Aloysias Maimane asks what makes someone an African. Part of the answer relates to African celebrations. In this article, Aloysias explains what celebrations mean to Africans, and what implications this has for companies and leaders. Anyone who needs to attract, retain and inspire African staff members, whatever their cultural background, would do well to consider the importance of celebrations.
By Aloysias Maimane
I am an African â€¦ a statement true about my address and origin, but is it always true about my identity and soul? I have walked through the corridors of many houses and have seen the pictures and ornaments mounted on the walls. In many ways these pictures tell me the story of the family, and what that family or individual values. It has indeed led me to wonder: what would be the pictures on the wall of South Africa? What is the story that is been told through our streets and highways – and what indeed is the soul of our nation, communities and companies? Are we Africans, in a world where the term â€œbeing Africanâ€ is up or grabs, regardless of colour, and in a world where â€œbeing Africanâ€ can both be lucrative and an insult, all at the same time?
Can I be an African by birth, and by choice? What does â€œbeing Africanâ€ mean? There are many ways to answer this question, and many aspects to its answer. But, one thing is sure: Africans know how to celebrate. Unlike any other peoples, celebration is at the heart of Africa.
For as long as I can remember, being African has always been wrapped up in Celebration. It is the very essence of being able to take note of significant times in the development of an individual. It includes the milestones of the day of birth, the 3 months after the birth when the child can go out in public, the first set of teeth, the first school day, a girlâ€™s first cycle, graduation, her first day at work, the day of her lobola, the wedding, and the birth of their first child – and so the cycle continues. All these are counted as a privilege, and worthy to be celebrated, as they give credit to God or the ancestors who have watched over the life being celebrated.
But the question remains: why is celebration critical for an African?
Celebrations are about connections. We connect with natural and supernatural beings. Celebrations help us forget any misery endured and mark points in the lives of Africans. They give the opportunity to invite the family, not just your immediate, but the extensions to the Aunts and Uncles, first, second and third cousins – basically anyone and everyone is welcome. It is at celebrations where values are shared over meals and connections are made with every generation. Celebrations create an ideal forum for the state of the family address from the elders but also the style, manner and the structure of process communicates in itself. Its similar to Jewish functions, with literal meanings given to each of the processes of the function.
Celebrations give contacts to the earth. Africans value the soil upon which they walk. It speaks deeper to the value of the continent and spirit of Africa. It is about restoring old contacts and making new ones. Celebrations are about introducing new members to the family, the community, and the earth itself.
Celebrations are ceremonies. Dress code is critical. Ceremony gives people the opportunity to display oneâ€™s status within the family or clan. The order in which the ceremony is conducted positions the power base and gives respect where itâ€™s due. Whether a sad ceremony, like a funeral, or a joyous occasion, such as a birth or wedding, order and process are still important. The ceremony provides opportunity to pass traditions from one generation to the next, with instructions being given, and a common phrase heard: â€œThis is how we do thisâ€. This ensures that the distinctions of the family and what the family stands for endure.
Having painted the picture of celebration, I know it is true that at every point of contact there should be a celebration. Celebrations are called and led by the leaders. So, if we have an African government, we will indeed have celebrations. The celebrations will always be big – purely because we can. The criticism is made consistently about how government spends money on celebrations that could be used for other perceived priorities â€“ yet one needs to understand that celebrations speak to the soul of Africans. It is a sociological declaration of success and building of community. It is a requirement.
Businesses and companies form a key part in building community for people. People spend more time at work than they do in almost any other context. Their immediate community is the people that they work with. The question can be asked, â€œWhat things can be done to unite the staffâ€. We understand that companies in South Africa have historically been split by race and cultural issues. Amongst all the things they can do to respond to their past and shape their future, weâ€™d suggest that creating celebrations must feature in their plans. At key moments of success, companies must create events that help them celebrate. At least, if the company is an African one, this focus on celebration will be appreciated.
The recent ANC conference was deemed successful not only because of its content, but also the community and celebration that is created in the passages and corridors of the conference. Think of the Unions: every strike or mass action is associated with song. It is part of the soul of Africa.
There are many types of celebrations. For example, First National Bank have an initiative to give Football World Cup tickets to their staff as incentives and in celebration of successes over the next 3 years. This type of initiative connects staff with something the company is involved in and with the passions of the staff within the company.
In any change management process it is always critical to create moments of celebration â€“ especially of the small wins at key milestones. Staff lunches need not only be year-end functions. But broader than that, companies must be especially sensitive to the lives of their staff and the critical moments in them. This would include compassion around funerals, joy at weddings and birthdays, and more. And donâ€™t forget about the same events in the lives of their children, too.
I recently did a climate survey for a company. The results showed that staff felt it important the company acknowledged and connected with the events happening in and around the lives all staff members.
People are simply not islands or a good pairs of hands. The research on the â€œBlack Diamondsâ€ shows and highlights the importance that this cohort of workers presents for the workplace, the retention of this group, is critical for the sustainability of any company and for the purpose of doing business in Africa. And they need celebrations.
Aloysias Maimane is a keynote presenter and facilitator with the TomorrowToday.biz team in South Africa. He has a particular passion for understanding diversity, and for helping companies connect with their top young black talent. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.