[Excerpted from the book Real Utopia: Participatory Society for the 21st Century (AK Press, 2008).]
The one issue that remains the main problem in post-colonial Africa is the failure of African revolutionary movements to articulate a truly liberatory political and economic vision. The word "liberatory" is used in this essay in an anarchist sense; meaning, I am a fanatical lover of liberty (Bakunin[i]). According to Bakunin, liberty is the only context in which people’s intellect, dignity and happiness can increase and grow, as opposed to the formal liberty doled out, measured and regulated by the State. Further, as Bakunin reminds us, it is important to keep in mind that the State, as we know it, represents and is there to serve the interests of the privileged few in reality.[ii]
Post-colonial thinkers have yet to conceptualise a liberatory State structure that does not facilitate a mere replacement of the old colonial ruling class with the new post-colonial ruling elite. Other obstacles we face in our struggle to achieving a decolonised Africa are, for example, the theoretical concepts we use to describe what we are fighting for and the assumptions we make when talking of decolonisation. The roots of this problem can be traced to limiting political ideologies; some of these political ideologies include pan-Africanism, black nationalism and black Marxism.
Another problem encountered by writers is the challenge of talking about race in the post-colony. Many post-colonial writers make a mistake of prioritising class over race, or vice versa, instead of using both viewpoints.
It seems to me that if we are serious about winning social changes, then it is crucial that these issues are discussed openly and honestly. A sensible point of departure for our debate ought to begin by critically reviewing some of the widely read post-colonial political literature on the topics of decolonisation, post-colonial society and racism.
The objective is not to merely highlight the wrongs and flaws of different political ideologies. The ultimate goal, however, is to present an alternative ideology that is consistent with our values and aspiration. So, in part two of this essay I present an alternative political theory that relates sensibly to post-colonial socio-economic conditions. This alternative political theory is based on the logic of participatory politics. I use post-apartheid South Africa as my case study to discuss political and economic challenges faced by post-colonial Africa and to show how a liberatory political theory could be implemented in practise. The reason I chose South Africa as my case study for this essay is simply because I know South African history and politics very well, and, in addition, I am South African.
Part One: Literature Review
Frantz Fanon is regarded as one of the key post-colonial theorists, and so it makes sense to first review his work. For the purpose of this study, the Wretched of the Earth by Fanon is an appropriate text to review.[iii] Regarding the issue of race versus class, the literature review will focus solely on post-apartheid South African writing.
Fanon argues that decolonisation is always a violent phenomenon. "The naked truth of decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it."[iv] According to Fanon, decolonisation is a programme of "complete disorder" which aims to change the social order of the colonial world. It is a meeting of two forces, opposed to each other by their very nature, and their first encounter was marked by violence and their existence together was carried on by dint of a great array of bayonets and cannon.
It is a truism to point out that the colonial society by its very nature is violent. It does not, however, necessarily follow that decolonisation is a revolutionary programme that is violent in nature. It might be true that most countries that have been colonised have achieved freedom through a violent struggle; however, that says more about the arrogance of colonial power than it says about the decolonisation programme itself. The misconception of decolonisation as violent in nature characterises the false assumptions that underlie Fanon’s thinking about where the decolonisation process ought to begin (Albert, 2004[v]). It must be emphasised that Fanon’s understanding of the colonial world is profound; however, some of his assumptions regarding decolonisation hinder how we might relate sensibly to the possibilities of moving forward to the liberated, decolonised society that is not a source of pathology.[vi]
Instead of decolonisation evoking for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it, we could conceive of decolonisation as a fundamental societal change, a radical change in both the economy and the broader societal values regarding social relations such as race relations and class relations, to paraphrase Albert.[vii] It is through such a programme that colonised people find their freedom. It is not, as Fanon claims, through violence that the colonised people find their freedom.
Fanon argues that violence for the colonised is therapeutic, that it is a "cleansing force."
