What does it mean to be African?


We all have different ideas of what it means to be African. Nelson Mandela called us the rainbow nation and it united us under the hot, African sun. What used to divide us became what made us unique. Here are a few different views on what it means to be African.

Kirsty Portelli: For a long time, it was hard for me to think of myself as an African or a South African because I saw myself as a mix of cultures – a mutt of sorts. My mom has a mix of French and Afrikaans and my father has a mix of English and Afrikaans, but I could never identify with any of these heritages because I never felt like I fitted into the “mould”.

Moving to Cape Town was a huge eye-opener and I soon realised that my “muttness” wasn’t a bad thing. I began taking in the different cultures and heritages that I saw in Cape Town and embracing the beauty in each one. I tried different food, used different slang and soon I started to feel like I belonged a little more. Living in Cape Town has made me realise that I don’t need to identify with one specific heritage, culture or lineage – being South African is about embracing the beauty this country has to offer. Being South African to me means that you are open to different heritages and cultures because we are so fortunate to have such a diverse and rich history. I’ve still got a lot to learn and I can’t wait!

Terence Visagie: As somebody who grew up during the UDF years, I will always have a romanticised view of how our diverse country can thrive. I become stronger because of all the different cultures in our beautiful country. As a South African I embrace my fellow countrymen irrespective of their race and religion.

I do feel that we need more shared rituals and inclusive national events to rebuild our rainbow nation which seems to be falling apart. It is up to every South Africa to unite and fight racism, xenophobia and sexism.

Phindile Thengeni

By passion, the founder of COST wear. By trade, a graphic designer and researcher specialising in fashion and music. Originally from the Free State, she now makes her dreams come true in the City of Gold.

“Not only do I love being African, but I am proud. As an African I feel it in my soul, the struggle of my ancestors and the journey it has taken us on as Africans today. It’s encrypted in me and that is why spirituality and culture matters to me. As an African in this part of Africa I must say I am of a certain privilege. There are plenty of opportunities for me here and I can be whomever I want to be, which is a really special feeling.

And being alive in this era I see the attempts from Africans and other nations to go back to our roots. Music, fashion, art and even politics are all covered in traditional African veils and it makes me happy even though I feel the attempts can be and are sometimes desperate. I am proud of clothing brands such as Babatunde and musicians such as Okmalumekoolkat (Smiso) for infusing African elements in their craft.

Corinne Alyssa Klarmann:

I am African

With my dusky skin
and brown, brown eyes,
you might say I am.

My heritage might be the
crisp, flowing Ganges and
rainbows of silk
but still I am.

My thighs might not be as strong
as the clicks of their tongues
and yet I am.

My Mama is just a mum,
my Umkhulu is an Aaja,
and yet I am still African.

I woke to the caw of the Hadedas.
When I hold my breath I hear
the Thump-Thump of the Elephant’s footsteps,
the soft thunderous vibration in my soul.

My blood is the same red
as the hills of Durban sand,
the crimson of sunsets
all stop to watch.

The swish of my hair
is the sound of the cheetah’s tail
changing its direction.

The batting of my eyelashes
is the slow drum beats surrounding the fire
surrounded by chirps of crickets.

The low glow of a steady sunrise
is my soul when I hear
The call of my Africa

You might look at me and
think different,
but I am African.

I Am African was selected for and published by Womandla, an organisation run by women for women. Womandla Women Power is a collection of short stories and poetry in English, Afrikaans and Zulu. It is currently available on pre-order via the Womandla Facebook page.

At the moment there is a feel-good Facebook page #ImStaying which is gaining popularity as South Africans become vocal what makes them proud to be African. It has wonderful stories of why so many are loyal to South Africa. The page has more than 300 000 diverse members and has been featured on television and in newspapers.

If you would like to share your story of what makes you proud to be African, you can email me.