
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