When Africans migrated out of Africa to Yemen and elsewhere, my ancestors settled in the Middle East and then trekked back to Africa about 2500 years ago. We have lived there since. I am a Semite, I am a Black Jew, I am Shona, I am Karanga. I am many, many more things. All at the same time. My tribal home is near where Great Zimbabwe was built. On the outskirts of my city, Bulawayo, are the Khami Ruins, also built by some of my ancestors, but I am not African according to one, Sentletse Diakanyo. When asked by the blogger Garg Unzola whether Lemba people are African or not their conversation (see comments) went something like this:
GU: You claim that Semitic people are not native to Africa. Are you suggesting that the Lemba people, who are Semitic and black, are not African? They can't be African, according to you, because being Semitic, they are not native to Africa. Yet they are black, meaning your notion that African equals black fails yet again.
SD: The Lemba people originate from Judea. They’re not African. They may have dark skins, but they’re not African. Indians also have dark skins and they too are not African.
GU: Berber people were explicitly named by Thabo Mbeki as being African. Berber people are also thought to be one origin of the white race. They did both: migrate from Africa and remained in Africa. Does this make Berbers African or not?
SD: That Mbeki referred to the Berber people as African doesn’t make that the gospel truth. He was wrong. The Berbers like the North African Arabs do not originate from Africa. They’re said to have reached North Africa around 2000 BC or so. There was a study was done in respect of the origins of the Berber people.
You can read the rest of this interesting exchange on Garg Unzola's blog, it's a lengthy debate so make sure you have time on your hands and a bowl of popcorn and a drink within reach. I've only selected a few quotes to address what I feel personally compelled to respond to in the faulty logic of Sentletse. There have also been responses to Sentletse's claims on the Thought Leader blog, the Mail and Guardian and News 24. All of these responses have excellently dispelled the myth that Only Black = African from different angles and I'd encourage you to read them all if you haven't already.
On Twitter, Sentletse's claims have caused quite a stir, I've kept track of the #African conversation for the past week and although many people from all over Africa have dismissed Sentletse's claims, there are those who support him. Whether they define Black and African in the exact same narrow terms as Sentletse is unclear to me as in my exchanges with two of these supporters have not stated how far they go along with Sentletse's narrow minded views. If they're with him 100% then I'd like Afro-centrists from the Sentletse school of nativism to know that when they celebrate Africa's great history, they must not include Great Zimbabwe or any of the other ruins built during the Mutapa Dynasty, because these were not solely built by Sentletse's Africans, but by Afro-Asiatic Lemba/ Karangas descendent from Israel as well. Same as the Venda people of South Africa, they are Lemba too so they are not African. I think Sentletse should put that on a billboard somewhere in Vendaland. It would read, 'Bana baVenda, you are not from Africa so you are not African, only Black Africans are!' And just so some of those Vendas who moved to big bad Jozi also get the memo, I think Jo'burg's skyline is deserving of a billboard with the same notification. That one might read 'Dumelang, Afro-Asiatic Sothos who settled here from the Middle East +2500 years ago, you are not Africans, only Black people are! Letsatsi le monate!*' Yes, everyone has to know, it's not just Whites, Indians, Coloureds, or Arabs who aren't African, if your DNA links you to the Lost Tribes of Israel, then you are also not African. It doesn't matter how many millenia your ancestors arrived back in the Motherland after mitochondrial Eve's children's departure, you're not African! It also doesn't matter that your DNA also shows that despite having links elsewhere, you come from the same gene pool as those considered African today, you're not African! (exclamations for emphasis of course!!!)
But back to the history lesson; if Sentletse's nativist logic then the tribes of Guinea whose mtDNA shows that they undertook back to Africa Eurasian migration, means they are also not African. What has been built by the West African Guineans, possibly Senegambians and the African Jews of West Africa from the Ashanti Kingdom to Timbuktu to East Africa where the Nilotic peoples have an architectural and textile legacy to behold, is not 100% African. All Nubians who migrated from elsewhere and spread through Africa are not Africans so when people take pride in the ancient North African civilisations from Egypitian, Kushitic, Aksumite to Carthaginian Empires as African history, they should know these things were not built by Africans, according to Sentletse. No world, it is not to be celebrated as African. Not even King Tutankhamun, Horus or Isis or Makeda the Queen of Sheba are Africans. Send an email, a telegram or a tweet marked urgent to all historians and archaeologists who classify this as African history, it is not! It is Nubian, Berber, Ethiopian or Egyptian history, that has nothing to do with Africa and anyone who says Nubian means Black therefore African is incorrect. That these civilisations were later part of the land mass first called Africa (and not the whole Continent, but a section incl the Middle East) by Leo Africanus is entirely irrelevant. Okay, kids? Even His Imperial Majesty, King Haile Selassie I, descendent of King David is not an African, so by extension any Rastas who call themselves Children of JAH, are not Africans. Maybe even Marcus Garvey who prophesied the coming of this Ethiopian King is not an African, so Sentletse and friends might want to hold back on quoting him as an authority on who is or is not entitled to repatriate to Africa.
