Image: Visitors enjoy the Africa Day Festival in Brisbane, 26 May, 2013. Credit: Damian West.

‘Unity in diversity’ was the motto on Saturday when Queensland’s African communities and the wider public gathered to celebrate Brisbane’s third annual Africa Day Festival at African House, East Brisbane.

The event was coordinated by the Queensland African Communities Council (QACC), the peak body that represents African communities in Queensland.

“Today is a celebration of African cultures. It’s a celebration of Africa Day which represents the unity of African communities across the world,” said QACC president Sharon Orapeleng.

 “We believe that by being united in one voice, we’ll be able to advocate on issues that matter to us as a community that is settling and growing here in Queensland. We founded this organization (QACC) just to be able to speak in one voice,” said Ms Orapeleng.

This year’s Africa Day commemorated the 50th anniversary for the foundation of the African Union which was previously called the Organisation for African Unity (OAU).

“The festival celebrates those things that are unique about our cultures… our food, our clothing, our dancing. All that diversity that makes us different but also makes us one as a community from Africa… that’s what today is about, it’s a celebration,” Ms Orapeleng said.

Aside from the fantastic food, clothing, crafts and live performances, the event also featured an ‘ideas tent’. People from Queensland’s African communities were invited to take part in panel discussions on topics ranging from the practice of western-led development in the African continent to whether a pan-African identity is a good thing for African communities in the Australian context.

Speakers suggested that the western mainstream media focuses excessively on the ‘problems’ of Africa at the expense of its abundant social, intellectual, cultural and environmental strengths. Speakers also argued that African nations need to develop on their own terms and that the agendas of larger, externally-led development agents are often unclear.

But there’s ‘development’ and then there’s development… the kind where ‘small is beautiful’, actions are determined by real needs and the people behind the push are committed to build genuine relationships with their targeted communities and stick it out for the long haul.

Brisbane’s Stu O’Brien provides a remarkable example of this ethos. O’Brien hosted a stall at the festival to raise funds for KNM Tanzania, a project he set up in 2009.

KNM stands for ‘kundi la nguvu mamas’, Swahili for ‘group of strong mothers’.  

“We support young mothers to go back to school after having children. We run sewing and beading programs to support them and sponsor them to continue through secondary school and into college,” said Mr O’Brien.

“I was living there for two years and set up the program and ran it when I was there and I go back every year to visit.”

The program is having positive impact on the lives of young mothers in Tanzania.

“We had our first girl get a job this year. She’s graduated and she’s now teaching English in a kindergarten,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Some of the young women have started their own businesses. We’ve bought them sewing machines and they’re producing skirts and bags and all sorts of handicrafts. And all the women are continuing on through their studies. Lots of the mothers are now able to support their kids through kindergarten.”

But this is just one of a thousand hidden untold stories. The take-home message of the event is that African communities are here, they’re strong and they’re an integral part of the Brisbane community. At the same time, attachments to their homelands and interest in the social, political and economic future of African nations rages brightly.

Ms Orapeleng has high hopes for the festival in the future.

This is the third year we’re running this event and we’re hoping that we’ll do this every year for the next twenty years. I know the Greeks were celebrating 38 years that they’ve been doing the Paniyri Festival this year. We want to be like that. We want this to be a premier event where, every year, people know they can come and have a fix of African cultures,” she said.

For more information about the Queensland African Communities Council, visit:

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