In reality, as Albert points out, violence has horrible effects on its perpetrators; it compels people to devalue human life.[viii] Colonial societies serve as evidence to support this view. And, there is no evidence to make us believe that violence perpetrated by the other side will not have the same effects.
Fanon, however, argues that violence frees "…the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it…restores his self-respect."[ix] Fanon does not provide evidence to support this perspective, nor does he explain his assumption regarding the "native inferiority complex." He (Fanon) seems to assume that simply because[x] blacks in the colony are subjected to all sorts of racist humiliation, this automatically results in inferiority complex and self-hatred in blacks.
In his book entitled Shades of Black,[xi] William Cross argues that there are at least four factors that explain why the mental health of blacks, including any propensity toward self-hatred, are not and have never been easily predicted by measures of racial identity. These are:
- The limited generalisability of results of racial-preference studies conducted with three and four year old children.
- The effects of Black biculturalism, acculturation, and assimilation on Black monoracial preference trends in racial identity experiments.
- The problem of interpreting the meaning and salience of racial preference and racial identity for Black adults operating with a multiple reference group orientation.
- The historical failure of students and scholars of racial identity to differentiate between concepts and measures of ascriptive RGO [Reference Group Orientation] and concepts and measures of self-defined RGO.[xii]
The point one wants to highlight is that some of Fanon’s assumptions vis-à-vis what decolonisation represents, the motivations that inspire natives to violently rebel against a colonial regime and the supposedly rampant inferiority complex that is said to drive the natives into a blood frenzy, are completely unfounded. If we are concerned with building a sound post-colonial theory that explains more than hinders the comprehension of reality, then that theory ought to at least be based on sound assumptions. What is needed rather is a post-colonial theory that (Albert, 2004[xiii]) explains social events and psychological phenomena, a theory that explains political and psychological trends sufficiently for us to situate ourselves, explain to others and understand the way things are.
The Pitfalls of National Consciousness
This is perhaps the most important chapter in the Wretched of the Earth, for in it Fanon discusses ways a new government of the liberated post-colonial state could betray the revolution. Fanon argues that the middle-class of the new post-colonial state is under-developed because it is reduced in numbers, has no capital, and is totally opposed to the revolutionary path. Eventually it falls into deplorable stagnation. For this middle-class, nationalisation of the economy simply means the transfer into native hands of those unfair advantages which are a legacy of the colonial period. Also, this middle-class "…will be quite content with the role of the Western bourgeois’s business agent, and it will play its part without any complexes in a most dignified manner."[xiv]
Fanon adds that after independence this middle-class does not hesitate to invest the money it makes out of its native soil in foreign banks. Further, the new middle-class will spend large sums of money on material things, such as cars and country houses. Fanon refers to this middle-class as the "bourgeois dictatorship." He argues that they are not real bourgeois in the true sense of the word, but rather a "…sort of little greedy caste, avid and voracious, with the mind of a huckster, only too glad to accept the dividends that the former colonial power hands out to it."[xv]
According to Fanon, the reason that this middle-class is corrupt is because it has a permanent wish to identify with former colonisers. Consequently, this middle-class adopts with enthusiasm the ways of thinking characteristic of the former colonisers. The results are that this new middle-class is incapable of generating great ideas to manage and develop the economy, for it remembers what it has read in European textbooks.
The logic that underlies Fanon’s analysis is that post-colonial governments and the black middle-class betray the revolution because, among other things, they want to be white or to occupy the position formerly occupied by the coloniser. For example, he writes that before independence the "…look that the native turns on the settler’s town is a look of lust, a look of envy; it expresses his dreams of possessions – all manner of possession: to sit at the settler’s table, to sleep in the settler’s bed, with his wife if possible."[xvi]
History teaches us (for example, see A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to present[xvii] by Howard Zinn) that when people are oppressed they always rebel sooner or later. Furthermore, they do not rebel because of lust or envy or because they want to sleep with the oppressor’s wife, but because they believe in justice, equity, and freedom. And, in most cases, the revolution is betrayed because of the combination of issues such as the lack of vision regarding the new institutions we want for a democratic society and a mixture of internal and external forces. Internal forces refers to sections of society that might be resistant towards the new regime due to their own selfish interests, while external forces refers to the global economy and global political climate, such a the cold-war. To view post-colonial politics from this standpoint is more revealing and enables us not only to explain but to predict political and social phenomena. A theory based on flawed assumptions that compel us to focus on lust, envy, and desires to be white, forces us to chase after psychological reductionist dead-ends.
