Wisdom from Africa in a time of Challenge, Crisis and Courage

Passed down through oral tradition and now recorded in texts for posterity, many African proverbs stand the test of time. A few have been selected here, for contemplation or for comfort – as you see fit and as you emerge from lockdown: cautiously rather than carelessly, if you will.

Bophelo ke molaetsa. Thee letsa. Sepedi: South Africa.

(Life is a message. Heed it.)

With the number of cases in Africa exceeding 1 260 000 by September 2020, what can we say about paying attention to life’s message? With more than 25 million cases worldwide, I think we’ve learned many things: loss, loneliness, hate, and despair, but resourcefulness, partnership, love, persistence, community and virtual unity.

Ihsani (hisani) haiozi. Swahili: East Africa.

(Kindness does not spoil.)

The message in this proverb is that kindness lasts. The last five months have seen kind responses and generosity to many who suffered devastating loss due to lockdown. On a large scale, over R19 million was raised by eMedia and the HCI Foundation, as one example of many initiatives. On a smaller scale, it’s also the story of those who shopped for the vulnerable or refrained from seeing their aging parents to protect them from potential infection.

Izandla ziyagezama. IsiZulu: South Africa.

(Hands wash each other.)

We depend on each other. There is interdependence in the act of handwashing and it has been lockdown that reminded us that we cannot be completely self-sufficient. One just needs to peruse the SAFREA Chronicle for evidence of people working together for one another!

Kwa kukuta, oko ku nonkenya. Ovambo: Namibia.

(The hard thing has a seed in it.)

According to this proverb, when people persevere, prosperity will follow. It’s the story of the security officer whose contract was terminated during lockdown, but who never gave up until he secured his next position. It sends a message that those who keep searching, maintain contacts, develop networks and use the time to build their presence may yet reap the rewards. With estimates of 3 million job losses during lockdown in South Africa, we need to hold on to that seed deep within which is pushing to sprout.

Yiz’ uvalo, inqobo yisibindi. IsiZulu: South Africa.

(It is not fear, but courage that is important.)

Thousands of frontline workers continued their work, despite difficulties with PPE (personal protective equipment) and increased risk of becoming infected or infecting those with whom they live. Frontline workers made sacrifices in order to serve. It is their courage that kept them in service rather than their fear that made them stop. We’ve made it. Level 2 and we’re still moving.

Bikondama kuya nshiku bikoloka. Kaonde: Zambia.

(All bent things will be straightened as days pass.)

Time heals all wounds. The stretch has been long and the losses have been great. But there is an upward curve when things are restored and, over time, we can look forward to the crookedness caused by lockdown, in all its forms, standing straight and tall.

Tama sugo diniabe. Kanuri: Nigeria.

(Hope is the pillar of the world.)

Hope remains a stronghold in a world of fluctuating circumstances … and boy has it been fluctuating up-and-down and all around!

Onward Africa. If nothing else, for now we have words of wisdom to give us strength and keep us moving.

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