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Is Dr Richard Pithouse Running A Reign Of Terror Against Black Radical Thought At Rhodes?

By BO Staff Writer

The streets of Grahamstown are laden with hushed voices that speak of the terror of the “Mellon Money”. Apparently, Dr Richard Pithouse has become the most powerful man in the Rhodes University establishment because he holds the keys to make available piles of cash from the Mellon Foundation to subsidise postgraduate students. Pithouse would be doing a great service to students if he uses the money to encourage “a hundred flowers (to) blossom and a hundred schools of thought (to) contend” – but he is not doing so.  He is instead using the money as an instrument to effect a reign of terror and impose his brand of liberalism that proceeds by distorting the ideas of Steve Biko and Frantz Fanon. Those who dare go against these distortions risk losing their funding in this respect.

As all ruling classes and capitalists do, Pithouse does not go around threatening to take away the funding of transgressing students but, as those who run the media know, the owners don’t need to tell you what is required. To remain employed and move up the ladder you spontaneously do the bidding of the owners. After all, who is going to bite the hand that feeds them?

Dr Richard Pithouse (Senior Researcher) and Professor Michael Neocosmos (Director) are the two white men who run the Unit for Humanities at Rhodes University (UHURU) which serves as the incubator for the Mellon cash. These two white men have, without blushing, become the most powerful conduits of postgraduate scholarship and are aggressively waging a war against radical black thought. UHURU is 100% white and male. It must be the most untransformed university unit with so much power. Of course, Pithouse is also waging war against black men who are denigrated as “black nationalists” who present the ideas of Fanon and Biko in an antagonistic way against white supremacy.

It is alleged that when Andile Mngxitama of Black First Land First (BLF) was invited to give a seminar recently, Pithouse opposed the process and summoned a meeting of the staff of the Department of Political and International Studies in an effort to force the Department to cancel Mngxitama’s talk. To the credit of the staff and academics in the department his demands were rejected. It is said he even insisted that a message from him be read out prior to the talk. What arrogance! But he didn’t stop there. It seems that he managed to get his buddy and minion in the social movement, Ayanda Kota, to insist that he be the respondent to Mngxitama. Kota has been the chief spokesperson of the white liberal establishment of Rhodes University for a while. He is on record for saying that white men like Pithouse and Tabansky taught him black consciousness. He is a tireless campaigner against Mngxitama’s views which suggest that whites have no role in the struggle of black people – echoing both Biko and Fanon. The Kota saga is contained in an article which was censored by Harvard University on the instructions of the same group of white liberals whose sole preserve is to research the struggles of blacks and make names for themselves.

The Social Movement Hustle

Pithouse is alleged to be using UHURU and the Mellon cash to push his brand of liberalism which in turn is based on distorting the revolutionary ideas and legacies of Fanon and Biko and casting them as liberal “Humanists”. In this context the politics of Biko and Fanon are promoted by Pithouse as a “kumbaya integrationist” line that brings blacks and whites together in the struggle against racism. The humanism of Pithouse is pervasive especially amongst the humanities students at Rhodes University. This distortion of Biko and Fanon has led to such a state of confusion that the Black Students Movement (BSM) while claiming to be guided by Biko’s Black Consciousness, also has white members. This is a brazen distortion of Biko’s ideas and political practice. It was at the very same Rhodes University where Biko and his comrades walked out of a non-racial organisation called the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and formed a black’s only movement called South African Student Organisation (SASO). There is no theoretical or empirical basis to associate Biko with multi-racialism. This begs the question, is this Pithouse’s version of Black Consciousness or Biko’s?

Similarly on Fanon, Pithouse has been pushing the idea that Fanon is not about the violent overthrow of colonialism. In the hands of Pithouse, Fanon is a Gandhian pacifist liberal who goes around hugging the settler as part of a commitment to a “humanist” project. This is not Fanon! It is white liberalism in defence of whiteness at a time when black students are calling for decolonisation. The students throughout the nation want a possibility of bringing the settler and colonialism down. Pithouse is doing all that is necessary to preserve a place for whites under the sun.

