South Africa is celebrating the Africa Day under the theme: “A year of Nelson Mandela – Building a Better Africa and a Better World”. Africa Month and Africa Day present an opportunity to promote African unity, ensure deeper regional integration and recommit Africa to a common destiny. Africa Day presents an opportunity for South Africans to reconnect and recommit themselves in support of all government interventions to develop a better Africa and a better world.
Africa Day celebrates the day when the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the precursor to the African Union (AU)(link is external), was formed in 1963. It acknowledges the progress that we, as Africans, have made, while reflecting upon the common challenges we face in a global environment.
The African Union, comprised of 53 member states, has brought together the continent of Africa to collectively address the challenges it has faced, such as armed conflict, climate change, and poverty.
After the World War II, the process of decolonisation of the African continent gathered momentum as Africans increasingly agitated for more political rights and independence. While in other parts of the continent colonial powers reluctantly and grudgingly relinquished power, in other parts African people launched protracted struggles against the recalcitrant colonial regimes.
Thus, between 1945 and 1965 a significant number of African countries gained independence from European colonial powers. Ghana became the first African country south of the Sahara to gain independence on 6 March 1957. Its independence served an inspiration to other African countries struggling against colonial rule and as a result Ghana occupied a central role in the struggle against colonial rule.
Just over a year after its independence Ghana under the leadership Kwame Nkrumah convened the first Conference of Independent African States on 15 April 1958. Amongst those countries that attended were Ghana, Ethiopia, Sudan, Liberia, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia amongst others. There were also representatives of the National Liberation Front of Algeria andthe Union of Cameroonian Peoples.
It is worth noting that there were only eight African countries who were independent at this time. The conference was an unequivocal assertion of Africa’s rejection of colonial and imperialist domination of the continent. It became the first Pan African conference to be held on the continent bringing together various African countries. Furthermore, the conference became a collective platform from which African countries sought to cooperate in the struggle against colonialism.
To further encourage and forge a common goal of fighting against colonial rule, the conference called for the observance of African Freedom Day once a year, to mark “the onward progress of the liberation movement, and to symbolize the determination of the People of Africa to free themselves from foreign domination and exploitation.” Consequently, 15 April was enacted as called it African Freedom Day (or Africa Liberation Day), and this marked the beginning of what would later be known as Africa Day.