African Renaissance: African Rebirth or African Enslavement?

By Jaco Oelofse

1. Introduction

Policy is regularly referred to as a set of tenets that give explicit direction to an organisation. It can be seen as a set of guiding principles that help with decision making processes and ensure a fixed bearing within the framework of an organisation’s objectives or ideologies (Anderson 2005). The state is considered to be the main policy actor. With regards to South Africa our national and provincial governments are the main institutions who act on policy, including Parliament and the Presidential Cabinet.(Anderson 2003: 2)  Policy actors faced many issues in the first years of the “New South Africa” with regards to transformation and reconciliation while at the same time building our economy and various industries. The African Renaissance is not a policy per se but an idea or ideology that gives way to various policies. (Ramose 2007)

2. African Renaissance Policy in South Africa.

The term African Renaissance was first used by African Historian and Anthropologist – Cheikh Anta Diop in his book “Towards the African Renaissance: Essays in Culture and Development, 1946-1960” (Ujaama 2002).

There are many debates on the meaning and value of the African Renaissance, what it has become or what it still will be, but its pecuniary intentions and agendas are an undeniable fact. As stated in the article: South Africa and the African Renaissance, reference is made to the so called Globalist Interpretations. (Vale & Maseko 1998:278). The latest understanding of the African Renaissance, or rather- the African Renaissance as President Mbeki understood (and desired) it to be, relies heavily on neoliberal economic principles of the Free Market System and privatisation, systems that have been in place since the Apartheid era; sustaining the vicious cycle of poverty and inequality (Terreblanche 2012). This statement is also supported by the fact that South Africa’s extremely wealthy elite are exceedingly welcoming of the idea of an African Renaissance (Vale & Maseko 1998:279). Important to note that the creation of a Black Elite is not conductive to transformation especially when it is exclusionary of large sectors of the previously marginalised; it is merely the “conservation” of capitalism in Africa.

The infamous G.E.A.R. (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) plan further entrenched SA on the road of neoliberal capitalism. Due to the “triumphant” attitude of the USA in the early 1990’s, our ANC government was convinced to abandon their stance on Socialism and mass state intervention resulting in President Mbeki’s desertion of the RDP economic plan (Terreblanche 2012: 65). This was highly unpopular with the Left of South African politicians and many African political activists. It is generally accepted amongst the political left, critical academics and radicals that the African Renaissance is just a pseudonym for American and European imperial ambitions into the Eye of Africa (Terreblanche 2012: 68). After all, those who control South Africa’s vast economy, control Africa thus the position of South Africa with regards to the African Renaissance is a baleful one.

When we look at the ‘African Renaissance’, the actual christening of the concept is critical. The action of naming something makes it present, and adheres to a traditional process of seeking representation of its essence (Derrida 1995: 34). Additionally it’s an inappropriate term because it is obviously christened in the image of the European Renaissance. Africa is still being subjugated to the so called Northbound Gaze resulting in the denial of Africa choosing its own experiences, identity and interpreting its own history and politics. It further perpetuates that Africa will always be defined and described by others, in other words, it creates a Euro Centric view of Africa (Ramose 2007).

3. “Who is an African?”.

Of course when dealing with African politics, philosophy, law, economics and history the temptation to ask “Who is an African” is simply too overwhelming for most to resist. The list of answers can be derived from Pan Africanism, Marxism, African Humanism, Critical Race Theory, Ubuntu and many other strains of thought. It is without a doubt a knotty question, especially in the current political climate due to the lack of addressing the issues of power, identity and racism. Nevertheless, following a Bikoist tradition, the answer is simple; all those who are born in Africa are African. Thus the answer lies in geographical location (Biko 1975: 68). Important to note that the Bikoist answer lies adjacent to what most liberals would answer, however the two are so separate in reality that it merits its own clarification. The liberal answer is grounded on the ideals of multi- culturalism and colour blindness making assumptions that we live in a world that is post- race or post racism and denies the existence of institutionalised racism or white privilege. (Ansley 1997)

To give further clarification it is important to understand that the question; “Who is an African?” grows from racism and racial paranoia. Identity and Identification are the two main concepts that will help with the clarification process.

