Between September 2015 and January 2016, African-Brazilian activist Rafaela Araujo visited Azania/South Africa on a share/ study program. She was hosted by eBukhosini Solutions – a community-based company specialized in Afrikan centered education and youth/community empowerment. She spent most of her time studying English, getting to know the situation of Afrikan people in South Afrika and assisting in eBukhosini’s activities. She also undertook some speaking engagements in neighboring Namibia.
I would like to have written many things when I was in Azania, but unfortunately things do not always go as planned. There I did not have enough time to be alone and write, and since I had difficulties in connecting to the internet, it became a little more difficult. I believe it might be important to talk about this, because at this point there are still very few black Brazilians who have had the opportunity to make this kind of cultural exchange. I stayed in South Africa (name established by the colonizer) for foru months, in Johannesburg City (between the 7 September 2015 and 1 January 2016). The achievement of this incredible journey was through long years of working (I had to work 10 years to gather the funds), plus I made it through the help of Kilombagem Collective Group in Brazil, which I am part of. Going to the African continent was more than a way of sharing information: it meant the return of a daughter to her native land, I represented everyone in the Kilombage Collective. I represented all African-descendants outside the Africa continent. I represented the strength of all African families who everyday are struggling in the diaspora to ensure the minimum of survival for their own, like my mother, a black woman, warrior, a cleaner, who dreamt of becoming a psychologist, but because of the ruthless system provided by slavery and capitalism for us, African descendants, she was forced to switch classroom for coffee plantation at only 7 years of age.
Upon my arrival in Johannesburg an organization called Ebukhosini Solutions received me with great care and joy. And since I had the opportunity to stay in this institution, today I understand that it is more than just a social entrepreneurial organization: It is a Pan-Africanist family, applying Kemetism and vegan. The responsible leader and Executive Director of the organization is a Pan-Africanist called Baba Buntu, born on an island in Central America, but who has been living in South Africa for over 10 years. This organization offers consultations and services related to community development, youth empowerment, leadership training, social change, cultural events, production and African-centered education. Some of the activities they conduct are: seminars, lectures, Kemetic Yoga (an Egyptian form of breathing, movement and meditation) and Kwanzaa. I learned a lot in this organization, from revolutionary discipline that many collectives struggle to deploy and a new look at the issue of power, because as the family is vegan, they do not see power as something apart from the revolution, they are one. I confess that before the trip the most I could do was fry an egg. Today I can cook several tasty vegetables and today I remember how you used to tell me, Mama T (wife of Baba Buntu): "You need to learn how to cook, not for someone but for yourself."
When I arrived in South Africa, I went through the normal adapting process, even facing the risk of being misunderstood like. My contact with South African culture was from the perspective of an African descendent from the diaspora, born in Brazil, in the South American mainland, colonized by the Portuguese, a descendant of slaves, from a humble working class family. All these aspects are not irrelevant. They influenced the way I came across South African culture. As much as black people share many similarities in any part of this planet, colonization has left its mark everywhere it colonized. One cannot deny the English influence on some foods, dressing code, language spoken, housing architecture, schools and buildings (they remind me a lot about American movies, with those stairs outside of the buildings). But this does not mean that traditional aspects of South African culture have been lost or no longer exist. The contrast between English, European, Indian and South African cultures is very present and easy to differentiate. Another thing one cannot deny is that Africa is no longer the same as 500 years ago; is not the same as when our ancestors were kidnapped; it is not the same after the invasion and European colonization, not to mention the globalization process that has spared no country titled as democratic.
Eleven official languages are spoken in South Africa (Zulu, Ndebele, Southern Sesotho, Northern Sesotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Sale, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English). In the streets of Johannesburg and Pretoria most of the black South African populations speak Zulu, while white South Africans speak Afrikaans. South Africans speak more than three languages on average; it is something very common for them. English is recognized as the language of commerce and science, but it is not necessarily the most spoken language.
I remember the first time I took a bus in Johannesburg. I greeted a black driver by saying “Good morning” in English, and he did not answer. Only then did I understand how traditional languages are important in Africa, and that English is the language of the colonizer. If Crummell was of our time he would never ever defend the adoption of English language as a deployed language in the construction of a black African state. But for us descendants of enslaved Africans and colonized, the language that we speak which is the language of the colonizer is just a language. I wondered at what time and in what way did the traditional language spoken by African slaves was lost, because if it had remained, maybe we would have known from which kingdoms our ancestors originated.