On National Culture
Fanon’s basic premise in this chapter is that because of colonialism and the cultural hegemony that goes with colonialism, native intellectuals respond by rejecting Western culture and embracing pre-colonial history and a way of life. To escape from the hegemony of the Western culture, Fanon argues that the native intellectual feels the need to turn backwards towards his unknown roots. As a result, the native intellectual sets a high value on the African customs and traditions. "The sari becomes sacred, and shoes that come from Paris or Italy are left off in favour of pampooties, while suddenly the language of the ruling power is felt to burn your lips."[xviii]
Fanon writes that the native intellectual goes through three different phases to arrive at this level. The first phase is when the native intellectual assimilates the culture of the occupying power and all his or her sources of inspiration are European. The second phase is characterised by the disturbance of the native intellectual. In this phase the native intellectual decides to remember who and what he is. The third phase Fanon calls a fighting phase. In this phase the native intellectual turns himself to be an awakener of the people; "…hence comes a fighting literature, a revolutionary literature, and a national literature."[xix] However, at the moment when the native intellectual is trying to create a cultural work "he fails to realise" that he is utilising techniques and language which are borrowed from the coloniser, writes Fanon.
The appreciation of certain Western ideas and the fact that certain post-colonial writers are influenced by Western writers and write in European languages should not be presented as a failure to create an authentic post-colonial cultural work, as Fanon presents it. To write in an African language or to quote only African writers does not necessarily translate into originality. A progressive post-colonial vision on culture (Albert, 2006[xx]) ought not to be opposed to diverse cultures (including Western cultures) and their influences thereof or to reduce diverse cultures to a least common denominator. The point, however, should be to enjoy their benefits while transcending prior debits. As Albert points out the only real cultural salvation lies in eliminating racist institutions, dispelling colonialist ideologies and changing the colonial environment within which historical communities relate so that they might maintain and celebrate difference without violating solidarity. A radical post-colonial theory ought to encourage individuals to choose cultural communities they prefer rather than have elders or others of any description define their choice for them.[xxi]
Talking About Race in the Post-Colony
Some South African writers, such as Neville Alexander, argue that South Africans should struggle for "the dream of a raceless" society. Alexander explains that a raceless society or non-racialism means the non-existence of race as a biological entity to begin with, and the "constructedness" of race as a social category and therefore the potential to deconstruct race as a social category.[xxii]
In his book entitled Why Race Matters in South Africa,[xxiii] Michael MacDonald argues that non-racialism should be the ultimate goal in any society, and that non-racialism consists of three objectives, namely, overcoming racism, eradicating official racialism, and propounding universal citizenship. Strengthening his argument, MacDonald writes that racialism, generally, usually derives from and abets racism.
The common thread running through in the above arguments is that the post-apartheid South Africa ought to mean an obliteration of racial and cultural differences. It is my contention that the presence of racial differences and racial hierarchies throughout South African society no more means we should eliminate racial and cultural diversity than the existence of overt or covert gender or sexual hierarchies means we should eliminate diversity in those realms (Albert, 2006[xxiv]). It would seem that by subscribing to the notion of "non-racialism," thinkers who comment on South African social issues confuse cultural differences and racial differences with cultural and racial oppression.
Class and Race Analysis
The dominant theme that characterises the socio-economic debate is that South Africa is moving away from racial Apartheid to class Apartheid. Patrick Bond, apolitical economist based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, captured the views of many when he penned an essay entitled "From Racial to Class Apartheid: South Africa’s Frustrating Decade of Freedom."[xxv]In that essay, Bond’s premise is that South Africa has witnessed the replacement of racial apartheid with what is increasingly referred to as class apartheid.
