Like many signatories to the Open Letter to the Africa Centre trustees, I received their second reply with a fair amount of hope – yet my heart sunk on opening and reading their letter.
I know the Africa Centre is not just about bricks and mortar, but much in the same way that a secure sense of home is necessary for a child to thrive – it’s vital for an organisation to have an assured sense of its location and future to have an impact. So far this board of trustees have failed to provide this for the Africa Centre. It’s tragic and almost laughable that this letter begins and ends with the proclamation of ‘Programming not Property’. It’s the most cynical, and offensive statement to make because the majority of the trustees can’t show they have attended any of the events held at the Africa Centre in recent months. There is no indication in the trustees letter of a detailed plan to ensure the future of the Africa Centre pending any sale.
The letter claims the current building is not relevant to ‘young people to whom the fading 1960s/1970s style King Street building has limited relevance’.
As a young Diasporan African I can categorically say to Oliver Tunde Andrews and the rest of the trustees that the King Street building and its history is very relevant to me and others like me. The Africa Centre offers us a direct physical connection with the history of our parents and grandparents generations, for whom the building was a sanctuary in an ocean of hostility. It would also seem that the whole ‘vogue’ for embracing, celebrating and re-using the past in fashion, art and culture has passed the trustees by. Note to trustees – it’s called retro or vintage – the past is sexy, when updated, embraced and cherished.
The fact that the Africa Centre was thriving well beyond the 1960s/70s, into the early 2000s when the current management took over is also overlooked. It’s a sad fact to note that there has already been one attempt to sell the Africa Centre in 2006, when the current chairman of the Board of Trustees was already in place. If they have already tried to sell it once, how can they really claim to have tried their best to secure the future of the Africa Centre?
The trustees letter claims that as a board they have ‘debated the best way forward for the Charity over a period of years and currently have the possibility to move premises.’ While they’ve been debating, we’ve been organising. The very groups that they claim don’t see a future in the Africa Centre have been re-establishing, with very little support from the trustees, a vigorous programme of events and cultural happenings at the Africa Centre.
It would be laughable if it were not so tragic that the trustees claim their decisions were/are made in the interests of the wider African community, yet the request for an open meeting, made by over 400 members and supporters of that community, they continue to ignore. If they truly have a plan why will they not agree to an open meeting?
Dele Fatunla (for the Save the Africa Centre Campaign)