Let’s Dream of an African Renaissance

By Larzsolice Aarend
Article Lets Dream of an African Renaissance
SEP 27, 2021 LISTEN

It isn’t my aim to provide a blueprint for the future, instead I want to inspire the readers into dreaming of their own version of an African Renaissance. I also want to introduce the concept of custodial multiculturalism as a means of ensuring the dignity and continuity of every culture in a multicultural society, based on the premise that the state cannot be the custodian of culture in a multicultural society. The rightful custodians of a culture are the traditional leaders; a state only will endeavour to create a single state culture at the expense of multiculturalism, or otherwise the state itself will have bias towards an over-represented culture. The whole point of custodial multiculturalism is to protect and develop the cultural resources of the society, so that all of the cultures thrive together rather than fight for domination.

The example that I give of a system is meant to act as inspiration for your own ideas, and to show that many of South Africa’s problems can be solved simultaneously if we dream of an African Renaissance. The aim isn’t to segregate cultures, but rather to create places of pilgrimage where people in a multicultural society can go to reconnect with their cultural heritage. The African Renaissance will only be successful if cultures start creating new heritage to hand down to their descendants. The creation of custodial organisations can act as a driving force for the cultural renewal programs that an African Renaissance requires. Poor people should be the target beneficiaries for the cultural arts schools, so that uplifting the poor becomes the mechanism of cultural development - but also to inspire other poor children with a chance to become cultural celebrities. Performers should be sent back to poor communities to inspire them with cultural performances.

In the specific examples that are given, emphasis was placed on demonstrating the potential for culture to be an economic driver that can be used to uplift the poor specifically, but the people of the culture generally. A system of cultural hubs is suggested to act as centres of cultural heritage preservation and generation. These cultural hubs are small towns with infrastructure to study and teach cultural arts and performing arts, have a festival square for celebrations and have a university to act as the custodian of language. Cultural hubs should also have cultural monuments and museums so they can act as tourist attractions to bring in additional money. The cultural hubs should be sources of pride for the people, and donating to cultural projects should be seen as a matter of pride. The cultural hubs are tasked with preserving the historical legacy of the culture while ensuring that the culture and its language are alive and thriving for centuries to come.

Custodial Multiculturalism


Multicultural societies in the present day tend to be post-colonial countries where the borders were determined by conquesting empires and not by local conflicts, while monocultural societies tend to have become monocultural as a result of local conflicts.

In order to drive the propagation and development of cultures, cultures require a custodian to take on the role of driving the development of the culture. In monocultural societies the natural custodian of culture has generally been the royal families, or the state. However, this dynamic is not suited for multicultural societies. While I am still suggesting that royal families act as the custodians if royal families exist, the custodian of culture that is envisioned by custodial multiculturalism is in the form of an non-governmental organisation with a sole mandate to act as the custodian of the culture. If the state is the custodian of culture one of two problems become inevitable: the state will have a bias towards one culture or the state will try to create its own culture to remove power from traditional cultural structures.

The separation of culture and state is therefore imperative to ensure the continuation of the cultures in a multicultural society. This implies that every culture requires a structure to act as a custodian of its legacy – to preserve its history and to generate new heritage for the future. Since several cultures can use the same language, it is preferable to have separate institutions to act as custodians of culture and custodians of language. The role of the custodians is to safeguard the cultures from the state, and develop a sense of cultural pride by ensuring that cultural activities are well-financed.

Principles and postulates

A multicultural society can only be stable if it has stable cultural centres

A multicultural society dies if it collapses into a monocultural society, and only one dominating culture survives or an artificial state culture is created. A society where different cultural groups are fighting to gain cultural dominance over the state cannot be a stable society. Likewise, if the state is allowed to act as the custodian of culture in a multicultural society then the state will abuse this privilege in order to create one state culture to replace the natural cultures. The future of any culture can only be assured if it is in the hands of the people of that culture, who are the only people who can reasonable be expected to care about the interests of their people.

The state cannot be the custodian of culture

The government will always attempt to create a state culture, which is acceptable in so far as it creates a sense of national cohesion. However, in a multicultural society the government cannot be the custodian of culture for this very reason – the government will always endeavour to create a single state culture. In a multicultural society, cultural conflicts are guaranteed by two things: the dominance of one culture over the others (usually by making their culture the state culture), and any attempt from any one culture to extinguish any other culture. If the state is the custodian of culture in a multicultural society then it will extinguish every culture except its own – which will either be an artificial state culture, or it will be the culture of a dominant group. Therefore, the state cannot be the custodian of culture in a multicultural society without creating conflict.

Centres of culture do not need to be geographical

Geographical regions are only centres of culture in monocultural societies, this is not always possible in multicultural societies. However, any institution that acts as a focus of cultural activities can be considered a centre of culture. Therefore, when it isn’t possible to create a geographical zone to act as a cultural reservoir then the culture can still be kept vibrant through community organisations. These organisations can then act as custodians of the culture to ensure the preservation and continuity of the culture.

