The old is dying and the new cannot be born

Colony – postcolony

I have just read “Manichean Delirium (In the Time of Jacob Zuma)” by Richard Pithouse. (March 2017), an insightful perspective into the current state of affairs in South Africa and how deeply it is embedded in a much broader historical, socio-political narrative and part-and-parcel of our post-colonial experience. His historical analysis makes for a fascinating read and I would recommend the article be read in full at:

“Fanon warns that “an unceasing battle must be waged, a battle to prevent the party from ever becoming a willing tool in the hands of a leader.”

South Africa, unlike the newly independent countries that Fanon visited as the roving ambassador for the Algerian national liberation movement, sustains directly colonial features as well as postcolonial features. It is, consequently, simultaneously marked by the pathologies of the colony and the postcolony. Both of these pathologies have been thrown into increasingly clear relief as liberal hegemony declines. Liberal hegemony was never extended to all parts of society after apartheid but it did, for a long time, exercise considerable authority over much of society, and in particular in elite spaces and institutions. Today liberal hegemony confronts significant challenges. An increasingly predatory and authoritarian faction in the ruling party and the state has challenged it from above.  At the same time people that continue to inhabit what Fanon called “a non-viable society, a society to be replaced”, have also challenged it from below. There has also been a significant generational challenge. The challenge from above has been entirely oppressive in character. The challenge from below, and from the youth, has had a mixed character and includes emancipatory dimensions and possibilities as well as reactionary currents, with some articulated to the project driven from above.

We have entered our own version of what Gramsci, writing about another time and place, described as crisis – crisis that “consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”. Any attempt to contain the crisis, and the effects of its symptoms, which does not offer a significant degree of resolution will only lead to stasis and decline. There has to be ‘a restructuring’.

Fanon, committed to the last to the emancipation of reason, to its emancipation in and via struggle, ended his last book with the imperative to “work out new concepts”. Against this the acolytes of the Zuma project, a rogues’ gallery of opportunists, hucksters and professional liars, seek to restore the ‘idyllic and unreal clarity of the beginning’, to enforce a ‘brutality of thought and a mistrust of subtlety’ and offer ‘an equal lie’ to that of the colonial dimensions of our situation. This work is aimed at rendering not just the party but as much of society as is possible ‘a willing tool in the hands of a leader’. It is simultaneously aimed at the expulsion of the social and political dimensions from the national question. It seeks to incite Manichean delirium as a mask for the preservation and extension of a predatory and repressive order.

But Fanon, not to mention the often grim history of the postcolony, teaches us that social and political questions are urgent, profoundly urgent. Will land ownership be democratised or turned over to traditional authority and an alliance between ‘the rapacious bourgeoisie’ and global mining capital that leaves most people impoverished, waters poisoned and the land itself ruined? Will the economy be restructured in the interests of developing ‘new social relations’ or will that restructuring be solely organised around the transfer of ‘unfair advantage’ from one small group of people to another? Will our universities and our media become deracialised and decolonised sites of free critical inquiry, or will they be subordinated to authoritarian toadies representing predatory and repressive interests? Will the parastatals be vehicles for private accumulation, accumulation always articulated to a faction in the ruling party, or will they be run in the national interest, an interest conceived in social terms? Will public schools, housing, and the grant system, be orientated around private accumulation or an emancipatory social project? Will power be dispersed to democratic organisation in the places where people live, work, play and study or centralised in the hands of a leader who claims to represent the party, the nation and the state? Does Zuma’s record, and that of the people with whom he has forged his primary alliances, allow us to trust him with the posing and resolution of social, economic and political questions, with our future?

Fanon’s position was clear. He insisted that the pathologies of both the colony and the postcolony should be confronted with a radically democratic project, the constitution of popular counter-power, and the “objective necessity of a social program which will appeal to the nation as a whole”. We should do the same.”

– KI Coffee House, Hamra, Beirut, 23 March 2017

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