On the 2nd of April 2018, Winnie Mandela, wife of Nelson Mandela died at the age of 81.
While many people in the Western world only know Winnie as the wife of Nelson Mandela, if they know her at all, CNN referred to her as “one of the greatest icons of the struggle against apartheid.” Although Winnie had her critics, she was a female campaigner who made incredible contributions to South Africa, and she should be remembered as such.
From her early life right through to her final days, Winnie was politically active and worked to end apartheid in South Africa. She was involved in the African National Congress and was even still a member of South Africa’s parliament at the time of her death. Her achievements were so great that South Africans dubbed her the “mother of the nation”.
Yet, despite these incredible achievements, outside of South Africa, many people were unaware of Winnie as anything other than the wife of the famous Nelson Mandela. Sadly, this isn’t surprising or unprecedented. The international community has a terrible track record when it comes to recognising the achievements and contributions of African women throughout history and the present day.
Indeed, if you were ask someone to name a feminist or female activist, they’d likely come up with a long list of white, European or American women who have done incredible things in the fight for equality. They might be able to name black and African women in the disapora, particularly those involved in the fight for Civil Rights in twentieth-century America, but ask them to name African women fighting for change in the African continent, and they’d likely come up short.
“Far too many people who gave their lives in the fight for freedom are forgotten by the Western world, and it’s time for that to change.”
African women like Winnie spend their whole lives having their stories ignored, and all too often their stories continue to remain untold after their death. The Western education system rarely, if ever, discusses Africa beyond vague references to the British Empire and tragic tales of poverty, and as such the stories of African people, particularly African women, go untold. While there have been recent efforts to diversify the curriculum to include a critique on the important struggles of race, discrimination and equality in the diaspora, often these improvements shy away from the dark colonial past and the struggles for freedom and independence that many African women have contributed to.
There are countless other African women beyond women who historically, both in the colonial and post-colonial eras, have demonstrated bravery and leadership as women, defending the rights and freedom of their people. Women like Yaa Asantewaa, who was one of the first female Commander in Chiefs and led an army of men in the Ashanti rebellion against British colonials in the country now known as Ghana. Like Queen Nzingha of Angola, who fought for the freedom of her people from Portuguese colonial rule. Like President Johnson of Liberia, Africa’s first female president and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Wangari Maathai from Kenya, who received a Nobel Peace Prize for her work as an environmental activist.
These stories of African women prove the African women are strong, powerful, and brave. And the rest of the world needs to recognize that. Far too many people who gave their lives in the fight for freedom are forgotten by the Western world, and it’s time for that to change.
Last week, London Fashion Week celebrated some of the hottest designers and style icons from around the world. At the same time, social media was buzzing with appreciation and excitement for the new box office sensation, Black Panther.
Black Panther has been celebrated for its diversity — for bringing black voices and stories to the forefront of Hollywood. But the film’s done more that shake up Hollywood and highlight the intense demand for more films about, by, and starring black people: it’s also showcased and celebrated the rich culture of fashion that originates from across the African continent.
Fashion is one way individuals can illustrate and highlight their identity, and it helps individuals make powerful statements – whether personal, political, cultural, or economic. Fashion can speak volumes about who we are, how we feel, and what we represent — and this has been evident in the response from black communities to Black Panther. Across social media, fans having been sharing and showcasing stunning African fashion, both from the film and their own lives, and many fans have turned up to screenings or viewings proudly wearing African-inspired outfits. Black Panther has allowed black people to not only promote their power, strength, and talent, but also their culture and visual identity — and that’s wonderful.
“Thanks to Black Panther, there are now young people who can see heroes on-screen that not only look like them, but also wear the costumes and outfits that they’ve grown up with, or that represent their families, communities, and histories.”
Of course, fashion is about more than individual identity. For generations, fashion has acted as a form of not only cultural expression, by also resistance. Indeed, Diana Vreeland once said that you can the approaching revolution in clothes — alluding to the fact that from the early independence movements right through to the American Civil Rights movement, African nations and peoples have used their dress to oppose colonial domination and reclaim their identity.
That the global media has embraced African fashion recently, particularly in the wake of Black Panther, no doubt signifies a long-overdue appreciation of the beauty of African fashion — but more importantly it shows the power that representation in the media has in empowering communities globally. Thanks to Black Panther, there are now young people who can see heroes on-screen that not only look like them, but also wear the costumes and outfits that they’ve grown up with, or that represent their families, communities, and histories. This gives young people a sense of cultural pride that many have never had the opportunity to experience or celebrate.