Custodians can act as cultural foci if they are mandated to develop and preserve the culture

Since the state cannot be the custodian of culture in a multicultural society, it is necessary for any group of peoples who identify as a culture to create institutions to act as custodians of their culture. Within the context of custodial multiculturalism, a custodian is a formal institution with the sole mandate of being the preserver and driver of cultural heritage. The custodian therefore must act as a focus for collecting donations, building and financing centres of learning that focus on cultural activities (arts, crafts, song, dance, poetry, etc), and must lobby for the interests of its people.

A culture without a custodian has no institution to ensure its continuity in the future.

The purpose of the custodian is to use cultural pride to attract donations for activities that are exclusively related to cultural development, as well as to lobby for the interests of the culture if those interests are threatened by government or corporate policy. The custodian is there to ensure that the culture of its community remains healthy and vibrant, but the custodian must also act as the big brother that protects his siblings from bullies. Cultures that have royal families to act as keepers of culture should still establish a formal custodial organisation that is separate from but involving the Royal House. The reason for this is that all donations to the custodian must be used for the preservation and development of the culture, and there must be confidence that the fund will be used only for that purpose. The custodian exists to ensure that there is someone collecting money and doing the effort required to ensure that a culture thrives and becomes more vibrant as time goes on. If there is no one making the effort to preserve the culture’s legacy while creating new heritage, then the culture must decline over time. Custodial multiculturalism seeks to ensure that the effort needed to drive culture is maintained, by proposing custodial institutions as a mechanism to drive the effort.

Every language must be dignified with its own university to act as a custodian of language

Custodians of language should ideally be separate from custodians of culture for two reasons: several cultural groups might use the same language, and the appropriate institution to act as a custodian of language is a university. The universities that act as the custodians of language should focus on translations first, so that they can begin populating libraries in their given language. Printing and selling these translations should be seen as a major function of these universities, and the ability to read in one’s mother tongue should be promoted as a matter of pride. These universities will also be important for setting up curricula for mother-tongue education in primary school and high school.

Brotherhood between cultures

Larger cultures should assist smaller cultures in establishing cultural hubs. This will also create a sense of brotherhood between cultures. The aim of custodial multiculturalism is not to segregate cultures but to ensure that cultures thrive in a mixed society. The best way to establish a brotherly connection is to assist one another and to ensure that no culture gets left behind.

An example of custodial multiculturalism in practice

Below is an outline of the kind of institutions and economy that can be derived from the principles of custodial multiculturalism. The idea is to demonstrate how custodial multiculturalism can actualise the dream of an African Renaissance, rather than to prescribe the final system to be used. My aim is to inspire you to think of other systems by showing you that culture is a deeply underutilised resource that has huge potential to attract tourists and to uplift the poor. If diversity is our strength, then it is about time we start embracing our diversity!

Translation projects should be a matter of cultural pride to encourage people to read in their mother tongue

A language will die if no one can read it, and a language thrives when people first read and then are inspired to write their own works. If buying translated books from custodial universities becomes a matter of cultural pride, then the translation project can act as a major source of income for these universities when they are young. Translation projects should start with a focus on children’s books so that the reading habit can be created by encouraging parents to read to their children. Cultural stories can also be published, it doesn’t only have to be translations. The aim of the translations is also to expand the vocabulary of the language.

Cultural development programs are a key to ending poverty

The main way in which people experience the cultures of the world is through tourism. Multicultural societies therefore have a huge potential at attracting tourists if they invest in the development of cultural arts. In creating new heritage for the future, the performing arts of each culture should be developed and recontextualised for the modern stage or for street performances in tourism centres. The arts and crafts can also be used to tap into the tourism industry if it is developed. Everyone is born into a culture and therefore is familiar to the ways of their people. It therefore seems reasonable to expect that cultural development programs could be the easiest way of lifting people out of poverty. Coupling the cultural development programs with poverty relief programs by training poor children to become masters of cultural arts or dance can create an industry that will attract tourists, thus you create a poverty relief program that is also a culture-building activity and you give the poor a route to becoming cultural celebrities (and therefore something to dream about).

Cultural Dignity Funds

If the custodians of culture create cultural development programs that target the poor, then they should set up a cultural Dignity Fund (for example, a Zulu Dignity Fund or a Xhosa Dignity Fund) to act as a vehicle for donations. The aim of the fund is to give poor people a chance at self-dignification by involving them in the drive to develop culture, particularly in the performing arts. It doesn’t matter what your background is, if you do a live performance and the crowd cheers then you have earned self-respect through your own actions. Performing arts is therefore a way to heal the psychology while training the poor to have a skill that can be used in the tourism industry. The cultural Dignity Fund therefore has three mandates: to finance the construction and operation of theatre schools, to provide bursaries to uplift the poor, to finance teams of students from the theatre schools to go teach children in poor or rural communities. This last function of the cultural Dignity Funds is to transmit the new cultural heritage that is developed in the theatre schools back to the communities by teaching it to the children, and hopefully inspiring a few young minds.

