“Africa must unite!”
With these words, Kwame Nkrumah, the great Pan-Africanist and first President of an independent Ghana, bestowed upon us a challenge that has reverberated throughout the ages to unite our continent.
Of course, with these words, Nkrumah was echoing the words of some among the greatest African visionaries and leaders of the previous generations.
Among these visionaries was Dr. Pixley ka Isaka Seme, one of the founders of the African National Congress, who foretold a glorious future for Africa when he spoke at New York's Columbia University 109 years ago, in 1906 and said:
"The brighter day is rising upon Africa... Yes, the regeneration of Africa belongs to this new and powerful period. The African people... possess a common fundamental sentiment which is everywhere manifest, crystallising itself into one common controlling idea... The regeneration of Africa means that a new and unique civilisation is soon to be added to the world."
Many a generation of African liberation fighters envisioned this new day rising upon Africa, preceded as it would be by a life-and-death fight for national freedom and self-determination, believing that when once this freedom was achieved, Africa would finally achieve the moment and tools with which to wage a new struggle for sustainable development.
As a celebrate Africa Day today, we are reminded not only of the struggles we have waged to get to where we are today, but most importantly of the struggles that lie ahead of us unaccomplished.
Whilst we look back with pride at everything that has been achieved since the day that darkest night of colonial oppression and exploitation, we are inspired by the conquests of the African bravehearts who ensured that, country-by-country, step-by-step, freedom replaced colonial subjugation and humiliation.
The Pan-African unity which underpinned our national struggles for self-determination was exemplified by Kwame Nkrumah, who said in his speech on Ghana’s day of independence, that:
“Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa.”
We stand here tonight as the proud successors of the pioneers of the African freedom movement, ourselves as committed to the ideal of total liberation for the African continent as our forebears.
As before, the achievement of these lofty ideals depends on the pursuit of African solidarity and African unity, which alone can the sole bases for the formation of an African unity front and progressive movement for the renaissance of the continent.
Most South Africans with historical consciousness are deeply grateful for the unconditional warmth, friendship, solidarity and hospitality our fellow Africans showed to South African immigrants, asylum seekers, economic migrants and refugees in those difficult times.
After the demise of the abhorrent racial tyrannical system in South Africa, as the country opened up to the world, many African nationals also began visiting this country they had supported so much during its struggle, in the conviction that the defeat of the most monstrous regime in the late 20th century would be an immediate and most sustainable guarantor for long-term peace, stability, development and prosperity of the African continent as a whole.
At the same time, the world opened up for South African nationals to visit on short-term or even long-term bases.
South Africans currently live and work in many countries on the Continent and elsewhere in the world.
Many more visit other countries on short trips for business or tourism.
All of these South Africans expect to be treated fairly and humanely in their destination countries, and we must do the same to the immigrants we host.
This speaks to the need to reframe the discourse around immigration in South Africa.
We must manage international migration in line with four principles.
It must contribute to our national development, security, nation building and social cohesion, and finally, it must further integrate South Africa into the African community in particular, and into the global community of nations in general.
We are of the view that immigrants play an enormous positive and underappreciated role in South Africa.
Yet, too much discussion in some quarters of our society comes from the standpoint that immigration is a burden to the South African economy, and society.
It is curious that a person whose doctor is an immigrant, whose child is taught by an immigrant, who works alongside professionals who are immigrants, still does not acknowledge the positive contributions of immigrants in our society.
Too often South Africans speak of Africans and Africa as the other, as if South Africans are not Africans, as if South Africa is not Africa.
Even the national question needs to evolve, to take in consideration the impact of international migration on our demographics.
We used to think of South Africans as being either African, Coloured, Indian, or White.
And those Africans belong to one of the various ethnic and language groups we are all familiar with.
And yet today we have South Africans, naturalized or even born here, whose first language is Shona, Swahili, Lingala, Igbo, Portuguese, French.
