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Africa: Can white people be Africans? – Part 2

A number of South Africans have responded to Sentletse Diakanyo's post entitled “We are not all Africans, black people are!” We wrote a roundup of his post here.

Marius Redelinghuys, a political science lecturer at Midrand Graduate Institute who calls himself “Alternative Afrikaner”, blames Wikipedia and Google for Sentletse's Wiki’ed or Googled “original thought”:

I blame Wikipedia and Google which have instilled in some the
arrogance to think their Wiki’ed or Googled “original thought” places
them on par with leading academics in their various fields.

Sentletse's post reads like an excerpt from an apartheid-era history textbook:

The most recent perversion, near-rape, of paleoanthropology,
evolutionary biology and population genetics is done by none other
than our very own Sentletse Diakanyo. His latest rant entitled “We are
not all Africans, black people are!” reads like an excerpt from an
apartheid-era history textbook.

Marius notes that all modern humans have a direct ancestry linked to Africa:

All studies of global mtDNA divergence have shown that
African populations have the biggest mtDNA divergence (followed by
Asian and European populations). The fact that Africans have the
greatest mtDNA sequence variations proves they have amassed the most mtDNA mutations, providing compelling evidence for the idea of African origin of humankind because the population with the most diversity is almost certainly the ancestral population and all other population groups seem to be subsets of the diversity found in Africa, further buttressing the argument for an African origin.

He concludes by telling Sentletse that whether he likes it or not, we are all Africans:

Continents, countries and race are social constructions, and underneath it all, we’re all humans: humans who came out of Africa. We
are all Africans, Mr Diakanyo, whether you like it or not.

Jason van Niekerk, a lecturer in the philosophy department at Wits University, responds to Sentletse's post by discussing the problem with defining the term “African”:

There are a couple of problems here, but the essential one is that his argument rests on what’s called the fallacy of
equivocation, a sleight-of-word trick that takes a word with multiple
meanings, makes a point about one, then substitutes the other, like
this: the rich are the enemy of the people. Cheesecake is rich.
Therefore, cheesecake is the enemy of the people. In much the same
way, Diakanyo shows that “African” has at least one accepted meaning, picking out black people, then insists that this should be its only meaning in all contexts. But, of course, we use the term in many
contexts, and collapsing all of them to the racial one wouldn’t work
(here’s the party-trick reason: African Penguins are black AND white,
but African all over). As many of Diakanyo’s respondents have noted,
the sense in which some white people contend that they are African
seems to pick out some sort of relationship to Africa and Africans,
rather than an insistence that they be considered black.

Is it enough to use the term “African” in a geographic sense?:

….note that exactly the same fallacy shows up in the most common
white whine generated in response to Diakanyo’s claim: “I’m South
African, I was born in Africa, so I’m as African as anyone else born
here.” See the trick? We can use “African” in a geographic sense, so
that must settle the question of whether we’re African in all senses.
That’s the same fallacy Diakanyo used.

He says, “Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that white people can’t be African, any more than my being a man necessarily prevents my being a feminist”:

But however much I subscribe to the radical notion that
women are human beings, however much Steinem and Sontag and Greer I read, being a man insulates me from the impact of women’s experience in a way that being a woman never could. Now, it may well be that I cannot, as a matter of principle, opt out of a commitment to feminism, even if it’s an option, but I’d be a bit of a whiny git to pretend I can’t see why being a man might make it harder to prove my commitment.
And in the same way, many white South Africans want to claim an
African identity not because they think they deserve it by default,
but because they really do care about Africa and Africans, because
they feel proud when this continent outperforms racist expectations,
and deeply hurt when it seems to embody them.

His conclusion:

So where does this leave us? White South Africans can’t
insist that they are automatically African, because that undermines
the value of a hard-won identity. But when black South Africans deny
the possibility of white Africans, they cut off the possibility of a
non-racist post-apartheid identity that millions of white people want
(so badly that they insist they already embody it). And nobody wins by
insisting on what African means, while others who have a stake in that
identity disagree, because this identity depends on mutual
recognition.

