In 2015, the Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs in the South African cabinet, Mr Obed Bapela said of his countrymen, “South Africans do not want to get their hands dirty and rely on the government to provide them with free housing and free schooling.” He basically called them “a lazy nation”. A little while later, fake news websites peddled falsities of a Donald Trump speech where he said Africans are lazy fools only good at eating, lovemaking and thuggery. This speech was a hoax that served as click-bait and inflamed a lot of people but whoever created the fake speech simply exploited a widely held sentiment. Fast forward to June 2016, a Sandton pastor allegedly called black people lazy. Pastor Andrew Olivier is said to have told his congregants, “White people aren’t bad, it’s the black people that are lazy.”
Most African countries were colonized, that is a fact and no one should ever pretend that evil epoch never existed. However, colonization cannot be overstretched to then account for every failure in contemporary society. It is a problem when we become hardliners, unwilling to rationally consider all reasons Africa is not succeeding as much as it should. There are too many extreme and polarizing views and yet not as many rational answers for the continent’s plight. To put this into perspective, the believers of colonization being the reason for the current struggles will pretend it is the sole and exclusive reason. According to that thinking, every negative in contemporary society is a result of colonialism. This is denialism at its best. On the other end of the spectrum will be those who believe Africans are just lazy and want to reap where they did not sow. This breed will deny the existence of “white privilege” or the unfair global economics order choosing instead to attribute every problem Africa faces to the laziness of Africans and by implication, the West is privileged because of hardwork alone with no hint of exploitation. Both schools of thought apply in a world of absolutes but this current world is not that. There is a mix of everything and it is high time we confronted that mix. Colonialism, resultant self-deprecation, laziness, lack of capital and politics among many other things have played a part in keeping Africa behind. We will get emotional when we are told that we are lazy but it is time for introspection.
Laziness means we could have been doing more with what we have but we choose not to. From my observations, I have seen a lot more white people with an admirable working ethic than I have fellow blacks. This is no factual finding backed by statistical truths but the sentiment is echoed by how I see my fellows attempting to avoid companies or institutions which belong to fellow black people because of fear of poor service and excuses. In Zimbabwe, we call them “Museyamwa businesses” and these are not half as organised as they should be. They will churn out excuse after excuse for not delivering especially if the client pays before service is rendered. One may take this view to be a product of our own inferiority complex but the Museyamwa businesses are not doing a good job of getting the confidence of the people. They are the perfect encapsulation of laziness and sluggishness thus making it difficult to exclusively subscribe to the inferiority narrative. The inferiority complex cannot explain reprehensible behavior away. Small businesses in Africa should be the hotbed of innovation with governments sponsoring new inventions but the innovations are simply not coming. In many African countries, there are many learned people but this has amounted to nothing in developmental terms. It is as if we are learning so we can formulate better excuses for failing. Economies are still dependent on commodities thus driving us into recession whenever prices fall. Countries like Kenya where innovation is bein supported at every level and the people are working to create and contribute to humanity are the exceptions. Africa’s position in the world cannot be respected if it produces nothing the world cannot do without save for minerals and land. Even those minerals are being mined by the Chinese and the Europeans while we wait for them to give us jobs. We are becoming our own worst enemies.
African development pales when compared to Western or Eastern development. There may be other reasons why this is so but the fact that we are not trying hard enough cannot be avoided. Claiming we are still reeling from colonialism decades after is giving ourselves a convenient reason to relax and achieve nothing. Exploitation happened but our strength will be proved by creating and contributing to the advancement of humanity. The fact that Africa still has a lot to develop is in itself not a problem but a business opportunity. There is space for buildings to be built, concept cars to be created, smart cities to be built and new products to invent. Our space is not yet crowded and we should do more with it. Have we been lazy? Yes. Were we colonized? Yes. Is that enough to stop us from progressing? By no means!