by Ncedisa Mpemnyama
date: 12 April 2016
On The radio 702 interview: What is happening at Wits.
The first problematic aspect of the interview was the host, Redi Thlabi’s biasness. You got the feeling that she had already taken a side – that of Thenji, from the onset. She framed the discussion in a villain and hero manner which demonised Chumani Maxwele from the start.
Another worrying factor was how the callers seemed to be all anti Maxwele (a small faction of petty bourgeois intersection cabal) and members of Fees Must Fall that we know. What does this say about 702 and Redi’s journalistic ethical compass?
Thenji accuses Chumani of presiding over a masculinist, rape-erasing, queer-unloving movement that refuses to change and concretise its supposed intersectional outlook. This is partially true, what movement isn’t? Isn’t it a self evident issue that movements are instruments for freedom imbued with all the bad things they hope to rid? So why ask for miracles whilst you yourself are not a perfect being? Then the question becomes, how do the reactionary utterances of one individual (Phethani) invite sjamboks even though some males have said they are fighting individually and collectively to unlearn these privileges that they have absorbed from the first day they open their eyes?
Thenji also claims that she and other LGBTQIA people were deliberately excluded, but this doesn’t hold water. Oftentimes a movement makes decisions to meet behind closed doors and not everyone makes those meetings. A case in point is how certain national meetings of Fees Must Fall have excluded historically black institutions, even though they have been the sites of the most grotesque police brutality. In fact the popularisation and formalisation of this movement known as Fees Must Fall has come at the expense of historically black institutions, and comrades like Thenji and her cabal have tended to be silent on this certain kind of insidious exclusion. Are there no LGBTQIA and feminist comrades in these institutions being left behind, and when they are invited, are they not worthy representatives? Does that simply mean that if you are not part of the noisy, mean-spirited, Facebook ranting LGBTQIA cabal from privileged historically white universities that you are not a sufficient representative of LGBTQIA and feminist issues? In the interview Thenji calls women who were at the protest tokens. Wasn’t this tokenism issue that Thenji raises an erasure of other women who don’t speak, see and hold the same position in the movement as her and her friends? We know they have characterised other feminist women who disagree with them as “patriarchal princesses”. Does this mean that solely because you are a queer body named Thenji then you are the sole representative of queer bodies?
The Fallist community prides itself on championing a flat structure leadership, yet those who regard themselves as part of the intersectional structure attending the meeting, were dehumanised and rendered tokens (the women in particular) solely because they don’t hold extremist feminists position as the likes of Thenji. Doesn’t this go against the basic spirit of intersectionality and the governing principles that underpin Fallism?
Thenji and her clique also introduced a problematic slogan– one patriarch ten sjamboks. We know that black men are socialised to move in a hyper-masculine way throughout their lives, so how does lashing them with ten sjamboks teach them new ways of being? What does the giving of lashes on their already battered and bruised bodies do to those who wield the sjamboks? Because we know, no matter how much Thenji and her ilk moer black men with sjamboks the system of power in the “zone of non being” won’t shift, because patriarchy doesn’t end from such violent interventions. Like when a rapist gets burnt alive and another one gets born.
Was it not a sign that we are heading in the right direction when black men ran away instead of allowing their masculine egos to propel them to a black on black blitzkrieg with their sjamboks comrades in front of a spectacle craving unkind media?
Also, what does it mean whenever a male comrade ascends to some leadership position and gets media visibility, he gets a rape accusation which is never taken forward but merely hangs on his head like some halo?
From the onset Chumani takes a very sad position on the happenings of the Wits National Shutdown. His intervention is solely to prove that he individually is not a violent man. He pleads, he did not strangle Thenji, he did not beat her up, he was trying to “allow” her to protest and he is being targeted by this feminist queer onslaught. As you listen you would think it was a Chumani protest, and other comrades were sleep walking all the way to Gauteng from different provinces with no understanding of why they were there. This overindulgence in narrow individual politics is one of his most glaring weaknesses. Instead of showing the ideological shortcomings in Thenji’s politics (there were many by the way) he kept mouthing his name ad nauseum. In any revolutionary movement the guiding principle is the death of the self for the collective. Didn’t the 1976 generation teach us this very terse but very important principle: “the people first, then and only then, the individual”?
How someone who characterises himself in the way Chumani does fails to internalise these sacred principles speaks to the type of narrow “me first” politics he and Pambo – his fellow accused “leader” – have come to be known for. A cynical culture of impromptu TV interviews only to ensure and entrench one forcefully – with a tinge of chicanery – as a generational youth leader, even though the commitment, clarity of thought and deed don’t attest to this.
The constant personalisation of struggle and mean-spirited narcissistic fights (Chumani and Thenji or Pambo) are for entrenching one as a generational power player in the South African political space. This is rooted in the hopelessness brought forth by the failures of ANC to its youth. This failure works its way (mentally) in how young people think and dream of a new society. The uttered dreams of uprooting and dismantling white power do not collate with the praxis needed to arrive at the decolonised nirvana, but fall within the precepts of the existing anti-black tragic and comical reality. In other words, it’s a younger more sophisticated version of hustling for a job using revolution as a vehicle to try and escape the rigours of blackness materially.
The Fees Must Fall struggle has seen students meet with Vice Chancellors, including white VC’s, and never have they been sjamboked, choked, groped or beaten. Yet, the continual violence within the black community persists. It seems easier for blacks to brutalise each other through both verbal and physical abuse. The culture of a true black revolutionary movement must be one of introspection, reflection, and persuasion in a loving way. The question arises, how will the student movement proceed forward if we fracture, owing to personal differences whilst we have not addressed the source of them, as primarily governed, kept and given power by a stubbornly racist patriarchal order?”
The above article by Ncedisa Mpemnyama was first published by Culture Review Magazine on 11 April 2016.