Category Archives: Africa

CHIMAMANDA ADICHIE AND SINGLE STORIES [Throwback Thursdays]

[Originally posted on October 28, 2009]

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

A writer friend of mine working on a novel about his Indian experience has lamented to me about a particular response he keeps getting to his work in progress. His non-Asian peers tell him that he can’t write his particular story, because it’s already been told by say, Rohinton Mistry, or Arundhati Roy.

I also get hopping mad when I hear about this. What about the 5 gazillion stories of middle class white family struggle that dominate libraries and schools across this country?

Centers of power who feel political pressure to include the Other in their ranks rarely make room for more than one Other. TV shows like 30 Rock and the Daily Show don’t have room for more than one or two black characters (and they are all men.) Once a publishing press has released one book by a Latin@, they won’t release another one – they’ve already done the Latin thing. And often this kind of dynamic sets up vicious competition between members of marginalised groups vying for the single position allotted to their entire demographic – and people who should be allies become opponents.

Because of all this, I love this talk by novelist Chimamanda Adichie. Adichie talks about the real consequences of only allowing one voice to represent thousands, and makes a very beautiful argument on how the single story impoverishes our lives.

Video: President Obama’s Speech At Nelson Mandela Memorial

It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well — (applause) — to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts.

For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe, Madiba’s passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate a heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or our circumstance, we must ask: How well have I applied his lessons in my own life? It’s a question I ask myself, as a man and as a President.

We know that, like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took sacrifice — the sacrifice of countless people, known and unknown, to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle. But in America, and in South Africa, and in countries all around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not yet done.

The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality or universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important. For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger and disease. We still see run-down schools. We still see young people without prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love. That is happening today.

And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

- Full transcript available here

Quoted: A South African Muslim Woman’s Memories of Mandela

My daughter outside Mandela’s home in Soweto on Saturday night.

My daughter outside Mandela’s home in Soweto on Saturday night.

From Muslimah Media Watch:

I wrote part of this piece when Dr Laury Silvers asked me for a few words she could read in her khutbah at El Tawhid Unity Mosque in Toronto. She wanted to open with words from a South African, and I am grateful to her and the congregation for the opportunity to express these words on the passing of our beloved Comrade, President, Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who returned to his creator on Thursday night, December 5 at the age of 95.

Tata (father), as we fondly call Nelson Mandela, represents so much to me, as a South African Muslim woman, as he does to all South Africans. His name is synonymous with struggle and sacrifice. His contributions to dismantling Apartheid in South Africa and his lifelong commitment to non-racialism and non-sexism has made my years growing up in South Africa an incredible experience. I still cannot fathom that he spent the total sum of my life (27 years) imprisoned!

I was born in one of the areas to which South African Indians had been forcibly relocated, at the tail end of Apartheid. Madiba’s rise to presidency, however, meant that I would no longer be confined to racially-segregated towns and limited options for education as my parents experienced.

Mandela taught us important lessons about the deeper meanings of peace and forgiveness but he was by no means a passive resistor against the indiscriminate violence of the Apartheid state, and nor was he without severe critics and opposition. Whilst I do not wish to sanitize or idolize the life of Nelson Mandela, neither is today a day to critique or analyse his policies and politics – it is a day to celebrate the immense goodness that one person brought to the world around him. What I do wish to highlight is that he overcame many of his own inner weaknesses (such as his rather tumultuous relationships with women) during the struggle years, and wrote openly about his development. He taught us to own up to our lives, our mistakes and our choices – and to walk for the ideals we profess to stand for.

Even after his rise to presidency in the new democratic South Africa, Madiba continued to show support and solidarity for global issues of social justice, especially HIV/AIDS, education for all

children, the occupation of Palestine, and of course, gender equality… all issues that still require our commitment and activism today.

(Left) Mandela with struggle activist Fatima Meer. [Source].

Madiba had a wonderful and open relationship with the Muslim community, and many of his closest friends during the struggle were Muslim. Figures like Ahmad Kathrada, Ismail Meer, Yusuf Dadoo, Fatima Meer, Rahima Moosa and Amina Cachalia are household names in South Africa and represent some of the key stalwarts in the anti-apartheid movement, many of whom were close confidantes and intimates of Nelson Mandela, and some of whom spent decades in prison with him. Read more…