Friday, 8 June 2012


Today, occupied Azania is sitting on the threshold of Youth Month, a month in which young people are commemorated for their contribution in the struggle for the liberation of South Afrika. June is a month with colossal significance in the country, for in this month, we pay ode to the most courageous revolutionaries of our time. But unlike other days when we commemorate individual heroes, such as the 27th of February when we remember the founding president of the Pan Afrikanist Congress of Azania (PAC), Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, or the 6th of April when we remember the former General Secretary of the South Afrikan Communist Party, Chris Hani, in the month of June we remember a collective. We remember all the unknown heroes and heroines, the sons and daughters of the soil who perished in the quest for a better life for our generation. It is for this reason that Youth Month is a significant month in South Afrika. For one month in our calendar, we remember ordinary people who did extra-ordinary things, as opposed to extra-ordinary individuals who achieved extra-ordinary feats.
Occupied Azania, reactionarily known as South Afrika, is a country that has a history written in blood. It is a history spanning over many centuries, a history that narrates centuries of harmony and also, centuries of turmoil. The misconception that the history of this country began in 1652 must be annihilated, for it is a construct of the White world that seeks to measure the journey of Afrikans using a White ruler. Our history began before our colonisation. It began at a time when our people were one with the earth, when no human-being was subjected to the brutality of starvation, destitution and poverty. It began when families were the very heartbeat of society, moving around in search for food and grazing fields for the cattle. It began when men hunted animals to feed their families, when feeding human-beings meant more to society than feeding off them as is in the current world that is defined by a quid pro quo existence. But we would be economising with the truth if we claimed for a second that Afrikan life before the arrival of settlers was all tranquility and no strife. Indeed, occupied Azania knew struggling before it knew the struggle. It knew of societies divided along class lines. It knew of societies divided along gender lines, for in primitive Afrika, the subjugation of the woman, subliminal though it was, could be witnessed. The domestication of women began before the settler arrived. It began with declaring her incapable of performing certain tasks. It began with relegating her role to that of a subtle serf. It began with her dismemberment, for in seeing her only as a vessel that would bring life, the woman was stripped of her potential to be more than just a mother and a wife. She was defined under the confines of both constructs. But this was Azania, and although the subliminal class and gender divides were present, there was a level of tranquility that would be disturbed by the arrival of settlers in 1652.
The Azanian narrative begins to take a different shape in the seventeenth century. It is this chapter that is often told, though I am of the view that even its narrative is somewhat flawed. The arrival of the settlers on Azanian soil deepened what had been very subliminal class and gender divides. It pitted Blacks against one another and Blacks against a system designed to create of them slaves. And thus began the history of a struggle as of yet not won: a struggle for the repossession of native land, native economy and above all, native mind that was systematically corrupted with ideas of its supposed inferiority. This is the struggle that birthed the greatest revolutionaries of our time. This is the struggle that saw millions of Black people at one point or another, taking to the streets, hurling themselves in jail cells and even bravely walking like lamb to the slaughter, into abattoirs wherein their last breathes would be taken. Bantu Steve Biko, Lillian Ngoyi, Khotso Seahlolo, Tsietsi Mashinini, Alfred Nzo, Solomon Mahlangu and many others, became products and casualties of this struggle. But beyond that, they, with millions of others, became its stars.
We have witnessed in occupied Azania, a sickening obsession with arrogating struggle victories to political formations at best and individuals at worst. The Pan Afrikanist Congress of Azania (PAC) has invested more resources and time in the fight to claim the Sharpeville/Langa Massacre as its own victory than it has in conscietising the toiling masses of our people using the very powerful tool of pan Afrikanism that it claims to be guardians of.  The Sharpeville/Langa Massacre, which occurred on the 21st of March 1960, marked a turning point in the struggle for liberation.  After a day of protests against pass laws by Black people in various townships across the country, apartheid police, outnumbered but with sufficient ammunition, fired at unarmed crowds, killing 69 Black women, children and men in Sharpeville alone and many others in Langa township (Cape Town), Vanderbijlpark and other parts of the country. This event gave birth to the armed struggle, which was fought hard by military wings of various National Liberation Movements. But the massacre itself was NOT a convergence of comrades. It was a convergence of ordinary men and women who had been organized into a coherent force of resistance. Sadly, when the PAC narrates this story, it conveniently forgets to mention that those who perished were not card-carrying members of the party. They were not schooled in its literary history and they may or may not have even known of the existence of the organization prior to the day of their mobilization. They were simply ordinary people who could no longer sit idle as their dehumanization deepened. But with the characteristic dominant in political organizations, the PAC wants to pretend as if it alone took part and thus, it alone must be celebrated, congratulated and paid ode.
