By Ncedisa Mpemnyama
In the Pitfalls of National Consciousness Frantz Fanon warns us that “No one has clean hands; there are no innocents and no onlookers. We all have dirty hands; we are all soiling them in the swamps of our country and in the terrifying emptiness of our brains. Every onlooker is either a coward or a traitor.”
In so doing, Fanon points us to the dangers of acting as spectators while social life passes us by. He seems to suggest that the onlooker is implicated in the very thing that they do not want to be implicated by.
Today, Pastor Xola Skosana penned a piece on the Black First Land First’s (BLF) defense of President Zuma against imperialist onslaught because of his flirtation with the BRICS process. Skosana and many others who have criticized BLF’s position seem to think that there’s a moment where black people don’t interact with social life (and all it’s global political burdens.) This leaves things to slide along natural trajectories, “waiting patiently” for the right moment (that never comes) to intervene. I believe, with Fanon, ‘waiting for the right moment’ mentality is bad and unethical.
Was it not Mao Zedong that warned us not to leave things idle while society goes bad, because we fear to be implicated in the rot? Didn’t he label such behavior liberalism that needed to be combated?
Is it not a form of liberalism to not understand the necessary tactical wrestling with the masses in order to raise their consciousness, and thus lift them to knowing how imperialism affects their lives, and consequently how it must be viewed through a black first land first position?
How does being a spectator raise the masses’ understanding of imperialism? How does being a spectator move the masses towards a need to keep track of imperialism’s tentacles, in order to assist in creating a strong people-centered Azanian front? Will a Pan-Afrikanist (PA) alternative just come on its own, without wrestling with the platforms that pertain to the defense of the victims of Western imperialism?
In simpler terms, should we watch as the African National Congress (ANC) wrestles for an alternative or should we not get our hands dirty as we put forward a Pan-Afrikanist alternative inside and outside the ANC, for society at large to latch on?
Isn’t the African Union (AU) exposed as a pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist union that doesn’t defend the interests of Afrika, hence the flirtation with BRICS?
So if President Zuma moves towards BRICS to create some global alternative, based on disillusionment with Afrika’s inability to unite, should it not be appreciated as a tactical move by lovers of Afrika?
In Skosana’s submission there seems to be a surprising valorization of the Azanian Peoples Organisation (AZAPO) as the catalyst to the awakening of Black Consciousness (BC) amongst the youth and the country in general, and he ascribes this to some tactical move taken by AZAPO pre the 1994 elections.
One is left wondering, how did that come about, when we know AZAPO, for a long time, has not been at the epicenter of Black Consciousness in the country? Was it not the September National Imbizo (SNI), Rhodes Must Fall (RMF), Fees Must Fall (FMF) and other new movements, that got the youth to re-imagine and situate Biko in the confusing post-1994 reality we find ourselves in?
Is it not AZAPO that chucked out a whole chunk of Biko’s philosophy and incorporated Scientific Socialism after Biko’s death?
Was it not Andile Mngxitama who wrote a scathing attack of AZAPO’s poor conceptualisation of Black Consciousness in Biko Lives!: Contesting the Legacies of Steve Biko, the very same Mngxitama who has consistently spoken to young people about Black Consciousness and its continued importance in understanding the world, South Africa in particular, and how we can respond to white racism and its legacies?
Skosana goes on to show Mngxitama’s supposed tactical blunders with respect to joining the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the “Hands Off President Zuma-Economic Liberation Now!” campaign. This is exactly the problem I am speaking to. Mngxitama’s supposed blunders move us further than AZAPO, which does not want to wrestle with the masses on what needs to be done, under the false impression of keeping their hands clean and not being soiled by the rot of post-1994 ANC rule. This leads to leaders of AZAPO such as Prof Itumeleng Mosala making such ideologically unfortunate statements as “today Blacks are oppressed by a black government and we shouldn’t blame whites for the suffering of Blacks today.” A statement Skosana doesn’t condemn but only says makes him “cringe”.
This empty, rejectionist politic is what Vladimir Lenin was speaking to when he spoke about the infantile Leftist disorder in Marxist circles, which privileged being “principled” over reading the material conditions correctly and in so doing influencing the political culture of all forces towards the necessary emancipatory rupture.
A revolutionary is not a revolutionary by how they keep the revolutionary theory pure, but, by how they use the revolutionary theory to awaken the masses. I believe the move to form the EFF, “Hands Off President Zuma-Economic Liberation Now!” and many others has always been about influencing the masses to take on Black Consciousness, Pan-Afrikanism and Black Power as guiding principles, in how they viewed and how they remake society.
In the world of Ethopian Afrikanist churches e.g. Iziyoni, there’s an idea of “imanamana”, wherein congregants gather in a circle and chase each other in the circle with savage delirium, possessed by the spirit of imanamana. Some of us believe that the empty, rejectionist culture that has beholden Pan-Afrikanist, Black Consciousness adherents, and a component of the intersectional black activists, keeps us in this perpetual cycle of exhaustive rotation, with no possibility of perforating the circle.
The politics of tactics are essentially about breaking through this circle.
The politics of breaking through are always heretic politics. Politics that are not always understood at the time or by the majority, but are necessary. For this, we applaud Mngxitama. History will absolve him and his organisation for daring us to think.
We believe the most important and subversive thing to do is simply to think. The time to think dangerously is long overdue!
Ncedisa Mpemnyama is the BLF’s National Secretary for Political Education.