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to retard our intellectual emancipation. Tat large pool of social memory would


include the words, ideas and deeds of other liberators like Lumumba, Nkrumah, Mal- colm, Cabral, Fanon and Diop, Williams, Douglass and Sojourner, and reach all the way past the medieval states to the time of unifiers like Amenemhat and the pro- totype of them all, Menes the leader who unified Kemet more than 5,000 years ago. Mandela is keenly aware of a small


part of this general tradition, and he men- tions local heroes like Makana and the Khoikhoi Autshumayo with great respect for their record as would-be liberators.


Induced cultural amnesia Te fact that most Africans cannot now access this ancient pool of knowledge only means that we suffer from induced cultural amnesia. Te remedy is serious, organised study, supported by continental African institutes equipped and funded to research all our historical, philosophical, artistic and scientific heritage. Te appearance of books like Mandela’s


can help to draw attention to a powerful and legitimate issue: the need to correct past epistemological injustices by creat- ing and strengthening institutions for the preservation of Africa’s social memory. Social memory management enables


new generations to know what values their society had, over the millennia, come to consider useful, what it had found harm- ful, and what behaviour patterns it thought should be avoided, because it saw them as destructive. It is part of the workings of every dynamic society. It was a standard aspect of African socialisation until for- eign invasions snapped the links of com- mon memory. Readers with a short view of African history think the first foreign invaders were 15th-century Portuguese, Dutch, French and English sailors. But these were latecomers. Persians invaded Africa more than 2,000 years earlier. Tey were followed by Greeks (Alexander) and Romans (the Caesars), a little before the birth of Christ. By the fourth century after Christ,


Christianity had become Rome’s impe- rial religion. One Christian Roman em- peror, Teodosius, defined Egyptian cul- ture, with its temples, schools, writing system, sculpture, art and pyramids, as a pagan manifestation of devil worship, and banned the teaching of hieroglyphs, Af-


74 | March 2011 New African


rica’s oldest written records. Africa’s social memory is still numb from that attack. Arabs were the next invaders. Tey too


called African culture pagan devil worship, and intensified the violent assault on Af- rica’s social memory. Africans have since then had a rough time reconnecting with the entirety of our social memory, while foreign experts keep trying to persuade us that we have nothing worth remem- bering, and would do well to integrate our personal narratives into their Arab or European social memory.


Mandela’s memory We can now pose the question more clear- ly: To which cultural universe does Nelson Mandela’s memory belong? Like the legacy of all outstanding beings, it belongs ulti- mately to humanity at large. But where is its cultural home? Is it part of the collective memory of South Africans in particular


and Africans in general? Or is it part of Europe’s globalising civilisation? Verne Harris works at the Mandela


Centre of Memory and Dialogue. Answer- ing this question by integrating Mandela’s book into the tradition of European mem- oirs, he gives it a literary structure bor- rowed from a writer out of European an- tiquity, the 2nd-century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Question: Is it sensible to model an African freedom fighter on a Ro- man emperor whose job, after all, was the snuffing out of other people’s freedoms? Considering Mandela’s life and work,


such an option calls at least for a rationale. Harris supplies one, by saying Mandela was “steeped in the classics”. By this, Har- ris means the European classics. He con- cludes that Mandela was steeped in them because, says he, Mandela studied Latin at school, and later, at university and in prison, he sometimes acted in Greek plays.


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