In my perception language may become one of the determining factors in the separation and prevention of unity of the people. I felt isolated many times from interesting discussions because of not knowing English or Zulu. It seems to me that Brazil is also isolated from the world, as if it was a small island far away. It is as if only countries which speak Portuguese know a little bit of the country called Brazil. Geographically, Brazil is closer to South Africa than United States, but in practice it is much further from South Africa than US, and not only because United States is the dominant empire in the world, but also because the language is a determining factor of unity. Many South Africans know about the police violence against the black population in the United States, they have heard of the Movement "#BlackLivesMatter" but do not know of the police violence against the black population in Brazil and have never heard of the campaign “React Or You’re Dead!”
In Johannesburg in the Braamfontein district, I studied at an English school called ABC International and there I had the great opportunity of meeting young students from other countries such as Angola, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Libya, Burkina Faso, Somalia, Gabon, Burundi and Turkey. The vast majority of these students were very young, of middle-class origins, who were studying English there and then later on would enroll at a college in South Africa. Excluding students from Turkey who were the minority, most of the students were black. When talking to many African students, they said that universities in their countries were not good and were not recognized throughout the African continent as the universities of South Africa. An important fact is that in universities in South Africa students pay for their education, both public or private. On 21 October 2015, students protested against the rising cost of college enrollment, and since the police are the same in any part of this planet, the students were controlled with rubber bullets and tear gas. I would have followed this event and others too, because South Africans are very active in the fight for better conditions. Almost every week there was a protest, but I used to be at school having classes every time there was an event.
There were several moments at school I will never forget. One of them was when I asked a lady from Libya what she thought of the former leader Gaddafi (since she spoke Arabic , our communication was in English, I was actually trying to communicate in English, but it was not easy). She started crying, and said Gaddafi was crazy, but before his overthrow Libya had schools, good education, there was no robbery or kidnapping and people used to leave the doors of their house open and no one could steal, but today all is destroyed; it is not worth living there anymore. I almost cried with her, and remembered the hope that many placed with the entrance of the first black US president; Barack Obama even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, and it was the same president who authorized the intervention in Libya. Regardless of the contradiction that was Gaddafi, Libya had the highest HDI - Human Development Index – of the entire African continent.
The black-white devide
Most teachers at the school were white, so my only contact with whites was through school. The relationship between teachers and students was very good, healthy, respectful and quiet. An example that illustrates well this relationship was when I said goodbye to a caring teacher of European origin and she gave me her WhatsApp account and asked for my contact, and said that if I needed any help or had any doubt with English I could to contact her over there. But since things are not always what they seem to be, the relationship between white South Africans with black South Africans was very different and this was reflected in the classroom. The conflict and division of apartheid was very visible and still very present today. The same helpful teacher who said she was willing to help me is the same that several times made problematic statements which many understood as racist regarding black South Africans. If it had happened in Brazil, she would have been sued and given a letter of reprimand. But between white teachers what surprised me the most was the relationship they had with their European identity. Except for an English teacher I met, all the other white teachers I came in contact with were born in South Africa and only their grandparents or great-grandparents were not born in Africa, but they appreciated their European identity as if they are only visitors in Africa; as if they were real tourists that after a certain period of time they would return to their countries of origin.
Another thing which was also very obvious in the classroom was the explicit disapproval that white teachers had regarding the current President Jacob Zuma. Zuma is of Zulu origin and is part of the same party of Nelson Mandela, African National Congress. At school I had a white teacher, born in South Africa but of European origin, very friendly, had no reactionary ideas, was against the state, against the current system and an atheist who complained about the current Zuma president's policy that favored only the black population. He said that if you were black you would have a job guaranteed; that if you were white it would not be easy to get a job. It was a unanimous view amongst the white teachers that President Zuma was stupid and without the competency to run the country. But former president Nelson Mandela was well regarded; I did not witness any negative comments or criticism from white teachers at any moment about Mandela.
