Vol 1: Issue 12
23 December 2022
OUR LAND IS AZANIA
I draw inspiration from the legendary reggae musician Peter Tosh when he chants,
“I’m not in this world
To live up to your expectations
Neither are you to live up to mine
I don’t owe no one
Once Tosh has told the anti-Black coloniser where to get off, he then settles the matter by defining himself:
“I said, I am that I am
I am, I am, I am
I am that I am”.
Just to make sure all ambiguities have been removed, he strongly warns the coloniser,
“Don’t underestimate my ability
Don’t definite my character
Don’t belittle my authority
It’s time you recognized my quality”.
Who am I? That is a question I have to ask myself every now and then. That is the question that helps me reboot my identity when I start to depart from myself and get lost in the wilderness of borrowed identities that demean my soul. That is the compulsory question we all must ask ourselves from time to time and answer.
In the context of colonialism and nation-states, it is never enough to answer the question by absent-mindedly shouting, “I am an Afrikan”. If you are a Zimbabwean or a Namibian, you are an Afrikan. These fellow Afrikans had the presence of mind to reject their imposed colonial identities and hastened to march into the space of self-determination and self-definition by renaming their nationhood and countries. They could not be free and still remain in psychological and identity bondage.
That makes us ask the question: Can you be an Afrikan and a South African at the same time? Not at all. Never. The two identities are diametrically opposed and in perpetual conflict. One must live, and the other must die. One is revolutionary and liberatory, while the other is counterrevolutionary and enslaving. Therefore, Azania must rise, and “South Africa” must fall. In its Blackness, the Afrikan identity was robbed of its land and enslaved by the European colonial identity, which later changed to the white settler-colonial identity. The “South African” identity was the direct creation of white settler-colonialism as it sought to dislodge itself from its Dutch and British parent colonialism. The “South African” identity is the one that structurally impoverished and reduced the indigenous Afrikan identity to labourers and beggars.
Who am I? The question arises again. I can proudly answer that I am an Afrikan because I am an Azanian. That is because our land is Azania. No referendum is required to properly name our land and country Azania. That “referendum” was held in the context of the liberation struggle and the spilling of blood and loss of lives of Black people. The Land Wars fought by our forebears were not only for the repossession of the land, but also the repossession of our identity and the restoration of the humanity and dignity of Black people. The Sharpeville Massacre and the June 16 Uprising represented a continuation of the struggle for the repossession of our land and properly renaming it and the people Azania.
In his essay “Azania – Lan of Black People”, the late Black Consciousness (BC) Stalwart and AZAPO founder Mpapa George Wauchope makes the observation that:
“There often exists an undeclared state of war among people involved in the struggle for liberation as between those who support and those who are against the use of the name Azania as an alternative name for a liberated South Africa. This is because the debate concerns much more than a name: it involves everything that we are fighting for; it concerns the very nature of the society we seek to build”.
He shows how those who reject the name Azania cartoons it as the “land of slaves”. He rejects this ludicrous characterisation because slaves can own no land if they don’t own their very own being. By definition, slaves are “owned objects”. How would they own any land? He then takes time to explain that “Azania is a Greek transcription of the Arabic name Ajam”. Ajam was used by the Arabs to refer to the East African shore where you now find Afrikan countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Apparently, Ajam was so rich in civilization that it attracted other peoples like the Arabs for trade purposes. This took place many centuries before the birth of Christ.
This commerce and trade relationship between Ajam and South Arabia led to the development of a somewhat Arabised Afrikan language, which was called KiSwahili. Despite enjoying a prosperous sedentary living, with the flourishing of this Iron Age economy and culture from the period 500AD to 1500AD, there was an increasing need for the coast Ajam for goods like ivory, gold, iron and other goods. Coupled with the raids from the north, this economic need induced a move to the interior and the south. This southward migration is said to have taken place around the 1300s.
Wauchope meticulously traces the etymological development of the name Azania. While there is the influence of foreign influence as a result of the inter-trade, Wauchope situates the development of the name Azania in the Afrikan culture and heritage as reflected in the KiSwahili language. “Zanj” is a Persian word that means “Black”. Persia is the present-day Iran. Therefore, the Persians would be the Iranians today. Wauchope takes a look at the structural proximity of the words “Zanj” and isiZulu’s “zansi”, which means south. He makes the point that countries with the phoneme “za” or “z” tend to be located in the south. He gives examples like ZAnzibar (Tanzania), MoZAmbique, ZAmbia, Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Zimbabwe. In the case of Zimbabwe, Wauchope goes to isiZulu’s “ningiZImu”, which means south.
We now know that “Zanj” (Persian) refers to Black people who lived on the “Ajam” (Arabic) or the Eastern coastland of Afrika. We also know that Zanj started moving to the interior and the south around the 1300s due to the explained factors. It goes without saying that these people and their movement would have lost and gained new members on their southward migration. Their movement was not untoward because Afrika was not yet demarcated into colonial boundaries by the European imperialists. Of course, there would be clashes among the people for grazing lands and water. Where “Zanj” refers to Black people, we are told that “ia” is a “suffix that denotes Land, whereas the KiSwahili “nia” refers to “the innermost part of [a human being], heart, mind, conscience or disposition”. We now have a collection of the words Zanj-nia-ia, which come together in Azania.
Granted this background, Azania means the Land of Black People, whose geographical location and origins were in the continent of Afrika. The Blackness in Azania is hardly foreign to Afrika. Here are examples of Afrikan countries whose names bear a reference to Blackness: Ethiopia, Khemit, Niger, Nigeria, etc. The name Azania was placed on the political agenda of the Azanian Revolution by the PAC around 1965. The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) adopted it 1970 and went further to name its organisations with “Azanian” as a prefix as in the “Azanian People’s Organisation” (AZAPO).
Therefore, Our Land is Azania. “South Africa” must fall, and Azania must rise.