By showcasing the beauty of African fashion — in Black Panther and beyond — we are creating a world in which people can confidently and boldly wear outfits from and inspired by their cultures. And that, surely, is a beautiful thing.
Tina Antwi contributions on @nopebook
Nominated for the 2018 National Diversity Award in the Race, Faith and Religion Category.
Women empowerment movements have gone on for years. One would think that we are getting somewhere with all the rights that we keep demanding, especially when it comes to black female ethnic groups, who are now in the generation of “Black girl magic, melanin popin, melanin on fleek” and many other terms that have been used to celebrate black women particularly via social media hashtags. For many, this seems to be the time for every black girl to be alive, right? By the sounds of it we are queening!
However in reality we are not quite there yet, despite all the campaigns and advocacy galore so much still needs to be done to bridge gaps that still exist. I am super passionate about the movements that are out there encouraging and pushing for change and as a campaigner and writer myself I am one of those people who strongly and passionately believe that we still have a long way to go. Some people often appear alienated from the struggles that exist within community groups that they do not belong to. For instance there are many who may find it hard to understand the importance of natural hair movements amongst black female ethnic groups because they frankly may have never encountered prejudice based on their physical appearance.
My principle and commitment to any cause or issue has always been based on my core values, beliefs and faith whether a campaign is aimed at supporting black women who have historically always been at the bottom of the social hierarchy and have for generations had their identity and images dictated, or whether a campaign is based on equal pay for all women – one should be compelled to stand up for change irrespective of who they benefit.
Many people have the ‘it’s not my business mentality’, meaning that because an issue does not directly affect them they have no business whatsoever getting involved. The truth is that every community and individual has their own struggles and injustice that they battle with that you may know nothing about. As part of my role as a youth development worker I coordinate projects for local communities especially young people and I remember being asked to manage a project in an area outside of London, which I will not mention for obvious reasons. The area is known for being incredibly affluent and at first I just could not understand why this project had to be carried out there. However, it soon became apparent after a level of engagement I understood the gaps that existed and made it my mission to bridge those gaps.
Similarly, while at Amnesty International headquarters in London for the launch of Women For Peace, where we discussed gender sensitive peace process in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Kosovo, I remember walking away thinking that day how connected I felt to these issues. Without engaging in the issue I probably would have never been able to connect with it the way I did. It did not directly affect me, but my willingness to engage and contribute meant that I had the opportunity to help support a very significant cause.
Dr Linda Chavers, who is 20th Century African American Scholar, recently wrote an article about how “Black girls are not magic but are human”. I found this idea super interesting because at first I did not know what to make of it, but after careful thought I realised it all comes back to one question: what does the term ‘Black girl magic’ mean to me? Based on her claims she felt that people were using the phrase to create an invisible strong female character who was “too strong”, enduring too much and therefore becoming a victim of their own strength whereas, to me all it meant was solidarity and the celebration of the black excellence that goes unnoticed every day. And yet again this is based on my core values, beliefs and my faith and not just some idealised fetishist notion of blackness.
While people are looking to travel to the other side of the globe to help create change I start right outside my door because whether it is a global issue or not there is always someone you can support.
Everyone has a role to play when it comes to social issues. As I mentioned earlier, communities battle daily for better treatment as well as for justice and equality. When we cross beyond our narrow individualistic concerns we are most likely to see this. If we are truly compelled from the inside to make a difference we need to start paying attention to wider issues and be willing to engage and see these issues beyond their fetishised and idealised representations. I love the hashtags and I have no plans of ditching it yet, but beyond that let’s remember it’s about solidarity, community and most importantly change!!
Migration is an issue that has forever been so close to my heart, and hearing of the atrocities going on in Libya made me feel so heavy and disgusted. But what a lot of people don’t realise is that the horrific issue of slave auctions in Libya is part of the ongoing development crisis in Africa. The inhumane, brutal and sickening treatment of these individuals is not just a backward leap into a dark historic path but also serves as a reminder of the role of Africans and traditional rulers involvement in the slave trade of over 400 years ago. The act of one African stripping another African of all human dignity and enslaving them is rather unimaginable, but it is happening.