On the plus side though, if there are any Black Indians from the Dravidian line who left Africa at least, 75 000 years, you are African! Yes you fit the two requirements: of being Black and being a modern human when you left Africa, even if it was +75 000 years ago. The Africans who left what is present-day Malawi in search of water migrated to what is today the Indian sub-continent, so if there are any Black Indians of the Dravidian line who can show their ancestors left Africa as modern humans and have moved back to Africa (150 years of Indian settlement in S.A) who read Sentletse's piece and felt offended, they need not be. They are Africans.
Also, if Sentletse-type Afro-centrists accept that Khoi San, as the first people of South Africans, are Africans then it is those descendent from the Khoi San line who may be classified as Coloured or Black whose mother tongue is Afrikaans. It is thus worth pointing out to Sentletse that Afrikaans is not a bastard language of the Dutch only. It was first spoken by the slaves in the Cape as a 'kitchen taal' with influences from Malay, Zulu, Xhosa, French, English, Dutch, Portuguese and German as well so Afrikaans is an all-round bastard language and is just as much a part of European and Asian origin, as it is of African origin. I'd like to ask Sentletse and his co-signers if they could sift through this bastard tongue and find out what percentage of it is Zulu, Xhosa, Malay, Portuguese, Dutch and so on, just so we know what proportion of African this language really is and could they also tell us whether it's being spoken by Khoi San peoples increases it's Africanness? What %?
Speaking of bastard non-African languages, could Swahili be taken off the rota as the universal African language of Afro-centrists, now? Anyone care to make a proposal to that effect? It's common knowledge that Swahili was cobbled together from several Bantu languages with Arabic, Indian and European influences thrown in, so it's not really an African language, is it? Those Bantu languages that Swahili sprang from belong to people who inhabit East Africa and Central Africa, some of whom like me, are Semites, not Africans. So Sentletse is wrong, Afrikaans is more an African language than the bastard tongue Swahili or Venda or Shona or Lingala spoken by Africa's 2500 year old 'foreigners'.
But if we want to settle the score over who is what, perhaps everyone should take a DNA test to find out what branches of the gene pool they are from. I'm yet to have a DNA test done and find out what groups I'm from and I have only pieced together my past from family stories and history books which tell me I have my ancestors are scattered all over Africa from southern Sudan to South Africa, as my paternal grandmother's parents were Sothos who migrated to settle in the Masvingo area of Zimbabwe whereas my father's father's tribe can be traced back a few centuries to Tanzania and to the Lemba who are said to have settled in the Masvingo area at some point during the Great Zimbabwe Empire. As the Y chromosome passes on the male lines, confirmation of Semitic identity would depend on one of my brothers or father taking a test as well. On my mother's father's side, there are Lemba ties. A little more digging through history shows that the Shona people are the southern branch of a tribe originating in Sudan. But that is only a fraction of the story as the history of my people's migration extends back further. If I stuck a swab in my mouth and scraped my inner cheek to test my DNA, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that I am from one of the same haplogroups as a Sardinian or Dutch Person or an Palestinian person (see haplogroup link & quote below) I have been told I look like a Black Indian, an Ethiopian/Somali and a Jamaican so perhaps instead of rolling my eyes at the Asians and Italians who think I'm Indian and attribute their error to having lived in small towns where they've probably not many Black people like me, perhaps I should agree and say yes I am all these things because I am human. Being a member of the human family, my relations are scattered all over the globe, we're just different coloured Smarties (M&M's) on the outside, but on the inside we're all the same. It's true! Chaplin and Jablonski have conducted excellent extensive research on how we all came to be different skin colours and I would urge everyone to read it or if that's too dense then watch the TED talk, rather than swallow historical mistruths and pseudo-science as fact.