 The Afrikan National Congress (ANC) has equally spent even more resources and time convincing the world that it alone is the vehicle that transported the country to the democratic dispensation that it enjoys today. The story of the ANC is even more brutal, for it has filtered into textbooks that are supposed to be keys that unlock our generation’s doors to prosperity. Had I not decided to explore alternative information, I’d have been under the false impression that the struggle for liberation began in 1912 with the formation of the South Afrikan Native National Congress, which would later be renamed the ANC. This is the impression very conveniently created by the ruling party; an impression that until its formation, Black people were not already engaging in battles against their oppressors. From the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 to the Bambatha Rebellion in 1906, our forefathers were already fighting against White domination. Unfortunately, to know this, one must first dig into ancient archives, for current ones designed by the ANC only narrate the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale and all others in which it played a significant role.
It does not only end here. Student movements in the country have also fallen victim to this sickening reality of claiming to be champions of certain victories. The South Afrikan Students Congress (SASCO) continues to project the false view that it alone fought for the introduction of student funding from government. It refuses to acknowledge and recognize that other student formations, including the Pan Afrikanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA) and the Azanian Students Convention (AZASCO) were very instrumental in the fight for Tertiary Education Fund of South Afrika (TEFSA) which was established in 1991 and would, in 2000, be renamed the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). NSFAS “seeks to impact on South Africa`s historically skewed student, diplomate and graduate populations by providing a sustainable financial aid system that enables academically deserving and financially needy students to meet their own and South Africa`s development needs”. But collectively, these student formations too continue in the footsteps of their mother-bodies, undermining the vital role played by the ordinary sons and daughters of the Azanian soil, who too were confronted with police brutality when protesting, who too sacrificed their time, resources and ideas for the realization of free quality education. It has become normalised to treat the non-partisan like ornaments that decorate protests as opposed to fuel that drives them.
The obsession exhibited by political organizations with arrogating struggle victories to themselves is not where the death of our society ends. It continues further with these political formations using individuals as sole epitomes of revolutionary excellence.
In 2011 I was invited as a guest to address a hall full to capacity in Pretoria. The occasion was the Annual Robert Sobukwe Day Memorial Lecture, hosted by the Pretoria region of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA). The instruction on what to focus on was rather ambiguous. All that I was instructed to do was to give a lecture on the founding president of the PAC. But I felt that re-telling stories about Sobukwe that are already known would serve no purpose. Every year at the Sobukwe Memorial Lecture, the story of the man is told and ret-told by many people using different words and quoting different literature. But it remains the same story: a story of Sobukwe who led the PAC after Afrikanist left an ANC that had taken an off-ramp on the philosophy of pan Afrikanism. This great man that is Sobukwe led the PAC and masterminded the anti-pass campaign and was arrested in 1960. In 1963 when he was supposed to be released, the Sobukwe Clause was passed and this man was kept in solitary confinement on Robben Island prison, where he endured extreme torture in the hands of White policemen. He was released nine years later and confined to Kimberley, where he became a lawyer and helped the toiling masses of our people. In 1978 he died of induced cancer and Azania lost a true gem.
This is the summary of the repeat presentations and although true, the story of Sobukwe has become more like a church hymn than an inspiration that is yet to be actualized. So I opted to make an impromptu presentation, which I titled “Sobukwe Must Rest In Peace for the PAC to Awaken”. My argument, in summary, was that the PAC died with the death of Sobukwe in 1978 and all that remains of what the PAC once was, are memories stored in the minds of APLA veterans. I went on to argue that if the PAC is to claim relevance in the current discourse, it must first let go of Sobukwe as a person and build onto his very progressive ideas, which continue to be relevant in the current dispensation. This was not too well received by the old men and women who have spent their entire lives kneeling before Sobukwe’s grave and praying to him for answers. However, it remains an argument that I hold.
Steve Biko too has become another idol with followers ready to defend his name. It is almost impossible to disagree with Biko’s ideas, particularly in the current Black Consciousness Movement and the pan Afrikanist bloc.  I have experienced the wrath of “Biko scholars” on very many occasions; people who simply refuse to listen to any critique of the man. In their eyes, everything Biko said is correct. Everything Biko wrote is relevant and the man himself is a God. If you want to experience the wrath of BC comrades, who don’t hold back when condemning President Jacob Zuma for polygamy, mention the fact that Biko himself had a wife (maNtsiki) but also fathered three other children with two different women, including revered activist, Dr Mamphele Ramphela. Mention this and it is the end of you. But beyond questioning the morals of Biko, critiquing certain ideas that he held is not encouraged.