I confess that in the beginning I was very surprised about the visible separation between whites and blacks in South Africa; there are still white, black and Indian neighbourhoods. Not that this kind of separation is not present in Brazil, but you can only observe this separation in elitist areas. To Brazilians who do not have class consciousness, race and gender, or foreigners or tourists visiting Brazil, really believe that Brazil is a racial paradise; the myth of racial democracy is very present. In South Africa, apartheid officially ended in 1994, but the absence of apartheid is still something very new. My generation in Brazil experienced this inhuman system. It's like a stain that hovers in the country, which affects everyone, leaving no one immune. In my perception, it is something that has not been overcome and solved in South Africa. To illustrate how this topic is very complex, a young student from Gabon called Axel once said in class to a teacher that, to him, apartheid had not ended; it had only changed. She answered that it’s not really like that, because today people are together in the supermarkets.
Racism is present in South Africa and is very strong. Comparing racism in Brazil to that in South Africa, I think that is something you cannot measure - what's the worst or what is the least worst, because racism is racism and it is bad anywhere. But I assess that the existing racism in South Africa is as complex as the racism existing in Brazil. It’s crystal clear that the way racism is articulated and acts in both countries is quite different. In South Africa there is a huge amount of black representation acting in several areas, on television, in politics; there is a considerable black middle class and, even at the risk of being wrong, I understand that there is a consolidated black bourgeoisie or one in the process of consolidation. On the streets, there are several BMWs driven by blacks. In Shopping Center JK Iguatemi and public parks, there are several blacks and some do not work, but go for shopping and for strolling. There are noble and elitist neighbourhoods of blacks. But racism is obvious, there is huge social and racial inequality; there are many poor black and white people, but it's obvious that poverty is more present in the black population. But that does not mean there are no poor whites. There are many homeless people, a high crime rate, many blacks outside universities and many unemployed people. In Brazil the empowerment debate and representation of the black people are very present, and I understand that these two matters are important, but I understand that it is a mistake to only focus on these two matters to overcome racism, because they have proven insufficient to end racism.
Xenophobia: Where is the pan-African spirit?
South Africa is considered as a developing country; it has the second highest GDP in Africa, higher than Nigeria and is part of the BRICS bloc. There are houses, streets, shops, schools, shopping centres, museums, hospitals, churches (the Universal Church is also present in South Africa) and upper upscale nightclubs, as there are pockets of poverty, high crime rate and social inequality. There is a huge number of Africans from other parts of the continent. There are many foreigners who come to study, or in search of better conditions of life and work. Since the unemployment rate is not low, the search for employment between Africans and foreigners ended up in a dispute that turned into xenophobia. The most recent event of xenophobia took place on March 2015, leaving seven people dead and 307 arrested. The division between black South Africans and black foreigners is obvious in South Africa. At school, every time I asked foreign students what they thought of South Africans the answers were always the same. In the students’ point of view, South Africans are not good people and are very racist because of the violence against black foreigners. I asked whether the violence against black foreigners was not a matter of xenophobia and not racism. Many of them agreed with my reflection, but there was a young Angolan who questioned, arguing - if it was just xenophobia, how do you explain the violence against black foreigners only and not white foreigners? Coming to think deeply about this matter, I’ve realized that being black alone does not imply that we are united as one people in any place, because slavery and colonization divided us and the class struggle still divides us.
Since countries like Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau speak Portuguese, many South Africans thought I was from one of the countries and the way they were treating me was different depending on the country some thought I was from. But when I said I was Brazilian, obviously the treatment changed. Several Africans said they had never seen a Brazilian, in fact there are not many Brazilians compared to Angolans or Mozambican, but when they said they had never seen a Brazilian, they were referring to black Brazilians, because more than one person commented that they thought there were no blacks in Brazil. These comments make us think and wonder about the type of image the Brazilian elite sends abroad of their people. Brazil has the second largest number of black Africans in its population after Nigeria in the world. Another matter that we should take into consideration is, who are the vast majority of Brazilians that go abroad?
The racial issue is also complex in South Africa. In Brazil, those of lighter African descent, that is closer to white, can go in places where those of darker African descent cannot, especially if one studied in Clovis Moura School. In South Africa the “colored” had more privileges during the apartheid than blacks, so there remains separation between the coloreds and black South Africans. Not all Africans have racial consciousness; not everyone is Pan-Africanist or knows a little about this ideology, so leaving aside the romanticism, not all Africans regard those of African descent from the diaspora as originally one people, but see others of African descent as Americans, Latinos, Brazilians or even as "colored”.
