African Consciousness – A 21st Century Reflection on Identity, Being and Belonging

This month, 12 September in particular, mark 46 years since the death of a South African giant - Steve Bantu Biko. I explore what he might think of today’s Africa.

By Reverend Kabelo Motlhakane

Biko was more than just a thinker, more than a philosopher and, dare I say, more than a politician – he was, to me, first and foremost a theologian. As South Africa observes heritage month, I imagine what Biko might preach to us and the whole of 21st century Africa; perhaps it’s a sermon titled  “A call to Being”.

Bantu the theologian understood the concept of being and belonging as more than just physical. To him, being and belonging was a consciousness, a state of mind, of contribution, of leaning into the creative diversity gifted to us all by God, the Creator, Modimo or whatever descriptor we may use to speak of the energy that birthed all things.

What is most appealing about the Black consciousness movement is that it did not locate blackness under the guise of a chosen people. It located consciousness as something that lies within liberating one’s mind without any detriment of superiority or inferiority to the other. Our consciousness is that of invitation – an invitation to tell our own story – a new story that is not about indignities, inferiority or oppression, but one of creativity, generosity, growth and courage to stand out and claim a continent’s immeasurable legacy.

Africa has been privileged to have many great thinkers – this continent has birthed some of the greatest minds, artists, musicians and creatives. Many of these great minds shared from the depths of their lives and made conscious decisions to speak of Africa from a point of power, strength, creativity and dignity. It is this spirit that I believe continues to keep us resilient, with the tenacity to live through some of the most painful and degrading moments with a graciousness that could never be found anywhere else in the world. This, to me, is what I would call the African consciousness of the 21st century. The belief that we are bigger than the stories told by those who ‘conquered’ us. We are so multi-layered that even what the world is experiencing about us now is merely a layer of a greater creative energy.

Reverend Kabelo Motlhakane

Simply put, my understanding of African consciousness is that it holds me responsible for how I show up and tell my story in the world. It makes me responsible for my own narrative, liberation and freedom. Though freedom is a fruit we can all savour, it remains a gift that comes from within. No external entity can ever gift freedom as it begins in the psyche and is lived through the spiritual, and physical world.

I believe we are being called to write a different story – one where we are not only conscious of our history, but also conscious of our minds, bodies and spirituality. A story that centres our essence where no one group can dictate nor decide the fate of others. This is the story of a new Africa, not the one living under the plague of inferiority and subjected to distorted narratives of the so-called conqueror who is equally damaged by their colonial past of inhumane acts and lessons of superiority. So too the elites cannot be entrusted to lead the charge, but all should be responsible for their own freedom and liberation, a liberation that begins in the knowledge and love of self and is expressed without the need to dehumanise the other.

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