I spoke to Mr Kurtenbach in January and he asked me to deliver a speech about what Africa connecting means to me.
For me it a was very loaded question because from a political point of view our borders were created by those who pre-1994 conquered and ruled this land. They intelligently separated African people to totally operate and control capitalism. As Africans we bought into this idea that we must be segregated to function properly and coherently. The issue with this is we then barricade ourselves from connecting to each other because of these arbitrary lines that were drawn by a group of colonizers who came before us. We then begin to think we have no connection to each other. We forget that our disunion was created for the sake of personal enrichment and has become an powerful tool of oppression.
These past few weeks have been heart-breaking for Africans as we have watched the outbreak of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. "The people of our country have tried to justify the killings of their brothers and sisters based on their "foreignness"". We live on the same continent and we have managed to take these lines or borders as a measure of whether someone belongs in a part of Africa or not. I do not understand this. Africa will remain divided and we will never be free until people on the margins are.
So, when I think of what it means to connect Africa, I think about the process of "decolonizing our minds and striving to be a united Africa". This necessary process of learning and unlearning desperately needs to be had. It all begins with educating ourselves and paying it forward. It is a massive task, but it is imperative that we move in this direction to begin healing and growing in oneness.
In all honesty there are many reasons that I can think of that heighten my disconnect with Africa. 1) because I am a woman in an Africa that at the moment values men. The Statistics on Gender Based Violence in South Africa alone have stayed more or less the same for 10 years. There is a war on women's bodies in Africa as a whole and our cries are not being heard. A women is killed every 3 hours in South Africa. That is a difficult statistic to read out loud especially when you know you are prey.
2) because I am queer in an Africa that will not allow me to express my love through marriage, as only one out 54 countries in Africa recognise that my love exists.
3) because I am an artist in a globalized economy that tells poor countries that to compete they should not invest in the arts.
These examples are not inherently African, in fact a lot of them developed during Africa's interaction with the rest of the world.
Hearing more about who I am, you may feel that there is no way for me to connect to Africa as a place and also an identity.
BUT there are many ways that I connect to this continent every day.
I choose to focus on my art unapologetically. I am an actor and a performer and I tell peoples stories. I tell them in a way that allows the authentic voices of the people who live amongst us to be heard;
The people: Who drive our taxis, who clean homes, the people who keep our streets clean, the librarian who lends an ear or screams at you when your making a noise, that person in class you really don't like or the one you do.
I believe that we are already connected. Our lack of understanding of each other is what keeps us apart. My role in telling peoples stories is to allow insight into the seemingly insignificant battles that people have to fight just to get through one day. The minute I am educated about the 3 hour walk a grade 1 child has to make to get to school then immediately I have a responsibility, I don't necessarily have to do something major but I do need to live in such a way, to move in such a way that acknowledges that that story does exist and that it is ours.
When you can be the voice, be it.
Writer and activist, Arundathi Roy tells us that; "There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless'. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard."
Find those stories; if they're yours, own them and if they are others, hear them. Listen.