“Let a New Asia and a New Africa be born.”
When Indonesian president Soekarno announced his famous declaration at the historic Bandung Conference of April 1955, he was joined by an unknown team of collaborators who will most likely never be recognized in the ongoing accounts of the event. With representatives from twenty-nine countries present at the conference, the role of the accompanying interpreters and translators must have been indispensable, as the linguistic composition of the host countries alone reveals a rich palette that consists of Bahasa Indonesian (Indonesia), Bengali (India), Urdu (Pakistan), Sinhala (Ceylon/Sri Lanka), and Shan (Burma), among numerous others.
In addition to the wide diversity of language groups that was present at the Bandung Conference, held in Bandung, Indonesia, was the presence of African National Congress (ANC) members, who represented the nation’s liberation movement during a period when the racist apartheid regime was still active. The significance of the event is particularly relevant on the eve of South Africa’s 2013 Freedom Day celebrations that commemorate two decades of liberation, as the southern African nation has also recognized the role of the international community in its ongoing consolidation of democracy and national pride.
While an exploration of popular Western culture may not uncover an extensive collection of examples that display co-operation between Africa and Asia, the 1955 Bandung Conference is just one connection that unites the two geographical regions. Both Africa and Asia consist of countries with emerging economies that continue to tackle considerable levels of poverty and inequality, while civil conflict also remains as a prominent issue. The ten principles that emerged from the Bandung Conference, known as “The Ten Principles of Bandung”, are as relevant in the 21st century as they were at the time of inception over fifty years ago.
The starting point for South Africa’s Freedom Day was the first democratic all-race elections of 1994, a year when the country also raised its new flag for the first time. These two milestones signified the commencement of a renewal process for South Africa, by which it sought to reassert a culture of human rights, peace, and dignity, and the official introduction of the new Coat of Arms in April 2000 marked a further consolidation, whereby the rebirth of the nation was fully embraced on a symbolic level. However, the process continues and this is acknowledged in the theme of Freedom Day 2013: “Mobilising society towards consolidating our democracy and freedom.”
Although the African nation’s era of democratic consolidation continues to evolve, it is also important to realize that South African society has made significant progress since the 1994 elections, the results of which can be observed in the 2011 census data:
• The number of households with access to piped water increased from 80.3 per cent in 1996 to 91.2 per cent in 2011.
• Since the first quarter of 2011, employment has grown over seven consecutive quarters.
• A “one-a-day” treatment tablet has been approved for people living with HIV, and more than 20.2 million people received testing between April 2010 and March 2012.
• Overall matric results have dramatically risen since 2009 and an increasing number of students continue to enroll in educational institutions.
The contribution of language is also ongoing in South Africa, as it is for all countries in a globalized world. As the highest-ranking sub-Saharan African country in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index 2012-13, South Africa’s economic relations with continents such as Asia has steadily grown since the departure of the former apartheid government that had left a scant national economy behind. Translation and interpreter services, as well as localization strategies, are integral to the development of such a status, but, as with Bandung, they are only really evident “behind the scenes.” Furthermore, South Africa’s education system is attracting increasing numbers of foreign students, and consists of Cambridge and TEFL-accredited English language schools that provide world-standard qualifications.
Thailand declared 2013 the “Year of Africa” and, together with other Asian nations such as Malaysia and South Korea, sits alongside South Africa in Bloomberg’s list of the top 20 emerging markets. Additionally, South Africa’s ambassador to Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia identified ASEAN and the African Union as “the two most critical economic growth points in the world” in the period leading up to Freedom Day this year. While April 27, 2013 may only be a day of celebration in South Africa, the sentiment will reach far beyond the country’s physical borders and, in the words of an Australian South African from this week’s media, it will be a day for the global community to be proud of “South Africans, instead of just being proud to be South African.”