MINDS in partnership with the National Heritage Council of South Africa (NHC), recently Culture, hosted a two-day workshop, on 8th and 9th July, themed ‘Towards an Afro-centric, sustainable development paradigm in Africa’ in Johannesburg, South Africa.  The workshop brought together Africa’s leading heritage practitioners, academics and stakeholders to discuss and recommend how to foreground the research and practice of African heritage couched in ‘Africanness’ for sustainable and transformative development in Africa.

The objectives of the workshop was to explore the viability and modalities of conducting research on the ‘Africanness’ of African heritage, as well as to deliberate on the meaning and value of articulating ‘Africanness’ in African heritage studies, research and development practices.

The opening address was given by the Advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa, CEO of the NHC, who acknowledged the collaboration between MINDS and the NHC in convening the workshop. He further emphasised the work done by the Chairperson of the MINDS Board of Trustees, Mrs. Graça Machel, for pioneering the ‘Africanness’ research initiative, and described her as an organic revolutionary intellectual “who is not only interested in analysing the world but changing it”.  Adv. Mancotywa helped set the tone for critical reflection by challenging participants to confront the problem of how to change the hegemonic structure of the current knowledge architecture, so that Africa could cease being a source of raw material of knowledge and rather a knowledge producer for its own sustainability.  He advised that this can be achieved through channeling and projecting its own heritage as a foundation for its sustainable transformative development. He further proposed that the participants reflect on the philosophy that informs our own development trajectory as Africans and challenged those present to make recommendations on how policy makers can embrace and incorporate the role of heritage, including the African indigenous knowledge systems, in Africa’s sustainable development.

In her address, Mrs. Graça Machel pushed participants to frame the issues that relate to the definition, understanding, description, articulation and positioning Africanness for sustainable development in Africa. She stated that this exercise was important because ‘we have lost the description of what it means to be African’. She explained, that the loss of who we are as Africans is generally seen in how Africans respond when are asked to define ‘Africanness’. Despite the fact that as Africans we have been talking about reclaiming our identity and how this can contribute to our affirmation and assertion of ‘Africanness’ within the context of a world which has been on a sustained onslaught to guide the future of Africa even though that future may not be in the best interest of the  Mrs. Machel suggested that given the importance and envisaged scope of the project, there is a need to identify and involve more people and institutions to be part of the project in order to create a body of knowledge on ‘Africanness’. She concluded by affirming that African people should be proud of their heritage, and the pride needs to be grounded and rooted in the African identity.

A key outcome of the workshop was the identification of core research themes for the ‘Africanness’ Research project to be commissioned and led by MINDS and its research team. The thematic areas to be researched include: Afrocentric Philosophy of ‘Africanness’; Language as a cultural tool for conceptualization, identity, communication, spirituality and being; Use of ICT to promote African culture and heritage; Integration of African Heritage Studies in all levels of the education curricula.

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