“Looking Ahead…And What We Bring With Us.”
This is the theme for the Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation Festival. It is inspired by a speech he made in 2017 when he received his honorary doctorate in Music at Wits University.
I am humbled and deeply honoured to share this joyous occasion with all present here today. My attempt on this day is that as you enter a new door to the rest of your lives, I should request of you to consider a number of issues that have to do with restoring the wealth of African Heritage excellence back into our lives. First of all, without abandoning the good parts of what we have inherited from the West, let us re-examine the history of our continent. Not the European or imported religious ones that were forced on us after conquest, but our own. To satisfactorily (achieve) this, the study of (our) mother tongue(s) would have to be seriously prioritized. The gateway to our ethnic languages is praise poetry, which dates back centuries, and therein lies the universal genealogy of all African peoples, volumes of African language literature lay(s) dormant and covered with dust. Consider these as serious studies as those that brought you this far today. Will it help lead us to understanding that the borders we live in, and fight each other over, are only 131 years old, and established through military colonial onslaught on Africa? Was this not the seeds that led to xenophobia?
Should we make it possible for our indigenous music and dances (to) have homes, such as ballet companies and symphony orchestras boast? Are our performance arts not worthy of study??? African artisanship lies dormant, but awe-inspiring. So, also our design, arts & crafts, and architecture. Should we develop these like the Chinese, Scandinavians, Indians, Indonesians, and Arabs did theirs? Can we not create industries out of them and sell more than we buy? Is this a good initiative? Should we go back to considering growing our own food again? Even as we live in overcrowded urban squalor, in ghettoes. Can we not make time and to go back to the land and cease to beg for food because of outbreaks of famine?? Is our couture potential not excellent enough to clothe ourselves well and create universal demand for our products? What about our cuisine? (My mouth waters, I salivate, just thinking of it.) Why do we love the junk food so much?? Is it good for us?? Lastly, should we have places of learning where we can pursue these initiatives?? Should we (travel) and see South Africa and the continent (and) ex-colonial states?
I ask you humbly to carry these thoughts with you as you go out into the world, and just think of how humiliating it will be, twenty years hence, when your children are asked who they really are, and their response is, “They say we used to be Africans very long ago.” or, do you already speak only a European language in your home?? These are not easy questions.
Thank you and have a wonderful life!
Hugh Ramapolo Masekela