Cultural arts schools

Performing arts only exist when there is a stage or agora to perform in and people who are willing to pay for performances. Multicultural societies attract tourists who are willing to pay to see performances from other cultures, so the main problem that needs to be solved in expanding the cultural arts into an industry is the stage or agora. Modern markets and tourism hot spots are not the same settings under which traditional dance, for example, is done. Dances need to be developed to be displays in modern settings, and modern stages need to be built to emulate more traditional settings. To develop new dances like this requires the construction of a dance school that is built under the mandate of the cultural Dignity Fund. The main feature of these schools should be a theatre that is a symbol of cultural pride, since it is on that stage which the future of the culture’s arts will be presented. These theatre schools should have a yearly festival week in the tourist season so that the final exams can be a live performance. Theatre schools should also send students out to poor or rural communities to go perform in schools and then have interactive activities where they teach the children. This ensures the transmission of the new cultural heritage from the theatre school, where it is being developed, to the communities.

Film and art schools can be separate institutions, but the main focus should be the performing arts so that performers can go back to villages and townships and perform to inspire the people. It is natural to anticipate a close association of the theatre schools and the film schools, and the art schools can start of creating props for the theatre and film schools. Bear in mind that these schools are cultural institutions that are specifically tasked at maintaining past traditions while creating new heritage for the future. The educational component is just a means of teaching the culture to the next generation, and providing them with an opportunity to add to the heritage they hand down to the generation after. So the initial focus of the institutions will be to study and reproduce the cultural arts as they were handed down from the past.

If this results in the inspiration of new arts, new performances, new techniques, new styles, etc., then the art aspect of the African Renaissance will be successful. However, it is the performing arts that will act as the catalyst for other cultural arts, and therefore the most critical aspect of this endeavour is to train performers and to send these performers back into cultural communities to inspire through performance. Films of these performances can also be inspiring, but the modern world is saturated with videos and images so the impact of a film will not be the same as a live performance. These community performances will become special events in the lives of the communities, especially for the children. It is the children who need to be inspired the most.

Cultural Hubs

Cultural hubs are the essential feature of custodial multiculturalism, not only because they ensure the growth and perpetuation of a culture, but also because they allow the rest of society to be integrated without disrupting their cultural identities. Cultural hubs can act as places of pilgrimage for people to reconnect if city life has them feeling isolated from their roots. This can create an economy of its own that can be supplemented by the tourist attraction that a cultural hub represents. If the institutions were spread apart then this kind of economy would be much harder to create and the institutions would rely more heavily on donations.

At the core of my vision of the cultural hubs is a university town consisting of the university that acts as a custodian of language and the theatre schools for the associated cultures. Museums should also be built to house cultural relics and exhibits, to inspire the students and attract more tourist. At the centre of the cultural hub should be a festival square to hold yearly festivals that can act as pilgrimages for people to reconnect with their culture and history. This is the main aim of the cultural hub, to attract members of the culture to learn and witness the heritage of the past and the heritage being created for the future. The secondary aim is to attracts tourists who would be interested in witnessing and experiencing a foreign culture, providing a source of income for the cultural hubs. The cultural hubs are therefore a monument town dedicated to the future of each culture and honouring its past.

Ideally the theatre schools and mother-tongue universities should be located close to each other, so that there is an overlap between the students and the performers, and they have a chance to influence each other. These places shouldn’t just be places where culture is studied and developed, they should be places where culture is displayed – and therefore a source of cultural pride. Cultural pride is important for ensuring that people donate to cultural development programs. Centralising these programs into a cultural hub (similar to a university campus) gives a focus in which to display the results of cultural development. A festival square is therefore an important feature to act as a place of celebrations for pilgrims or tourists.

Exhortation to Philosophy

Custodial multiculturalism doesn’t deal with homelessness in itself, but it should consider homelessness as a subculture. There are many reasons why people become homeless, but the lifestyle ends up being similar in cities. Ideally there should be a custodian of the homeless too, to act as a focus for donations and to implement programs to assist the homeless. The primary concern should be the mental health of the homeless, with a secondary focus on getting jobs once they have defeated their demons. In order to achieve this, the homeless should be exposed to philosophy by printing uplifting messages and thought-provoking questions on the food ware used by the feeding programs. The idea is to make them feel better about themselves while giving them something to think about that could lead to a healthier world view. Because of the innumerable burdens experienced by the homeless, stoicism would be a good starting point in determining how to make them introspect in a manner that lessens the mental and emotional burden of their situation as a homeless person. If a culture of philosophical introspection is introduced into the homeless population and it helps people feel better, they will teach it to others. If this can be achieved, it may be possible that the homeless might find their own way out of homelessness. If not at least the burdens of life can be lifted or lessened.

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