Or even Mandarin.
A nation that proudly proclaimed that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it,” must be big enough, confident enough, to widen its understanding of who is a South African, to include more recent additions to our society.
We must integrate fellow Africans into our communities.
They must not feel like they merely live here, but are not at home here.
So we at Home Affairs believe it is extremely important that we recognize the contributions of migrants in all spheres of South African life, not just the economy.
After the unfortunate incidents of violence against foreign nationals in January and April, we decided to bring this initiative forward.
There is no better day to launch these awards than on Africa Day.
There are three things we seek to highlight through these awards:
· First, the positive role of immigrants in South African society – in sport, arts and culture, business and community,
· Secondly, the positive role played by some local South African communities to integrate immigrants and make them feel at home amongst them, and
· Thirdly, the positive role of South African migrants abroad, elsewhere on the continent.
We thought that as we celebrate our unbreakable unity with all of the peoples of Africa, a representative of the African Union would be best placed to inaugurate these awards and to highlight their intended message.
Who better to symbolize this tonight, than a former Minister of both Foreign and Home Affairs, a South African migrant in Ethiopia, the esteemed Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Her Excellency Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Mama, we thank you, for joining us this evening.
We are grateful that when we called for these awards, thousands of people – locals and immigrants alike – responded positively and enthusiastically, making nominations and thus highlighting beautiful and encouraging stories of human victory over adversity.
We thank you.
We also welcome tonight the nominees of these awards, whose stories have moved the Panelists and which we wish we could tell to the nation in totality so that ordinary South Africans know the humanity of the nominees, their struggles on a daily basis and their conquests over adversity.
You all make us proud!
From the outset, whilst everyone nominated is already a winner because of their amazing stories, we must particularly congratulate those who will be announced the winners and wish them well in their future endeavours.
We hope these stories move even those who are sceptical about the positive role of immigrants in our society to change their views and be won over; and that these stories will also encourage the nominees – not only the winners – to work even harder in the future to do more.
Do not stop now at the achievement of this recognition!
We are grateful that the Sponsors and Panelists came through for us at very short notice and ensured that we can realise this objective of these awards, enabling us accordingly to communicate and highlight the message as we have stated above.
Tonight's platform is about giving an alternative narrative about our country, continent and migrants in particular; one that recognizes migrants who are contributing to the future of Africa.
The Mkhaya South African Migrants Awards are a platform for us to counter the perpetuated tale of a "hopeless continent".
Mkhaya refers to a person you share a home with and a migrant is a person who leaves one place to settle in another.
South Africans will be all too familiar with this concept as many families have moved from one area to another in search of opportunities.
We use both the words ‘Mkhaya” and “Migrant” together to highlight the notion as old as African society itself that a visitor in your household must be treated specially and humanely – provided a hot meal and water to bathe, and a place to lay their head for the night.
This is the very essence of UBUNTU!
We chose the word "migrant" to negate those who view the notion of “migrant” as demeaning.
It is our responsibility to display stories such as the ones you will hear today.
In closing, let me say that since the attainment of our freedom, South Africa has displayed resolute commitment to the project of African renewal.
This project, now crystallized in Agenda 2063, depends on African countries deepening their linkages with one another, politically, economically as well as person-to-person level.
It depends on increasing intra-African trade, investment and tourism.
It depends on our citizens’ ability to support our regional agenda.
It depends on our ability to adopt a broader, Pan-African perspective rather than our own, narrow and national perspectives.
It depends on our ability to build with one another.
Ultimately, at a primarily level, human progress is driven, not by plans or policies or documents or technology or even capital.
It is driven by people.
And so, Nkrumah’s words echo across the ages, as urgent today as they were all those years ago: Africa must unite! Africans must unite!
Thank you for attending the inaugural Mkhaya Migrants Awards.
You are welcome here tonight.
You are welcome in South Africa.
Now and forever!
I thank you.