A Thought Piece on Africa Day

Africa Day is celebrated on 25 May of each year. It is an annual commemoration of the foundation of the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) in 1963. The commemoration and celebration has cultural and historical significance for the continent.

On this 54th year of celebration in 2017, there are pockets of Africa and indeed of the world, that embrace the beauty, the authentic values and the nothing-to-prove attitude of Africa’s character. There are many more pockets that live in polarity – both within and outside of the continent. In that polarity we tend to see fellow African brothers and sisters as “the other” as less than, and as a threat or potential enemy. Historians and social anthropologists might testify that this polarity is not inherent to the character of Africa. One of the reasons for that is the fact that Africa is the birthplace of the saying “I am because we are” umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. Historically individuals have tended to see themselves in the context of the collective and in the context of the other. So it can be said that the phenomenon of otherness is foreign to Africa. Over time this otherness has been adopted as our very own. The season has come for Africa to retrace its steps, reclaim its values and break the cycle of polarity and of Otherness.

It is interesting to observe that this imported tendency of living in polarity has also become part of the DNA of relationships in the corporate work place. Employer-employee relations tend to be riddled with suspicion and mistrust, setting the tone for most interaction. Most of us will remember that May month, namely 1 May is an international day of paying homeage to the labour force across the globe. It is referred to as International Workers Day. It is quite ironic that on the month that we celebrate Africa and workers that the image of Africa and of workers is not enjoying much prestige and elevation. But it is critical that the cycle of otherness in Africa and otherness in the workplace is redressed. Such redress will go a long way in harmonizing relations – relations within Africa and relations among colleagues in the workplace. Some of the practical steps for redress are:

1. Genuinely seeing from the other side: asking myself what am I not considering from the perspective of the one I disagree with, the one I have traditionally referred to as the other. This ability to see from the other side is also a character of higher emotional intelligence. It is part of empathy. It is a powerful tool to master

2. Humanising the other’s experience: more often than not, when we minimize the plight of the other, it is usually because we have let go of seeing their humanity. We are not always conscious that we have minimized their sense of self and therefore dehumanized them in our eyes. In other words a dehumanized being has as much value in our eyes as a block of wood. Whether we are conscious of that fact or not

3. Recognize the similarities instead of only the differences: We frequently elevate differences in engagements more than similarities. If we make conscious effort to see similarities between us and the other, we come closer to making them human in our eyes and therefore see them as equal. When we recognize similarities, we tend to see a different dimension in the other than we previously did. In turn, their experiences tend to feel closer to us than when we don’t see similarities

4. Becoming intentional about having a renewed perspective: Above all else, it is critical to become intentional about having a renewed perspective about the other than previously. This will more than likely become the fuel needed to start the process of seeing the other differently. How will you know you have succeeded in that intentional journey? When the other is no longer only the other in your eyes. When you recognize that the other is in fact you in a different disguise.

So in this Africa month and Worker’s month, let us remember that long before the now entrenched polarities in the workplace and among perceptions about Africa, there existed a deep common understanding that when I see and acknowledge your humanity, I embrace my own humanity; that we are all part of the same Oneness that has brought life into existence.

I wish you a celebratory May, from here at the very birthplace of humanity.

Phyllis Ndlovu


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