The way out is for South Africans, black and white, to try to work out
what our consensual understanding of “African” really is.

Chris Roper refutes Sentletse's argument that whites want to be classified as African. He says that white people merely want to identify with the ideological construct that is Africa:

This is a lie, of course. White people, and everyone else
who was born on this continent and loves it, for all its many faults,
have merely wanted to identify with the general ideological construct
that is Africa. Which means embracing its many contradictions, and
being willing to be part of the ever-evolving understandings of what
“Africa” means in the world.

The term “African” has always being ambiguous:

That's the point of these terms, they're always contested
by various interest groups seeking to use them for their own ends. In
your case, apparently to antagonise South Africans who are trying to
achieve some sort of commonality with their fellow citizens, both
national and continental, so that they can work together to build a
viable life.

Don't get me wrong — I'm also nauseated by people who claim to be
African when we're hosting a World Cup, but mysteriously become South African when asked to account for kids having their hands lopped off in Rwanda. It's bad enough being asked to believe in a country, but a continent? And there's nothing more irritating than some white oke who thinks that the Castle beer ad is “moving”, and who claims to love African music because he owns a Juluka CD.

His conclusion:Zombie Verwoerd stalks the Internet and the country. Hendrik Verwoerd was Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958 until his assassination in 1966.

The spirit of Hendrik Verwoerd still haunts this country and the
internet, a zombie stumbling around feeding off the grim life force
that is intolerance and racism. Every time we get bitten, or as in the
case of this column, take the bait, we create more hate-filled
zombies. Ah well, at least when we have all fed off each other's pain,
we can then, truly, say “We are all zombies”. But we won't be
human.

Sarah Britten, who has unfriended Sentlese on Facebook and blocked him on Twitter, worries about the attention the media gives him. She says, “He’s just a blogger and (let’s face it) blogging is not the same as appearing on the opinion page of the Sunday papers”:

Yes, it’s important to acknowledge a range of views, and
it’s important that they be aired so that they can be challenged. But
let’s be honest here: is Sentletse actually worthy of being quoted in
the serious media, the Mail & Guardians and 702s of this world? He’s
not an academic or a politician, and there’s no clear platform from
which he speaks. What exactly is the source of his authority? I don’t
see it. He’s just a blogger and (let’s face it) blogging is not the
same as appearing on the opinion page of the Sunday papers.

All this media coverage is serving less to promote debate and more to
create a potential monster. Knowing Mo, he is chuckling throatily
right now, enjoying every minute of it.

Sipho Hlongwane responds with a light touch congratulating “President Sentletse Diakanyo” who “battled a fierce and hostile media, courts, intellectuals and outraged white, Indian and Chinese people”:

He even battled against leaders from other countries in
Africa in the famous “Most of You Aren’t Really Africans” debate at
the 2012 African Union summit and reasserted South Africa’s position
as African Country Most Full of Shit.

He concludes:

The convenor of the Friends of Sentletse, Samora Castro
Afrika (who is now rumoured to have a R9 billion telecommunications
tender from the government) said they wouldn’t stop at changing the
Constitution. “If only black people can be Africans, it naturally
follows that only Africans can have any claim to African land. We will
not rest until it is only Africans who are allowed into African malls,
African gyms and African suburban swimming pools. Aluta continua.”

So, congratulations again, President Sentletse. Your wise and
effective leadership has finally laid to rest the ghost of our
un-African past. Long may you continue to define us.

Khaya Dlanga, an award winning blogger, says a white person can be an African:

What does the dictionary define an African as? “Noun:
African – A native or inhabitant of Africa.” Since we have established
the definition of an African perhaps we should also define what a
native is. “Noun: native – 1. A person born in a particular place or
country. 2. An indigenous person who was born in a particular place.”

What do we conclude from this? If a white person is born in a
particular country in Africa, that white person is a native of that
country. Since they happen to have been born in a country in Africa
that means they are African.