The more pernicious element of the Mellon cash is how it is used to not just silence critical students but also to run campaigns against certain black student leaders in the larger Fees Must Fall movement. Those who are sponsored by Pithouse are quick to point out the “hypermasculinity” of leaders in the student movement – to a point of gratuitously calling them rapists so as to discredit them. The irony of this situation is the fact that these “feminists” are happy to be associated with UHURU which is run by two white men.

It boggles the mind that UHURU couldn’t find a black woman to take the role of a Senior Researcher or Director – it is not hard to understand why. If a black person was responsible for the scholarship, the intellectual lordship of Pithouse and other white liberals would come under the same pressure as the statue of Rhodes. The money indeed silences as it buys allies to sustain white power.

Pithouse and the other white liberals are fanning the fires of division within the student movement which has emerged in the last few years. In particular they are escalating the divisions between black women and black men. Patriarchy, which is a real and important point of collective struggle, has been used to shield race and the power of white men who control the university. In the same vein, the intersection of ‘class’ with race is being deliberately denied with devastating consequences on the movement.

The streets of Grahamstown have it that, when Pithouse failed to censor Mngxitama, he used UHURU to organise a counter event to coincide with Mngxitama’s talk and invited the celebrated feminist Panashe Chigumadzi to launch her book. The subliminal strategy was to keep blacks divided. Black students were made to make a choice between going to Mngxitama’s talk and attending the Chigumandzi launch. Many well-meaning black students may not be aware of the evil schemes behind the scenes by whites who want blacks to remain at war with each other. It is what Colonel Graham did so well with his black reserve army all those years ago and it is being done again.

UHURU invitation to the book launch of celebrated feminist Panashe Chigumadzi
UHURU invitation to the book launch of celebrated feminist Panashe Chigumadzi

Many students are beginning to see that Pithouse, who is also known as the “intellectual bae of Rhodes”, is playing the role of a colonialist. Just like the colonialists of yore that Jean-Paul Sartre warned against, Pithouse is busy creating the new “golden age” colonial native elite who are obedient to white thought. Sartre’s instructive warning in the popular introduction to  Fanon’s Wretched Of The Earth, which is being denounced by Pithouse and other liberals, was clear about how whites produce “walking lies” who only echoed.

Satre says, “The European élite undertook to manufacture a native élite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture, they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed. From Paris, from London, from Amsterdam we would utter the words‘Parthenon! Brotherhood!’ and somewhere in Africa or Asia lips would open … thenon! … therhood!’ It was the golden age.”

This “golden age” is coming to an end though. More and more black students are going back to “the source” and reading Biko and Fanon directly and giving their own pro-black interpretations which are more in tune with what the two great thinkers of Black Power were about. When liberals point to the concluding chapter of “Black Skin White Masks”, the students point to the concluding chapter of Fanon’s last book Wretched Of The Earth where he reinstates his rejection of “universalism” and its Western “humanist” roots which are anti-black. Just like the corrective on Fanon, black students are now saying: Steve Biko’s call of giving SA a more “human face” is only possible after the deadly encounter that must obliterate White Racism. That is how Biko understood this position. However, before the dialectical encounter between White Racism and Black Solidarity, the world remains a Manichean divide between whites and blacks. White liberals fear nothing more than the truth of decolonisation which shall remove them together with White Racism from the scene.

Black Opinion (BO) has commissioned an investigative piece to understand how money flows from New York (NY) to Rhodes through the Mellon Foundation. There are allegations that in fact NY is handled by Pithouse’s old friend, Dr Salem Badat. This explains why no black person could be found to be a Senior Researcher or Director of UHURU. It would seem that so long as Badat is controlling the money, the white boys of UHURU shall run things and black radical thought shall come under sponsored attack. Pithouse has a cult-like following who will rush to his defense almost like a prospective lover would, showing his worth . But there are a growing number who see through his game – this writer of radical nouns connected to liberal verbs, this whisperer about uncultured blacks, this dispenser of good money for moderate degrees.

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