African identity can be determined by those who are born and live in Africa; however one must look at the concept of identity through a post- colonial lens. Is it race that defines us as African?  Then of course we must address the issue of white supremacy that guarantees the socio- economic, civil and political dominance of white people that vests the majority of power, minds, ideas and thoughts into the support and maintenance of the dominance of white people. Thus the psychological effect it has on “other”[1] Africans is irrefutable, it creates a world where people live on top of each other, at the bottom- the poor or Proletariat, a hungry people who is starved of basic human needs, a people of “niggers and dirty Arabs” (Fanon 1961:30), while the “settler’s quarters” (Fanon 1961: 30), majority of the white community, bourgeoisie society and capitalist elite live in all manner of possession. With Repressive State Apparatuses, the society is split into- classes and races and forced to remain as they are. Can we then still call white people African when they benefit from things that are so obviously un-African e.g. white-supremacy and the legacy of colonialism and apartheid?

Africans are a people determined by their experiences not race, especially around the mass confusion that Africa is black or for black people only (obviously, Pan- Africanists will disagree) (Frick 2006: 235). J.H. Clarke- one of the founders of Pan-Africanism states (Adams, Barbara 2011); one must take into reflection that being black (blackness) determines how people look, but fails to explain who these people are, Africana on the other hand relates people to land, history and culture. Thus the Bikoist answer of geographic location makes sense even to the most radical of minds. The concept of identification states that those who identify themselves as African are African. Identification can be explained as those who commit themselves to Africa, all who live in it and believe in the equal sharing and upliftment of the continent (Shahadah: 2009).

4. Conclusion

It is imperative that South Africa and Africa as a whole start on a long journey of decolonising its mind. The people need to free themselves from Euro-centric idealism and work and strive towards an “African ukusindiswa” the rebirth of Africa and its spirit. Of course this might seem very promising but the practicalities of a new Africa free of its mental and physical enslavement is a whole question on its own.


  • Adams, Barbara E. John Henrik Clarke: Master Teacher. New York: A&B Publishers Group.
  • Anderson, C. 2005. Internet: Access: 19 August 2013.
  • Anderson, J.E, 2003. The Study of Public Policy. Public policymaking: An introduction. Boston: Houghton.
  • Ansley, F.L. 1989. Stirring the Ashes: Race, Class and the Future of Civil Rights Scholarship. Cornell Law Review 74: 993ff.
  • Biko, S. 1978. I write what I like. Northlands, Johannesburg: Picador Africa.
  • Derrida, J. 1995. On the Name. Stanford University Press.
  • Fanon, F. 1961. The Wretched of the Earth. London: Penguin Publishers Ltd.
  • Frick, J. et al. 2006 History: Learner’s Book. New Africa Books.
  • Maseko, S. & Vale, P. 1998. South Africa and the African Renaissance. Royal Institute of International Affairs, 74(2):279.
  • Ramose, M. 2007. In Memoriam. Griffith Law Review, 16(2).
  • Shahadah, ‘A. 2009. Internet: Access: 19 August 2013.
  • Terreblanche, S. 2012. Lost in Transformation. Sandton: KMM Review Publishing Company.
  • Ujaama, I. 2002. Internet:;wap2. Access: 19 August 2013.
NOTE: This essay was selected as one of the best assignments produced by the students of the UP module STL 220.

[1] Fanon referred to “others” as European settlers, according to him the ruling class (race) is those who come from somewhere else, who are different from the original inhabitants of a country (Fanon 1961: 31). I used the term others in a reverse due to many black Africans being treated as “others” in their own country and land.

11 responses to “African Renaissance: African Rebirth or African Enslavement?

  1. well done Jaco! after reading your essay particular how you defined an African, based on your definition i would like to raise profound questions about not only the identity of South Africa as a nation, but also of the South African as an individual – Who is a South African? ‘We are all South Africans’ can be perhaps a very simple answer to this ambivalence question – ‘Who are we?’ This unravels into subsequent queries: ‘Where do we come from?’, ‘What brings us together?’, ‘Why should we remain together?’, ‘What is our authentic history?’, ‘Which is our native land?’, ‘Who is an insider and who is an outsider? and so on.if those questions are answered why is South Africa the only African state with high cases of xenophobic attacks on other it due to a crisis of African identity or simply Afro-phobia?why Africa in South Africa?

  2. a nice article but the fact still remains, all these policies are just being practised on book and do not have substance or implemented properly what South Africa and the whole of Africa needs is good policy makers and i believe most of the problems facing South Africa and Africa as a whole will solved.

