THE AFRICAN by Eric Mafuna.
There are many definitions of an African. Some say it is anyone who lives in Africa and owes their loyalty to the soil of the continent. Others say residence is not enough and should include a higher calling that would encompass cultural heritage and language.
This is not an article about that definition, but about the kind of African whose roots are in Africa, the indigenous African.
These issues arise as one tries to deal with painful realities of our time.
A group of researchers led by well-known thinker Eric Mafuna, grouped under the name Africa Now, has been researching the problem of African leadership. The thesis is simple: African communities are in crisis and the leadership of many institutions run by Africans is in turmoil.
President Thabo Mbeki tried two years ago to call people to his home and feed them and say "come forward and provide leadership in your areas of expertise", but nothing is coming of that effort.
In my home area of Nzhelele, in Limpopo, virtually all the general dealer shops, which number more than 20, are now run by Indians after the African owners went bankrupt.
Two weeks ago, I had lunch with someone who runs a 3 500-strong company, the most Africanised section of which had been fired en masse for fraud and dereliction of duty.
A white replacement has been appointed and work is going on.
"That kills me," he said.
A member of Cabinet told me about the frustrations of getting into government and hiring African people because that is the right thing to do, only for them not to deliver in the majority of cases.
"When you come from where we come from and you then have to realise that if you want something done quickly you have to rely on whites, it is really debilitating. You bleed internally, but our very own comrades do not work. There is generally no work ethic. Documents will not come on time or they will be sloppy. That is the painful truth."
Africa Now has been grappling with this issue on behalf of Eskom, which spent more than R6-million funding the research. They have looked at the Jewish experience of leadership, asking what it is that makes Jews such a successful group everywhere, able to integrate but also remaining distinct.
Community structures, religion, history, culture and all other things that make Jews who they are, are intact.
Indians are by and large the same as Jews, sticking together and supporting each other in their business ventures, and also ensuring strong community structures.
Afrikaners built their own communities and businesses and, despite the loss of political power, are still a community - distinct and thriving.
The African structures, on the other hand, are all gone, and those that are still around are being ridiculed each day, from circumcision and cultural practices to religion and the medicines of our forefathers.
And yet Africans were not always like this. The forefathers and mothers who built Zimbabwe and the pyramids of Giza, who taught the Greek mathematicians the basics of algebra and trigonometry were great people.
The leaders of the kingdoms of Monomotapa, Timbuktu and Mapungubwe were great leaders. They could never have succeeded in doing what they did if they were selfish.
The reality today is that people in this country who are indigenous Africans are prone to irrational behaviour fed by greed and irresponsibility. The numerous corruption and fraud cases involving esteemed African leaders are worrying issues.
Africans are not the only ones fingered for corruption, but the rate and level of occurrence is worrying.
What about patriotic fervour? Would the Afrikaans-speaking white rugby players of yesteryear have ever refused a call-up to the Springbok team as we see in soccer?
This is a painful reality. We need to confront the legacy of colonialism and racism and its effects on African people, in particular.
Africa Now's research goes back to pre-colonial times to try to find the lost moorings that made the ancestors tick.
The question is whether African leaders are today forced by the legacy of colonialism to operate outside their cultural heritages and what effect this has on the underlying principles of their leadership styles.
This Wednesday Africa Now's results will be handed to Eskom executives. This newspaper has committed itself to making its pages a forum for debate on this issue. Is Africa Now's premise right or wrong? Is there something that can actually be done?