I was fortunate to come in contact with Africans of other nationalities within the Ebukhosini Solutions organization. I became very close to two talented Ghanaian brothers called Ofoe and Tetteh, who were musicians. Their intelligence, kindness and sensitivity was incredible. We talked about several complex issues such as sexism, feminism, rape, capitalism, religion, sexuality... The bond I had with the two was so special that perhaps my ancestors might have been from the region which is now called Ghana, in spite of what some people have said about my personal traits that they are similar to the Africans of Ethiopia. Plus I was befriended by a beautiful Rwandan warrior called Ukwezi (Ukwezi, which means moon in Kinyarwanda) and by her younger sister named Pamela. I was very fond of them. Ukwezi has a beautiful little daughter called Izaro. Whenever possible I used to have English lessons with Ukwezi, actually it was much more than English lessons, they were lessons for life. She was very smart, and we could talk about racism, feminism, Rastafarian movement, revolutionary leaders, revolution and capitalism. Unlike some groups, organizations and black collectives in Brazil that deny or refuse to talk about the damage of capitalism to black people, in every conversation about capitalism that I had with the Africans (South African, Ghanaian and Rwandan) this matter was very obvious. They understood and clearly visualized the problem that the capitalist system has caused in Africa.
Azania's rich cultural diversity
South African young people use very similar clothing with the American style, but traditional African clothing is present in the streets, in shops and events that I had the opportunity to participate in. I found it very cool, the South African girls style. They wear those stylish hats that in Brazil I’ve only seen in American movies. The hairstyle varies greatly: hair with braids, shaved, smoothed hair, natural hair, and applied hair (called Brazilian hair which is the name given by South African women; it is being used a lot in Africa). There are many beauty salons in Johannesburg (I've seen enough) and the interesting thing is that the printed model picture in most salons is of Rihanna. Unlike Brazil, the diva in South Africa is Rihanna, and not Beyoncé. From all the girls I asked, they preferred Rihanna over Beyoncé. I believe that some of the reasons for Rihanna preference are: first, because they can also speak English, they can understand the message that Beyoncé and Rihanna provide; second, Rihanna represents an overcoming idea and possibility, because she was born in a small, unknown island called Barbados and today is performing worldwide successfully.
South Africa has a vast and rich culture, instead of the traditional cultures; there are many foreigners from other African countries. In Johannesburg there is an important and interesting Pan-Africanist neighborhood called Yeoville. In this neighbourhood there are many people of African descent from the diaspora and Africans from other African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Angola, Mozambique.... From what I understood it is regarded as suburb as well. The neighbourhood has a library with several affordable books by Pan-Africanist authors. It is in this neighborhood that I used to do Kemetic Yoga, which is offered free of charge every Saturday by the organization Ebukhosini Solutions. At each meeting anyone could volunteer to share their knowledge; I had the joy of taking lessons with Mama T, Siyabonga, Pitsira, Ursula and Ted Niacky (with him I performed an interesting Kemetic boxing lesson). In this u there are many Rastas as well, with reggae colors and Pan-Africanist concerns; there are images of Bob Marley and Fela Kuti.
In the first week I arrived in South Africa I went to a wonderful jazz concert in Johannesburg. Jazz and soul are very present in the country. I remember once I took the bus and Billy Paul’s song Me and Mrs. Jones was playing. It is obvious that hip-hop and African traditional musical styles are also present in the country. But the style of music that young people listen a lot is house music; actually I did not meet anyone who did not like house music. I remember on my birthday I went to a party called "Thank you". In this party they were supposedly going to play Brazilian and Latin music. DJs played some RMB and sambas, but everything in the electronic style. I do not know how, but I danced to samba in a way I could not endure anymore even on the electronic beat. At the turn of the year show in Johannesburg the most played musical style was electronic. The house music is a real fever for young people. Whilst within the organization, the music styles they used to listen more were reggae, jazz and soul. But the song I enjoyed listening to and that I cannot forget was Wambali - Ndimba Ku Ndimba.
In South Africa the most common transport used by black people are called taxis. These vehicles are private and not very expensive and you will sit down (different from the public transport in São Paul, where you pay more and will struggle and may be fortunate to get a little place to sit down). The vehicles are usually not in good conditions and unfortunately many accidents occur. There are also buses and trains, but what really got my attention was the bullet train called Gautrain which connects Sandton to the airport, and also connects Johannesburg to Pretoria. It was the first time I took a bullet train. It is very modern, beautiful and fast - the problem is that it is not an affordable transportation for the local population. There are many tourists and whites, and you will find blacks as well, but the middle class.
