There was a Global Citizens’ Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa last week. At the recommendation of my wife I watched a decent chunk of it on television. A number of the big stars of the North American entertainment industry pitched up and performed very well. All with a lot of support from the thousands of their, quite literally, screaming young South African fans.
guest column: Takura Zhangazha
Apart from the fundraising for charity and very evident entertainment value of the concert there were also a number of speeches and a number of slogans in remembrance of the iconic late former South Africa President Nelson Mandela. And I mean the more globally preferred Mandela in this instance. As opposed to the one that went on to defend his and the still ruling African National Congress’ relationship with Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi as individual leaders and also other “pariah” governments that had contributed significantly to not only the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa but the liberation struggles of the African continent.
What was striking about this concert was how it was as popular as it would be reflective of those that attended or watched its aspirations of what it would mean to be a “global” citizen.
The South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had to be cautious about the length of his speech because he was delaying the arrival of ‘Queen Beyonce’.
The inimitable television screen “queen” Oprah Winfrey also appeared to be cognizant of the fact that she was not the main attraction even if she is sponsoring charitable schools in South Africa (and elsewhere). And our very own returning “Son of the soil” Trevor Noah in his The Daily Show comedy series went on to do the equivalent of a “rags to riches” story by showcasing his grandmother.
Billionaire (by global standards) Patrice Motsepe also took the opportunity to wade into the land reform debate in South Africa with a pledge to fund what would, for now, turn out to be a peaceful and orderly process around land re-appropriation.
And there are many ways to try and bell the cat, or at least capture the audience and popular imagination. Brilliant as the Global Citizens’ initiative may have been to many, there are issues that should raise many Africans’ eyebrows.
These are not many but they remain consciously important, even outside of the entertainment and goodwill gestures of those that would perform for us.
The first being that we, as Africans, have to contend with the reality that a lot of our young people greatly (popularly) appreciated seeing international artistes perform. If only to reaffirm how we aspire to be as successful/rich as they (artistes) are and to command the attendant attention.
And that in a Gramscian cultural/“hegemonic” sense we are the sum total of these same said aspirations. To be “global citizens” as envisioned and valued by those in the global north, or to wish that one day we can be Beyonces or Jay Zs while knowing full well that it is not possible, at least in our lifetimes, even if we tried, it would never be allowed to happen without the consent of global capital and its geographical epicentres as we colonially remember them. This is a perception/feeling I thoroughly fret about but also realise I/we are relatively powerless, for now, over. It is really hard to counter the medium in favour of the message in the global south, suffice to say, unless the Ushers, Beyonces, Farells, Coldplays and others become more familiar or similar to the rest of us we will always be in awe of them, barring a global scandal of sorts.
The latter point would bring me back to the title of my blog. The import of the Global Citizens concert must be reviewed in its cultural hegemony aspects. That is to say, it does not come on its own, but with a serious focus on demonstrating to many what is a globally dominant culture, one that reflects the axis of capital, culture and intentions of demonstrating superiority. We can only be equal if we are to all intents and purposes similar or suit what is palatable to the global north.
I would hazard to argue, much to the happiness of those that would want to keep the global south in its place, that acts of kindness toward the African continent and its people would essentially be a “throwback” to colonial dominance and an attempt to remake the African in the image of the “modern other”. Hence the titular phrase, in this blog, of assumptions of “homogeneity as equality”.
The angst that many an academic/activist on Africa and African studies would face is that of answering the Obamanian question of human “universality”. That is, a universality of human rights and the acceptance of the global world order. One that embraces the very fact of the United Nations as a global human equality arbiter as the forbearers of what would be African liberation and independence such as Amilcar Cabral originally imagined.
The cold reality of the matter is that, despite the fact of Africa’s history of complicity in its own exploitation, it does not have to fawn at the altar of neoliberalism and neocolonialism.
The advent of the radical ‘fortress’ nationalism of the global north means we are probably back to where we started from, at least from an African perspective, except that this time it is not as political, but more economic.
It is broadly anticipated by the global north that we, as Africans, will accept, especially with governments as desperate as my own (Zimbabwe), neoliberalism as an economic panacea to the problems that we face without argumentation/agency and in return for either retention or ascension to political power.
The intention is not so much to shock us into acceptance of a false “end of history” but to argue that we, as Africans, need the equivalent of “hand holding” in order to be able to make our own history in these “internet-enabled” globalised/modern times.
This being a reason why most African governments will not argue with the IMF and the World Bank about what (in Leninist terms) is to be done about the state and African economic revolution . Or why African leaders continue to mimic the troubled European Union model of regional economic (free market) integration at a time we should be following the ideological footsteps of those that founded the Organization of African Union.
In part, this explains why and how in Zimbabwe, at the moment, we are undergoing “shock therapy” about our national economic policies. The intention of the government is to shock us into acceptance of the supremacy of the “free market”. No matter how many times promises to guarantee the supply of foreign currency to the petroleum services sector.
What is evermore apparent is that we, as Africans, are on the lower rungs of the global economic order. Not just by way of assumed right but by way of better knowledge production systems and a more contextual global historical narrative. Our strength however remains our ability to struggle.
But we must learn to re-talk back. Negotiate better and demonstrate a better contextual understanding of where we were, are and where we can be, in our own reality and our own imagination.
Takura Zhangazha writes here in his own personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)