Race, like culture, class and gender is a myth. It is an arbitrary social construct used to distinguish people for both good and bad reasons based on both good and bad science. When it suits the agendas of certain people and historical contexts, people morph into different identities. A reading of VY Mudimbe's The Invention of Africa shows how, through art Africa and the Africans, as a racial group, were constructed as sameness and then difference by Europeans. Edward Said's Orientalism is another fine academic source that explains how the process of othering occurred and how othering serves to maintain European hegemonies in 'The Orient'. Not too long ago, Black in South Africa and Britain was used to refer to people of Black, Mixed and Asian descent as political solidarity against the common experience of racial oppression. If Sentletse's claims were to be applied to the political meaning of Black then Black cannot be used in this sense, otherwise it means Indians, Blacks & Coloureds are all Africans. Historians of the future, please note the previous generation was wrong to find solidarity in this one name, whereas in the post-1994 Rainbow Nation, Black meant something else so only Blacks and Coloureds are Africans. But not Black Jews!
I have never set foot in either Israel or Yemen, I come to Judaic practices of holding Sabbath and fasting by way of Rastafari and Shona folklore, but even then, other purist Shonas would raise an eyebrow because I am a middle class Zimbabwean, despite the fact that Shona is my mother tongue, whereas not all Rastas would call me a Rasta because I don't wear locks and I'm a fashion addict, but I pray, I fast and I don't eat meat. The trouble is, I don't care much for absolutism and refuse to be bound by the practices of mankind because my relationship with the God I pray to is a personal one. I believe in plurality and hate rigidity. Africanness is such a dynamic, ever-changing concept embodied in the many lives and histories of people who live on the Continent and it's Diaspora. It's expressed in so many different ways that it's hard to keep track of what one means when they say they are African. When I am in Europe, I feel closer to home so am I more African than those living at home? When I go home do I then suddenly become less African? And what of Black people who are hesitant to call themselves African because their families left one, two, three even six generations ago and never returned? Are they more African than me because they left as modern humans and have the 'right genes'? Are they more African than some of my non-Black friends who've never set foot outside of Africa since their ancestors arrived a few hundred years ago? What if my English and Shona speaking White Zimbabwean friend has a Black grandmother somewhere along the way and my Indian Tanzanian friend who moved to Zimbabwe aged ten has a Black relation somewhere in the family and speaks a bit of Ndebele and a little non-African Swahili, is the Africanness denied, yet across the oceans, the struggle by Blacks and Asians in Europe to be called European is seen as legitimate? Does my friends' being African somehow change the violent past that has come to shape the African present or does it just simply mean we all call Africa home now? The latter is my logic, but what Sentletse's proclaimation seems to suggest is that he, as an African, can always have one-up over non-Blacks and remind them that they will never, ever, ever belong and the rest of us of Semitic origin are privileged guests.
As people, we don't all stay in our neat little boxes marked Shona, Somali, Xhosa, Mauritian, Indian or Arab, that is why there are so many mixed varieties of people across the Motherland. There are things we all share being from the same Continent; culture, values, history and in some cases language. We don't always treat each other nicely as Africans, but that doesn't change who we are. There are some Whites, Arabs, Indians or Coloureds who may not feel comfortable calling themselves African, but that is their prerogative, just as there are people in Zanzibar who see themselves as Persian or in Sudan where people who are as dark or darker than me who may not call themselves African but if I said We are All African, some of them would understand that I meant, despite what we call ourselves, we all are one people. For those of us that do recognise themselves as African challenge the politics of exclusion and singularity inherited by the legacies of slavery, colonialism, apartheid and xenophobia because being African does not mean one racial identity, nor does it have one fixed meaning.
Sentletse has no right to declare that some people are not African. He may have the right to his views, but not to assert them in the manner that he does because it is wrong and it is dangerous. Such behaviour is borderline racist. Yes it is. It's the similar sort of divisive rhetoric Mugabe preached in Zimbabwe (a descendant of a Malawian migrant, by the way) and in the UK it's what Nick Griffin and right wing crazies would say, but only it'd be about White British people as 'the indigenous tribes of Europe.' But, thankfully good sense, prevails over stupidity and that is why Britishness and Africanness are plural, evolutionary concepts that includes different cultural and ethnic identities in their definitions. Science trumps pseudoscience so like it or not Mr Diakanyo, all humans come from one common ancester, a female called Eve so WE are all Africans.
*FYI Whether you believe in human evolution or Bible - or part & part like me, the origin of humans is still in Africa.
* Dumelang - Hello, Letstatsi le monate - Have A Nice Day
*Bana beVenda - Children of Venda
*quote on Dutch origins: The Dutch are descended from a group of Homo sapiens who settled Europe during the Paleolithic (40 000 years ago) and Neolithic (10 000 years ago) periods.15 These settlers originated in the Middle Eastern and brought a discrete set of Y chromosomal and mitochondrial haplotypes, Indo-European languages, agriculture, and pottery.16