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Note for our international readers: “skelm” is a South African word meaning “scoundrel” or “worthless fellow”.  

Were you aware that the month of May is “Africa Month”?

Government has been encouraging South Africans to participate in the celebration, which will culminate in Africa Day on 24 May at the Mamelodi Campus of the University of Pretoria. President Jacob Zuma will lead the celebrations under the theme: “We are Africa – Opening the doors of learning and culture from Cape to Cairo”.

A previous figurehead who used the phrase “Cape to Cairo”, of course, was Cecil Rhodes who dreamt of a British empire spanning the length of Africa. Lately one would be hard pressed to find a proponent of the erstwhile colonialist and skelm, whose statue at the University of Cape Town was pooed on and became the subject of national invective before being bundled out of sight.

It is easy, with hindsight, to see what was inappropriate and politically incorrect. At the time, Rhodes was feted and had all sorts of honours bestowed on him. Streets and buildings, universities — even a country (Rhodesia) were named after him. He was regarded as self-made man, hero and so on (unless you were indigenous, black or boer, and had had your land pinched). It makes one wonder what figures of today, currently praised, will be vilified tomorrow. What figures, put down today, will have their star rise — perhaps after they have gone? 

Empires rise and fall, and have done so for as long we have records, and probably before that too. They bring with them legislative frameworks and economic systems. They build roads and other infrastructure and leave us speaking the same language, sometimes literally. They bring a sense of purpose and unity, including for those who oppose the empire. And then the empire is replaced, sometimes by another one. Sometimes its passing is also the passing of the common denominator that held its opponents together and that those who were united now fall out amongst themselves. It can be that what follows the empire is nothing to really write home about, and those left behind mill around, dimly aware that something significant has passed. But we digress.

“The unity of the continent is driven through the African Union’s programmes to attain its vision as articulated in the Agenda 2063.  The continent guided by its citizens will strive for an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa,”says the press release. “The Africa month theme ‘We are Africa’ is a declaration and celebratory statement of pride, which fosters inclusivity from all role-players and stakeholders”.

We need campaigns and programmes like this. We need to know that there is more in common than what separates us. When this is accepted, we can move on to earning a living and putting food on our plates, something we have made a grim enough task for half the people in this country and some 795 million people globally.

Find the chapters on Africa and Food security in The Agri Handbook. 

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