He says Sentletse does not define what an African is:

The writer of the blog doesn’t really define what an African is. His
answer is a simplistic “if you are black you are African”. There is no
acknowledgement of the complexities of blackness. He has not
considered the black people of Papua New Guinea for example. These
people did not really originate from Africa, yet they look as black as
Sentletse and me. The question then needs to be asked, are people from Papua New Guinea considered African? Scientists claim that these
people have their origins in South East Asia some 70 000 years
ago.

There is no such thing as pure race:

Scientists today claim that there is in fact only one
race, the human race. Separating ourselves by physical appearance has no scientific basis. In 1943, Ruth Benedict and Gene Wetfish published “Races of Mankind” in which they claim that there is actually no race because most people in the world have in-between-skin colour.
Therefore there is hardly any pure race if one wishes to use race.
Even Africans aren’t pure because of the mixing that has taken place
over time.

Following online reactions to his post, Sentletse Diakanyo wrote
another blog post
entitled “The imagined threat of ‘die swart gevaar’”.

Swart Gevaar (Afrikaans for black threat) was a term used during the days of the Apartheid South African regime to refer to the perceived security threat of the majority black, African population to the white South African government.

He says that he was not surprised to see “the panic-stricken reaction” to his post:

It was actually not surprising to see the panic-stricken
reaction to the article I wrote that “We are not all Africans, black
people are!” People responded not to the salient features and actual
content of the article but to their own irrational fears of what could
be implied and the motivation behind whatever it is they imagined was
implied in the article. This is a problem with living in a paranoid
society that is still haunted by its demons of its racist past.

There was a deliberate intent not to discuss the issues raised in the
article, but rather to embark on mindless attempts at character
assassination in order to distract other readers who had full control
of their mental faculties and the ability to regulate their
emotions

He continues:

These hysterical respondents seem to believe that because racial categorisation was used in the past for nefarious ends, that because the apartheid regime enforced through brute force the
preservation of white privilege and entrenchment of white supremacy
and Afrikaner Nationalist ideology, these very same things would be
repeated by liberated Africans. Africans are not the “barbarians and
savages” they had been portrayed to be in the past through “die swart
gevaar” propaganda or through collective brainwashing of minorities
back then.

He argues that official documents in South Africa are clear in how they define Africans:

After all the noise, the kicking and screaming, the fact
remains what they were and what will continue to be in the near
future. The Broad Based Economic Empowerment Act and the Employment Equity Act is unequivocal in its definition of black people, who are “Africans, coloureds and Indians”. The mid-year population estimates by Statistics South Africa clearly distinguishes the population in terms of how it’s racially defined: Africans, whites, coloureds and Asians (Indians and Chinese). What’s with the hysteria?

Those who see their commitment to Africa as being defined by the
identity — “Africans” — should refocus their energy towards
understanding and embracing all that is African; closing the racial
gap and making a concerted effort to not merely tolerate other races
but be part of them. That today we still have the majority of whites
in South Africa who struggle to pronounce African names, never mind
speak fluently at least one African language, is a shame. It raises
questions about the claimed “Africanness”, commitment to national
unity and general patriotism.

In responding to Sentletse's second post, Marius Redelinghuys says, “We’re not all Africans, we’re Jews!”:

In his subsequent response it becomes clear that it in
fact is not a scientific discussion of human biological origins but is
instead, as I argued, an empty political argument that used “science”
as a crutch: “That today we still have the majority of whites in South
Africa who struggle to pronounce African names, never mind speak
fluently at least one African language, is a shame.”

So it’s really not about human evolution, but rather a political
statement about identity. Fine, I thought as much, so please leave
science out of it.

Beyond this lack of conceptual clarity there is the issue of cognitive
dissonance, selective reasoning and even inconsistencies in his
argument (which makes me wonder who is guilty of an emotional and
irrational outburst).

These inconsistencies are rather sad, considering the man on the one
hand held that white people are of Chinese origin, therefore not black
and especially not African. In his follow-up he switches from arguing
from science to arguing from legislation (which is not, by the way,
scientific or dependent on evidence) and informs us that “[t]he Broad
Based Economic Empowerment Act and the Employment Equity Act is
unequivocal in its definition of black people, who are ‘Africans,
coloureds and Indians’ “.

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