On the day that America commemorates the birth of Martin Luther King Jr, the world still reels from the alleged comments of its current President referring to Africa as a shithole. By contrast, reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, one can relate much of it to the plight of parts of Africa today and gain hope for its future, without denying it’s challenges.
Dr King’s genius lay in his ability to see beyond the challenges of 1963 and dream of a world where ‘little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.’
This blog’s focus is Southern Africa and having visited the region recently can attest to its hope and resilience but also report on tough challenges presently facing its people. Like the plight of black America in 1963, many southern African economies ‘are not free’, with mining companies and other critical industries largely foreign owned. Cape Town in South Africa is ‘sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination’ with affluence and prosperity in white neighbourhoods and poverty and crime in overpopulated neighbourhoods where non-white people live. In Zambia, native rural villagers have had their land dispossessed by often foreign commercial farmers, finding themselves homeless and ‘exiles in their own land.’
In places as far afield as Johannesburg, Lusaka and Harare, it is not uncommon to find a juxtaposition of poverty and destitution, despite a ‘vast ocean of material prosperity’ enjoyed by a growing middle class and evidenced by opulent shopping malls, luxury cars and gated communities.
However, despite these glaring challenges, there is hope all across the region particularly in the fields of human rights and the rule of law. In Zambia, a landmark court decision restored the dignity of mentally disabled individuals by introducing a ban on the use of derogatory terms against them and ordering health authorities not to discriminate in the provision of care. In Zimbabwe and Tanzania, child marriage has been banned providing hope of a safe and prosperous future for many girls and the courts in Malawi have strengthened the protections for HIV positive women.
After decades of Mugabe’s rule, Zimbabwe ushered in a new era with a new President and hopefully better conditions and economic recovery for its citizens. South Africa, despite its challenges with racial and economic segregation is today a more inclusive and determined country than 25 years ago. Its justice system is robust with prominent rulings against its current President and powerful individuals. Further, the ruling ANC party enthusiastically indicated its appetite for change with the election of Cyril Ramaphosa raising hopes of a economically sound and corruption free future.
Thus despite the lazy caricatures of Africa, it is a place of spirited determination with a huge appetite for change in the face systemic challenges—Africans are not taking it lying down. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, now’s not the time to ‘wallow in the valley of despair…even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow.’