  3. I’d like to start of by tipping my hat off from one peer to the next. In thought of the audience and the privilege being bestowed to Jaco so that his work is critiqued, but also his ideas get validated. The exposition is throrough to an extent of which dissent on my part I shall reserve. However, as Michel has already acceded to the fact that the report somewhat exudes ambivalence in the rather definition of wht is an African. As South Africans one needs to note and vehemently assert that symbolism in the context of re-interpreting our history can be likened to us throwing eggs at ourselves. I say this because we may have a democratically elected government, but our history still haunts us even where it is suppkse not to. A rainbow nation to me is not necessarily of importance, but whatever that goes on in my head when the term is mentiioned is disturbing. Apart from excluding one colour, we are still propagating the very notion that South Africans before anything else should also,if not firstly classified according to race. The question that then looms from the Biko exposition of what constitutes an African raises eyebrows and a bald man’s hair. How can we be identified as such collectiviely when a particular group still benefits from unjust enrichment of yester-year and sadly it still persists. Differentiated experiences we have and they are far off from even being parallel to each other. As critical as the report was it was additionally beneficial in that it taps into those places one often seeks to repress in conforming to public opinion. In undefstanding the constraints that come with marking and the actual computing of the marks, double the word count could have been a huge difference for both Jaco and the rest of the class in giving work that isn’t hanging about. Because we cannot deny the fact that policy without implementation is a lion with no tooth.

  4. in all truth I agree with mindfolds that a policy can not exist if not implemented. therefore I pose the question if an “African Renaissance” truly exists? its nice to think of the thought that as a continent we are all united and are holding hands around Africa like a cum-ba-ja circle, but so far its been an empty shell of a promise from most African states- I do not include South Africa in this for SA has given a helping hand to our neighbor states and more recently the CAR. however, even if only a few follow this ‘policy’ it is not true unless the ENTIRE continent of Africa DOES what they promised to do, instead of claiming it and just looking at developments from the sidelines giving the rest a round of applause…

  5. Very insightful essay. Makes one wonder if we as a nation will ever reconcile. After all it is social justice, we cannot forget our history. Maybe our current government and future leaders should focus on implementing policies that do not deliberately exclude certain ethnicity, but at the same time they should not disregard the past. Because they would be turning a blind eye on society.

  6. I have to say that I enjoyed reading this, and it helped me to do better in my assignment next time. The way our beautiful African continent is divided economically, socially racially and geographically, deprive us from connecting with one another and be proud of being Africans. Thus makes me wonder that; do we even have an African Pride? African leaders Act and Adopt the African Renaissance ideology, instead of being so concerned about the power and economic gains; Africa can be a safe brotherhood continent.

    • CORRECTION TO MY PREVIOUS COMMENT: I have to say that I enjoyed reading this, and it helped me to do better in my assignment next time. The way our beautiful African continent is divided economically, socially racially and geographically, deprive us from connecting with one another and be proud of being Africans. Thus makes me wonder that; do we even have an African Pride? If African leaders can Act and Adopt the African Renaissance ideology, instead of being so concerned about the power and economic gains; Africa can be a safe brotherhood continent.

  7. What an insightful and thought provoking essay. Kudos to the writer. This right here hit home for me: ‘Identification can be explained as those who commit themselves to Africa, all who live in it and BELIEVE IN THE EQUAL SHARING AND UPLIFTMENT OF THE CONTINENT’. A-freaking-MEN!!!

    How oh how, can South Africa’s most privileged possibly not forsee a revolt over the current economic situation is beyond me. The advantaged(both black and white) have to realise that democracy does not simply mean the right to put an ‘X’ on a piece of paper every 5 years. Democracy entails delivering on the most basic human rights that our marginalised citizens deserve.

    And until we can all:
    1) Drop our selfish intentions- Govt officials and private sector both stop looking to line their pockets first
    2)truly UNIFY- this ‘rainbow nation’ stuff irks me because it is all so FAKE. A façade for who??? Urrghh!!!
    3) Censure the bigots on iol and news24. 😀 I joke. But honestly some of those comments are so ignorant and make me doubt how much our fellow white citizens are willing to work towards building this country.

    Other than (3)- the sooner we get together and work towards ridding ourselves of the highly capitalistic society we are headed for a train smash.

    And our neighbour Bob can be criticised to their wits end all day long, but the international media are selective and forget about the Lancaster House Agreements; the 10 years he spent engaging white farmers before he did the unthinkable. And while we all wreck our brains trying to define what an ‘African’ is- he’s at least achieved that much and even cemented his unrelenting stance at the UN general assembly when he said “Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans, so are its resources.”

  8. Great use of various sources- and very obvious display of understanding. Kudos. This has helped me a great deal since i last read it- Sweet and Simple, yet in great detail.

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