By Ncedisa Mpemnyama
Xolela Mangcu is a professor. I am a student.
He is a black man. I’m a black man too.
Mangcu is an elder. Some people these days call me elder – I believe they mean that with all its annoying ramifications.
Mangcu thinks he’s wise. I think so too – generally I think I agree with him on that.
However, I am baffled by Professor Harvard, as some call him, because I think he is very problematic in the discourse to make, sustain and continue the freedom struggle that was betrayed by the process of the birth of post-apartheid South Africa.
As student activists we had resolved that the visit by Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o was good and timely. We resolved that we would have loved to have seen one of the doyens of African combative resistance among us – in an all black space, in spite of the university which is still a space of crude liberal anti-blackness.
We, the students who care about and work towards the decolonial project, envisioned a teaching and learning experience devoid of white over-presence, ontologically and concretely.
When Comrade Kolosa Ntombini rose up and assertively asked for wa Thiong’o to remove whites and set a tone for a more true and history situated conversation, I gladly accepted that gesture but knew Mangcu was not going to accede such a historically necessary conversation.
Let me backtrack a bit and move to an incident which occurred last year at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). The incident happened at a talk at UWC on the meaning of the university in the modern age with Professor Achille Mbembe, Professor Judith Butler, Professor Wendy Brown and Professor Theo Goldberg. The students intervened and made their voices heard at the talk, which happened at a time where students where under attack by state apparatuses for agitation beyond demarcation of what protest is, in this confusing age.
We were told that wa Thiong’o would be presenting his talk at UWC, but later, that was canceled because he had a so-called “busy schedule”.
From where I stand, I think one of the reasons the UWC talk never materialised is because student activists embarrassed Mangcu when he was about to start his stale professor performance at the talk last year. At the centre of this performance is the arrogant rebuke given to students in a condescending manner that never teaches but leaves them gobsmacked.
How can resistance be sustained and intensified when the supposed leaders of decoloniality in the crucial space of the academy, are white shielders like Mangcu? Does this show how bad the situation is and point us to a situation wherein a new energy sourced from the ground up is needed?
In Baxter theatre, Professor Harvard glibly took the mic and gave us a crying shame of an attempt to keep us from shutting down a wa Thiong’o we never cared to disrupt.
He jumped to assuage white guilt and embolden it so more. He sjamboked us for having minds to think beyond his sanitised revolutionary framework. A framework that snugly accommodates Rachel Dolezal as black and many other Aaron “Mbazo” Mokeona own goals.
On the other hand, wa Thiong’o weaseled his way out of a symbolic confrontation with whites which was disheartening to say the least.
Some of us believe old age desharpens revolutionaries. Wa Thiong’o is no different it seems. We are starting to accept the adage as a foundational principle of our revolutionary culture.
When another sister, Khanyi, rose to register her own particular pain in how the space was organised I was happy and sad. I had hoped that student struggle politics would by now have made that brave act she did obsolete. I wrestled with heavy weightedness after her intervention.
After all these moments of blackness contradicting itself I saw us, the blacks in that theatre, as microcosm of black life generally.
Blacks were at each others throats whilst white discomfort was not compromised owing to Mangcu as manager of black anger.
In a nutshell, I call into question the idea of what an ‘elder’ is and whether an elder can be given the honour and respect an elder is due in African culture, when he refuses to support basic positions that close the generation gap that afflicts black struggle.
To this end, I charge Professor Harvard, an Uncle Tom.
The history of Black people’s struggles are replete with Uncle Toms who, when struggle matures and massifies, snuff out its liberating flame. These Uncle Toms later emerge as shiny know-it-all sages who have never ever done anything except hold short sighted unimaginative conferences that allow anti-blackness to manifest undeterred.
Ncedisa Mpemnyama is a student activist and the Western Cape Provincial Convenor of the Black First Land First (BLF) movement.