Healthy Lifestyle Prolongs Life

On the 25 May 1963, the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) inaugurated its first Africa Day celebrations. On the heels of the independence of several African states from European colonisation, Africa Day was at once a rejection of colonialism and a celebration of liberation and human rights; a recognition of the progress and promise that can be found within Africa; and a reflection on the collective challenges that the African continent faces within a global context.

Fifty-six years on, we celebrate Africa Day on the 25 May 2019 through the theme: Healthy Lifestyle Prolongs Life. The central message within this theme is to emphasize the significant relationship between unhealthy lifestyles and premature mortality.

But we should be mindful of not simply reflecting on this theme through the narrow lenses of the morbidity and mortality impacts of lifestyles on the prevalence and incidence of communicable and non-communicable diseases. This theme should be placed within the context of a continent that still has staggering levels of poverty associated with inequality, malnutrition as a result of food insecurity, fatal and non-fatal injuries as a result of conflict and violence, mental illness associated with the challenges of living on a continent that is burdened with all the legacies of coloniality, and premature death because of poor access to the basic human services and resources necessary to thrive.

But, this is also Africa’s moment. We are truly a more transnational continent; we are remaking African cities; thinking about how to sustain our environments and ecologies; creating new forms of work commensurate with the 21st century; and crafting new forms of culture and knowledge in the world. Life expectancy is on the increase, communicable diseases are increasingly being curtailed, and we are endeavouring to deepen democracies to offset our histories of denigration and exploitation that have yielded so many of the psychosocial challenges faced by Africa today.

Psychology will have a critical role to play in addressing a collectively traumatic history, and defining new ways of thinking about humanity in Africa in this historical moment. As a discipline, profession and practice, it must contribute to new ways of thinking about families, communities, the world of work, social organisations and institutions, and the broader social landscape, that will enable healthy lifestyles, thriving and prolonged life.

On Africa Day 2019, we as the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA), call on all our members, all South Africans, all Africans and all in the African Diaspora, to confront the challenges facing Africa, celebrate its momentous rise, and innovate for a future in which an African renaissance will be characterised by prosperity, health and longevity for all.

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