And yet I want to argue that both Biko and Sobukwe must be allowed to rest in peace. Their ideas must never die, but the sentimentalism around them needs to end. The philosophy of Black Consciousness existed long before Steve Biko formed the South Afrikan Students Organization (SASO). Before he could internalize the ideas, they had already been rooted in other parts of Afrika and in the diaspora. The same is true of pan Afrikanism. Before it could be defined and made relevant to the Azanian question, it had been made a reality in Tanzania, in Ghana, in Kenya, in Haiti and in many other parts of the world where Afrikans were asserting their place in the human race. What exactly does this mean?
It means that Biko and Sobukwe learned from those who came before them, but went further to strengthen the ideas. They learned from the mistakes of Ujamaa Socialism as committed by Julius Nyerere and the errors of Afrocentricism as initially committed by Dr Kwame Nkrumah. They studied how best they can make these revolutionary ideas applicable to the situation in Azania, as opposed to taking them as gospel.
Today, however, we are not building onto what Biko and Sobukwe left behind but rather, are taking what they said as gospel and thus, commit the errors that they committed as opposed to rectifying them. We continue to define Black Consciousness according to Biko and pan Afrikanism according to Sobukwe, as if the ideology is no different to the men, as if the men are themselves the ideology.
Nelson Mandela must die. Not Mandela as a human-being, but Mandela as an idea. He must die because he is an albatross tied around the necks of Black South Afrikans, who are held captive by his problematic legacy.
Before he even became the president of South Afrika in 1994, Mandela had already become a drug. His name had been elevated above the revolution itself, such that the struggle had its own meaning but assumed a subordinate place next to Mandela’s. The South Afrikan struggle for liberation was a struggle by the people AND Mandela against the system. It was not a struggle by the people against the system. No. Mandela had to be included, but not as one with the people, because he was a collective on his own. The cry for the release of political prisoners was a cry to “Free Mandela and other prisoners!!” and in Robben Island there was “Mandela and other prisoners”. But when he became the president of the Republic of South Afrika in 1994, the Mandela became more pronounced, more massified and ultimately, more problematic to the progress Black humanity.
Today, as young people, we continue to find ourselves entrapped by Mandela’s legacy. In our institutions of higher learning, where we are subjected to racism and being patronized by White students, it is a herculean task to raise certain views, because they offend some people, who are under the impression that Mandela’s declaration of reconciliation was endorsed by all citizens of South Afrika. This reconciliation, which is projected by him as a complete erasure of our painful past, through speeches aimed at forgiving rather than going to the core of the problem, is not the one that we want. It is not the one that we have defined. But fear to offend the old man has resulted in a situation where all we say must be filtered, so that it sounds reconciliatory and neutral in the ears of the White world as opposed to being as brutal as the Black reality.
The ANC has also capitalized on Mandela. It uses the old man to entrap the masses of our people, who are still suffering the raw bruises of apartheid. When at first this was subtle, the recent election campaign proved just how ruthlessly the ruling party is using him. “Do it for Mandela”, read the print on t-shirts of ANC membership and leadership during the campaign. This is an ANC that has in the last four years had many of its leaders, including its president, embroiled in corruption allegations. This is an ANC under whom research has proven that R30 billion is lost annually as a result of corruption. This is an ANC that has subjected our people to open toilets, under-funded hospitals, learning under trees, e-tolling, a World Cup tournament that sucked the last drop of life from the coffers of the country. This is an ANC under whom old men and women feel nostalgic for the apartheid regime. But this ANC cannot be held hostage by those it is meant to serve, though for it to take us seriously, this is what needs to transpire. But we cannot hold it hostage because we are expected to show our gratitude to Mandela, the individual who on his own, without the aid of the common man and woman brought us democracy.
The only way that South Afrika, which is still very volatile in terms of race antagonisms, can move forward, is to address the race question as honestly as possible. This will not be done with the Mandela idea still so pronounced. The idea must die! And when that idea has died, we must use Black Consciousness to take us forward. Bu this Black Consciousness philosophy needs to be relevant and practical to the current issues. To do that, we must strengthen what Biko left us with, not simply regurgitate everything he said. And when we are Black Conscious, we shall engage the possibility of a united Afrika, not in the construct of Sobukwe designed in 1960, but in our own definition and narrative.
Our generation must produce its own revolutionaries…We need new heroes!

Malaika Wa Azania

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