By Athi Mongezeleli Joja
Professor Xolela Mangcu professes nothing but half baked truths and his article in the City Press titled, ‘Beware of agents provocateurs’, is another of his erratic soliloquies. I say ‘truths’ because his fixation with “icons” is never truly about them, but himself and the compradorial agenda he’s imposing on their ideas.
One cannot forget how in his first book, To The Brink, Mangcu forced an illegitimate ideological marriage between Robert Sobukwe & Nelson Mandela. The most jolting couplet, in spite of their known adversarial relations. Though this arranged marriage was scandalous amongst Africanist radicals, for the overly ambitious Mangcu, it was an opportunity to once again embolden the post-1994 status quo.
Professor Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s recent visit to South Africa has given Mangcu another gap to draw more black blood and butcher our intellectual heritage in service of the anti-black order.
Mangcu begins his City Press piece by excitedly praising Wits and Fort Hare Universities for giving Ngugi a prestigious welcome – red carpets, light fantasique and all. As usual, in a self-congratulatory manner, he shakes his own hand for being party to bringing high calibre United States (U.S.) based thinkers to South Africa.
Soon, Mangcu told the audience at Wits, he will bring more or less of the same brigade of U.S. based professors he brought before, to once again visit South African universities. Mangcu has not found it ironic that in the midst of insurrectionary calls for Africanised curricula, he needs not to always cross the Atlantic to bring rigorous thinkers and scholars.
Mind you, Mangcu was amongst the first university lecturers to ride the insurgent tide, article after article whining about neglected local scholars and the legitimacy of students’ demands. Today, it seems, Harvard unwaveringly still remains the port-of-call.
After his professorial gig was approved, homeboy flipped the script and became the university’s disciplinary tool, shuffling students into “line” whilst providing moral fodder for the university. In the face of robust engagement with students, the disgruntled Mangcu in numerous occasions, in his classical form of a Mexican stand off, is known to quickly draw out his parental, tribal, professorial and Harvard cards simultaneously.
As a man of form, exteriority and indeed, depthlessness – Mangcu has perfected the art of masquerading. Now, “respect” is his new lexical item, flanked by “traditional” values and bolstered by intellectual discourse. Appearance is favoured more than the substantive as the order of things.
His glee over Julius Malema and Mcebisi Jonas’ respectable decorum at Ngugi’s talks – two agents of the London regime change project – bears all the traces of a dispirited formalism and vacuous moralism. Consistent with this empty appearance, is the insidious manner in which he drags slander with tabloidish narcissistic amusement.
As Mangcu points out, his disappointments are twofold. First, it is the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) indifference to Ngugi and secondly, ironically, students’ informal provocation on white presence in a discussion on decolonization.
One would assume that the students’ interventions would have been the moment Mangcu would use to raise the structural bias of the university in critical unison with the students sentiments on the moral right of white presence on what, assumptively, was a talk on decolonization. But, Mangcu kept mum on the university’s ominious invisibilization of Ngugi but hollered his death knell on the students, to the point that he wished they didn’t even attend the lecture. It’s uncanny how UCT’s obvious racist indifference is treated so tentatively by Mangcu, but the students’ call-out of the very bodies that enable racism, he disparagingly wished were not there.
There’s definitely something odd about this image, and quite questionable about the ethical priorities of Professor Mangcu. To justify his mission to cower the unflinching students into reticence, in a neo-Tarzanist fashion, Mangcu dug out the traditional notions of “respect for elders.”
According to Mangcu, Ngugi was “good-humoured” by the student intervention. But not him, it seems. This is simply because, as he and perhaps Ngugi knows, the expression “respect your elder” does not formulaically construct the elderly as beyond reproach. If anything, “ubukhulu abubangwa” as the Xhosa dictum goes.
More seriously, what appears to be Mangcu’s major problem, concealed behind respect for the elderly, pertains to the questionable presence of whites. Of course, it would not be too far-fetched to assume that the notion of respecting the elderly here, is principally an appropriate euphemism for whites (whites as elders, blacks as kids), in so far as racial history is concerned.
More apparent than not, is that Mangcu’s wager on respect, provides cover, neither for Ngugi who was “humoured”, nor for his own vulnerable integrity, but the silent white minority.
However, this line of argumentation cannot be appropriate if Mangcu, as would be expected of him, would whip out Mandela as the symbolic figure of reconciliation, for obvious reasons. The fact that these students are cited as Black First Land First (BLF) and PASMA – that is, from the Black Consciousness and Pan Africanist bloc, is an interesting point. Interesting in the sense that their ideological orientation reverberates amongst the student community.
To discipline these students in a rather “appropriate” manner, he must archeologically exhume the figures that have given explanatory power and grammar to the political predicaments, against them. The triad of Fanon, Sobukwe and Biko is invoked to give a rhetorical dignity to his reactionary sentiment, in the most expedient of ways. Mangcu’s atavistic turn to the triad, is to make them “do” the dirty work of Mandela’s legacy. He Santa-Clausifies the triad almost in a similar way he’s done with Tata Mandela, to give off an impression that their work inherently contains a clear reproach of the students’ scandalous interventions. To do this the professor has to go as far as doctoring the actual writings to suit his agenda.
Consider how he cites Frantz Fanon’s essay, commonly known as The Pitfalls of National Consciousness, where the author criticises the national or intellectual bourgeoisie for their racial and ethnic chauvinism that had dampened down the nationalist liberation into a empty activity.
This citation is particularly memorable as a predicament that first faced Ngugi’s own generation, grappling with the ravages of the new form of colonial violence. Ngugi’s own Petals of Blood is a creative dramatization of Fanon’s critique of the post-independence national bourgeoisie.
As a class of intellectuals in total collusion with the sedimentation of white supremacy, Mangcu’s prevarication equally emboldens the very thing Fanon and Ngugi’s generations, critiqued. It is baffling that Mangcu would force that critique to stretch towards students, the very victims of it, while quiet about white culpability and that of the native intellectual mercenary protecting it.
Mangcu thrives on this hypothetical juxtaposition that the critique “could have been describing the actions of these students.” No! That supposition is unthinkable. What is likely to be Fanon’s rebuttal is that which reproaches the likes of Mangcu and the national leadership in their persistent deviation from the real decolonial process as invoked by the students call.
If Mangcu’s missile tells us anything, it warns us about sophistry and rhetorical power of what is metaphorically being termed decolonization. That in essence, what now goes under such a name is a ruse and must be exposed as such. Decolonization needs to be decolonized!
Athi Mongezeleli Joja is an art critic and co-editor of the New Frank Talk journal.