Echoing Bond, Devan Pillay, a South African sociologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, contends that the primary political question of our time has to be the class question – the question of poverty and socio-economic inequality. In their book, Class, Race and Inequality in South Africa,[xxvi] Jeremy Seekings and Nicoli Nattrass argue along similar lines. They write that at the end of apartheid, the primary basis of inequality shifted from race to class. "By the end of the apartheid era, South African households were rich or poor according primarily to the number and earnings of wage earners, and earnings in turn depended overwhelmingly on education and skill. Privileges could be reproduced on the basis of class rather than race."[xxvii]
What Seekings and Nattrass are clearly oblivious to is the fact that due to the cumulative effects of longstanding racial discrimination and oppression, which result in direct barriers to black capital formation; the white households are far more likely to inherit or otherwise benefit from family wealth than black households (Wise, 2005[xxviii]). Looked at from this angle, one is able to explain the socio-economic developments in post-apartheid South Africa more adequately than the empty claim that South Africa is moving away from race to class apartheid.
What is remarkable, however, is that there seems to be a confusion regarding how a market-based economy operates. According to Albert,[xxix] a market-based economy will use the existing expectations of community members, such as the racist expectations that whites are superior and more competent than blacks, to enforce, and, where possible, to enlarge its own economic hierarchies of exploitation. Available evidence in post-apartheid South Africa supports this claim.
For example, according to research done by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the increased government assertiveness with regard to Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) since 2000 has propelled an increasing number of companies, large and small, into scrambling to find black partners.
"Hence Ernst & Young, for instance, record that compared with 132 black empowerment deals valued at R23.1 billion in 1999, 126 valued at R28 billion were made in 2000, 101 at R25 billion in 2001, 104 at R12 billion in 2002, and 189 at R42 billion in 2003…. However, although these figures are not unimpressive, black control on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (JSE) amounted to not more than four per cent at the end of 2004, even though the stock market had boomed with a 50 per cent increase in market capitalisation to R2.500 billion."[xxx]
Simply put, this means that, BEE notwithstanding, black control of the economy is still insignificant. So, to posit an argument that the central political question of our time has to be the class question, is, at best, to overstate the case, and, at worst, to be recklessly dogmatic.
It has become an indisputable fact that apartheid left behind a legacy of inequality. However, what has proved to be a source of dispute is how we go about rectifying the status quo. According to the Polity website[xxxi], the state of affairs is characterised by a disparity in the distribution of jobs, occupations and incomes, and this is due to the effects of discrimination against black people.
To rectify the situation, the South African government has introduced the Employment Equity Act to address some of these issues. The Act is based on the assumption that through affirmative action programmes society is able to address the imbalances of the past and create equality in employment.
Critics have responded by labelling programmes such as affirmative action as "reverse racism." For example, Neville Alexander has pointed out that:
"the acknowledgement of superficial differencesshould not become, even potentially, a lever for marginalisation or exclusion of anyindividual or group of people. This is the essence of a non-racial approach to thepromotion of national unity and social integration and cohesion. As against this insight,almost every actual [affirmative action] AA measure tends to undermine such integration and cohesion."[xxxii]
According to Alexander, affirmative action programmes unavoidably perpetuate racial identities and that is disastrous.
Seekings and Nattrass argue that institutionalised racism against people of colour in South Africa ended in the 1970s. They write that in the 1970s the racial barriers began to be less restrictive and, therefore less oppressive, in large part because new employment opportunities opened up for "better-educated African workers."[xxxiii]
However, a study done by the HSRC refutes the myth that institutionalised racism is a thing of the past. The study shows that white males continue to dominate management and empowering positions in business, social and cultural institutions. According to the study, opportunities for whites are abundant, and it is easier for whites to get credit, start a business, find a job and make more money in their lifetime than it is for the average black person.