Africa and Humankind



 (Sent to Anant Singh: 29 April 2004)

The crisis of Africa is actually the crisis of entire Humankind. This point is not quite well grasped by most people in the world. This problem only arose when a split occurred between Africa and the rest of Humankind.

The emergence of a split between Africans and the rest of Humankind brought about the biggest crisis, the most severe illness, in the life of the human community that has ever existed in the entire history of Humankind.

This crisis, this severe illness, in the human community, first gets reflected, articulated, affirmed, denounced, combated, and raised as a major human problem, in language, in art, in literature, in song and dance, even before it is raised, or mirrored, in philosophy, politics, and in matters of State.

It is the African Slave Trade, and the enslavement of millions of Africans in Western society, which brought about the split between Africa and the rest of Humankind, and afflicted in the human community with a severe illness which has not been cured up to our time. The great German anthropologist, Frobenius, wrote that, as justification for the African Slave Trade, “the Negro was turned into a semi-animal.”

I go further, and say that in order for Europeans and other peoples to successfully regard and treat the Africans as a “semi-animal,” they, themselves had to lower themselves to the level of semi-animal. This is the essence of the message in the work of James Baldwin.

In the issue of contemporary Africa, we face the biggest, emotion-packed riddle and problem of all humankind. This is more than a gigantic drama and tragedy, which is still awaiting a Homer greater than Homer, a Dante greater than Dante, a Goethe greater than Goethe, a Shakespeare greater than Shakespeare, and a Freud greater than Freud.

I think it is Charles Darwin, in one of his profound and majestic books, who makes this most striking conjecture and hypothesis on the source of our humanity. In viewing the history of homo sapiens over the hundreds of thousands of years before the invention of agriculture, Darwin says that the survival of everyone depended literally on close, considerate, mutually reinforcing, kind, loving relationships with everyone else, that the need for close, kind, loving ties with other human beings eventually became instinctual, became a social instinct. Thus arose the need for humaneness within us all, and the roots and stem of what we call “conscience”.

Now, consider this fact: we know from every corner of scientific research into the origins of Humankind, that Humankind emerged first in the continent of Africa. Indeed, it has been established that it is only recently, in the last 50,000 to 60,000 years, that there was an exodus of people from Africa, to other regions of the world, and the consequent emergence of other races in addition to the original African stock of men and women.

The African stock of Humankind is the oldest stock, is the parent of all the existing stocks inhabiting all regions of the world. In the words of scientists Chris Stringer, head of the human origins group at London’s Natural History Museum, and Robin McKie, science editor of The Observer, “Human differences are superficial…What unites us is far more significant than what divides us…Under our skins we are all Africans, the metaphorical sons and daughters of the man from Kibish”. (African Exodus, Random House, 1997)

Africans, Arabs, Europeans, Asians, Indians, Jews, Native Americans, Latinos and all other peoples of the world, are close cousin brothers and cousin sisters long lost to one another, psychologically, historically, and mentally.

The greatest challenge facing Humankind in our time is to restore the original relationship which existed between Africans and all other peoples of the world.

Clearly, the African stock of Humankind is the oldest stock of Humankind on Earth. Does this not have implications for human culture? Can we not assume, then, that the oldest experience between human beings and the natural environment is that of Africans? Is it not reasonable to assume that the oldest accumulation of elements in human culture are in the culture of African people? If, indeed, practical human experience with nature and with other people is the root of all knowledge, then we may assume that the African community has the deepest layers of knowledge.

What are the implications of this fact regarding Darwin’s point? It means, then, that the need for humane relations with fellow human beings must have struck the deepest and most powerful roots in that stock of Humankind which is oldest; it means that this need, which Darwin conjectures must have evolved into an instinct, must have become the strongest social instinct within the African community. This precisely is the renowned UBUNTU, which is said to be the foremost feature of traditional African communities, and of the traditional African personality.

It is important to stress that traditional African philosophy or religion developed as a powerful spiritual, intellectual, and linguistic base and reinforcement of this social instinct for humane relations among human beings, even as a base and reinforcement for  good, almost personal, relations between human beings and ecological surroundings. This, I say, is the distinct pattern of African Thought found in traditional African society.

The world truly still awaits a Homer greater than Homer, to tell the story of the relationship between Africa and the rest of Humankind; the world still awaits a book perhaps as significant and moving as the Holy Book itself on the true significance of Africa in the making of Humankind.


We all know, of course, how Homer begins his epic: “Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation…” and so on.


Perhaps, the missing, greatest, epic, on Africa and the rest of Humankind, may begin thus:


Sing, Oh Ancestors and Goddess Nomkhubulwana, the story of Africa and Humankind;

Sing, Ancestors and Goddess Nomkhubulwana, the story of Mother Africa;

How Africa gave birth to Humankind;

How this Lady, Mother Africa, raised and nurtured infant Humankind;

How Mother Africa gave strength, culture, knowledge of Goddesses and Gods, and knowledge of good and evil;

How Mother Africa gave Drum, Dance, Voice, Laughter, Music and Play, to Humankind;


Sing, Oh Ancestors and Goddess Nomkhubulwana, the untold story of Mother Africa and Humankind;

How some of her children-grown-to-adulthood, left Mother Africa for distant corners and far regions of the World; and there changed skin colour, hair, and size of nose, and lips.


Sing, Oh Ancestors and Goddess Nomkhubulwana, how some of these children-grown-to-adulthood, having forgotten their original relationship with Mother Africa, came back, abused, heaped contempt, and violated Their own Mother, and, like maddened Ajax, chained, drew blood, killed,  and took their own cousin brothers and cousin sisters to be slaves in distant lands;


Sing, Oh Ancestors and Goddess Nomkhubulwana, how this act became poison And Curse on the minds and souls of all Humankind;


Sing, Ancestors and Goddess Nomkhubulwana, how redemption, renewal, and regeneration of all Humankind shall fail and be naught, until Mother Africa is restored to Her place of Honour as the Mother of Humankind, and how the African is the first brother and sister,  and first cousin, of all peoples of the World.


That, Brothers and Sisters, may be the beginning of that missing epic story of Humankind. That void, I must say, is a challenge to African writers and to World literature.


As we fell together, so we must rise together. This is the methodological and moral injunction which should guide us all within Africa itself, in the work of all individuals and communities within the Continent; as well as a methodological and moral injunction which should guide the peoples of the rest of the world  in their relationship with Africa.


Obviously, this gigantic, most complex story, The Story of Africa, cannot be told by one person. All the peoples of the world have one mother –Africa. These people have had differing relationships with the Mother; there are complexes of emotional feelings and emotional problems to be revealed; there are solutions to be attempted, etc., etc.


Artists need to get together and talk about this challenge, and map the way forward.  





About Professor Herbert W. Vilakazi

Professor Herbert Vilakazi was born at Nongoma, KwaZulu/Natal, South Africa. He received his tertiary education at Columbia University, and at the New School For Social Research, both in New York City, USA. He has taught sociology and other social sciences at various tertiary institutions in and around New York City (City College of City University, Essex County College in Newark, Livingstone College, and State University of New York). He has also taught at the University of Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University), University of the Witwatersrand, University of Cape Town, and University of Zululand. He served as Deputy-Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission from 1998 to 2004. He has also served as Special Advisor to the Premier of KwaZulu/Natal (2005-2007). He is Chairperson of Vilakazi Development Strategies.
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