Going to Namibia
I had the opportunity to visit Namibia through an organization called Namibian Brazil Friendship Association (NBFA). This organization invited me to make several presentations regarding the situation of the black population in Brazil (police violence, racism and murder of black people) in various universities and organizations. I stayed for four days in the capital city Windhoek (from the 19 to the 23 October 2015), in a guesthouse where the vast majority of guests were Angolans. Angola borders Namibia, so there are many Angolans studying and living in Namibia. At the presentations I made in universities, the students were very few and knew practically nothing about Brazil. The presentation that had the largest number of young people was done at an organization outside the university called Young Achievers Empowerment Project. The meeting was held in the organization's headquarters. It was the most interactive presentation, and the youth asked many questions. Among several questions, one that really got my attention was the question of a beautiful young Namibian. She asked if I considered myself black. I said yes and I asked why wouldn’t I consider myself black? She said the reason for the question was because my hair was different and thanked me for having considered myself as black.
Namibia has a beautiful story of struggle and resistance; the country acquired its independence from South Africa through much struggle. The official language is English, but many Namibians speak Otjiwambo as their first language; other languages are Nama/Damara, Kavango, Herero, Afrikaans and German (the last two are spoken by whites). I saw many shops and schools with information written in German; there are many Germans or people of German origin in Namibia. The architecture of the buildings reminds the Namibian people of the South Africans. The streets in Windhoek are extremely clean; they reminded me of the city of Pretoria in South Africa. The common way to get around in the capital of Namibia is by taxi; different from Brazil, the taxi is cheap. It is a way of private transport, but it is used as public transport because the taxi drivers do not assist one passenger only; on a trip they usually assist four passengers at a time. There are buses, but are still very few. The government is still in the public transport deployment process that will meet the demand of the population.
The experience and the things I learnt in South Africa and Namibia were amazing; they are memories I’ll carry on my entire life. One of the things I had the opportunity to experience and participate in was Kwanzaa (it is a celebration held between the 26 December to the 1 January by thousands of Africans and people of African descent around the world). Since 2002, Ebukhosini Solutions along with other organizations fulfill the celebration of Kwanzaa. Among several activities there is music, poetry and good food. I had heard of this celebration, but I confess I knew very little. I did not understand its real purpose and had never participated. Today I understand the importance of this celebration, and among the principles of Kwanzaa (Umoja: union; Kujichagulia: self-determination; Ujima: collective work and responsibility, Ujamaa: cooperative economics, Nia: purpose; Kuumba: creativity, Imani: faith) marriage is what caught my attention the most. At the celebration there were many Africans of other nationalities and different religions. The celebration of Kwanzaa in Brazil and other parts of this planet may be the way or one of the possibilities for building the unity of those the African people in and outside the continent.
The wonderful opportunity staying with a pan-Africanist family was the most significant experiences that I had in Azania. The warm welcome of the whole eBukhosini family was something words cannot describe. The way everyone welcomed me was the true gesture of a family that welcomes the return of the younger daughter, a daughter that took a vacation in some country a little bit far, but that was never forgotten. The compliment and the lifestyle in the house also helped in strengthening the feeling of a daughter, by having Baba Buntu and Mama T as parents, and by having brothers and sisters (hope I have not left out anyone) Ofoe, Siyabonga Moringe, Tetteh, PitsiRa, Thabiso, Patrick, Siyabonga Lembede, Phumulani, Mabule, Thabo, Ukwezi, Disebo, Mbaliyethu Pamela, and Nonhlanhla.
The activities which I had opportunities to participate in such as seminars, lectures, African lunch, yoga, Kwanzaa, debates and meeting with other youth leaders were fundamental in reinforcing the spirit and acts of unity, solidarity, discipline, revolutionary practices, an organic and active pan-Africanism like something possible and viable. Today I realize that all those activities were more than just a learning experience: they became a real spiritual and mental transformation. It is something that is and will always be present in each direction, step, and position in my life from now on. I am grateful to the eBukhosini family and everyone that directly and indirectly was part of this amazing opportunity, experience and learning.
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