For so long people have asked about the under-development of African nations despite endowment of immense natural and human resources. But in reality, we don’t have to look too far to get answers. Corruption, civil unrest, lack of political vision has often been the characteristics of many states in Africa. These are the very issues causing migrants to flee countries looking and searching for better lives risking very dangerous conditions and finding themselves in the evil of modern day slavery.
We need to call on African governments, the time of egocentric, self-interested and greedy leadership has to end! It was barely a few weeks ago we all saw the situation in Zimbabwe when Robert Mugabe finally stepped down there was so much joy and excitement, but at the same time, some of us still remained wary of the future. Whether the change in leadership genuinely signaled a change of new era is something we can’t be sure of. Mugabe was in power for 37 years!! Why on earth would a progressive leader who really had their country at heart want to hog on to power for that long?
The conditions of many countries in Africa has meant many people fleeing for their lives while at the same time turning some into barbaric animals who have no heart but enslave others. The Fragile Libyan state which lacks rule of Law has no doubt contributed to current events in Libya.
“Africa is not a country, it’s a continent!”
This is a comment that has been echoed over and over again across the world, however, we continue to refer to Africa as one whole country. Despite this sounding like a primary school Geography lesson, this is one class that millions across the world missed — and it’s contributing to very negative ideas and images that are continually circulated about the continent as whole.
Over the years, perceptions and views of the African continent have varied, but one thing that has remained near-constant is the negative image of Africa that has largely been informed by colonial ideas. Decades after the last of the European empires collapsed, world leaders still view the continent as underdeveloped and inhospitable, with Donald Trump recently referring to many African countries as ‘sh*t hole[s]’.
“Many aspects Africa is just as – if not more – developed as the West.”
Comments like these not only reflect the deeply racist views that many white people, and even non-black people of colour, still hold, but they also ignore the wealth of beauty, culture, and success that can be found within the African continent. Many (white, Western) people believe that in order for Africa to develop it has to become like the West, but this could not be farther from the truth. While parts of Africa are undoubtedly crippled by poverty and suffering because of political turmoil (both of which can arguably be traced back the the exploitation of European empires), in many aspects Africa is just as — if not more — developed as the West.
Take sustainable energy, for example. The renewable energy sector in Kenya grew from virtually zero in 2009, to over $1 billion in 2010, and they are Africa’s first geothermal power producer and a world leader in solar energy. And, given the increased economic growth in West African countries like Nigeria, it is likely that there are further advancements in energy and beyond that are not always widely publicised.
When it comes to travel and tourism, many people flock to places like Johannesburg in South Africa and Casablanca in Morocco, but there are other cities like Dakar in Senegal, which is known for its natural attractions, and the safari parks in Kenya which attract thousands of Western tourists. If Africa is a complete “sh*t hole”, why do so many Westerners spend thousands of pounds on expensive holidays in these beautiful countries?
“Botswana is one of the most stable democratic countries, and is also considered one of the safest places in Africa with its excellent human rights record.”
Of course, the main argument Westerners make against African countries is that they’re all politically and socially unstable and corrupt. But whilst there are undoubtedly a number of turbulent countries in Africa, there are also a number of politically stable countries too — just as in the rest of the world. Botswana, for example, is one of the most stable democratic countries, and is also considered one of the safest places in Africa with its excellent human rights record. Libya’s female president, Ellen Johnson, is a nobel prize winner; and the Malian city of Timbuktu is home to one of the oldest universities in the world.
And it’s not just Africa’s political systems that are advancing. Many African countries have a growing middle class that the Oxfam adverts won’t tell you about; especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where one in three people are middle class. In fact, when it comes to growing economies, six out of ten of the world’s fastest growing economies are from Africa, dispelling the myth that all African countries and peoples are stuck in never-ending poverty.
“The West needs to get better at educating itself about the continent.”
Culturally, Africa is just as rich as Europe and Asia. In Kenya, people are four times more likely to own a mobile phone than a toilet, highlighting the significant technological advancements within the country; and Nigeria’s Nollywood makes more movies than America’s Hollywood.
In short, there is a whole world of interesting culture, politics, economics, and art within Africa, and the West needs to get better at educating itself about the continent: about its history and its present, about its traditions and its progress. The education system in Britain needs to be more open and honest about England and the UK’s damaging role in African history, and leaders like Trump need to remember that Africa is not a country, it’s a continent. A continent that’s just as diverse and full of beauty as Europe or North America.
media contribution @thenopebbook