Franz Fanon: the counter-revolution within the revolution

Reading the report “The Betrayal of the Promise –  the silent coup” (see my previous post) it struck me how accurately Franz Fanon understood the pathologies of the postcolony. It is as if in some crystal ball he had seen not only the collapse of apartheid but well beyond this to the capture of the South African state by a mafia elite ruled by a corrupt, criminal president 1(my emphasis in red type):

“Fanon’s third theme is the betrayal of the masses by the native middle-class, which replaces the colonial power only to caricature it. The corruption of the nationalist bourgeoisie was something he had observed at first hand as roving ambassador for the FLN, Algeria, in black Africa. The bourgeois caste, he says, annexes for its own profit the wealth of the country. “To them, nationalization quite simply means the transfer into native hands of those unfair advantages which are a legacy of the colonial period.” –

Nigel Gibson writes in Is Fanon Relevant? Translations, the postcolonial imagination and the second stage of total liberation (my emphasis in red type):

“The issue of reading Fanon today, then, is perhaps not about finding the moment of relevance in Fanon’s text that corresponds with the world, but in searching for the moments where Fanon’s text and the world do not correspond, and asking how Fanon, the revolutionary, would think and act in this period of retrogression. The issue is not so much about decentering Fanon but decentering the world. But even if the book is out of place, or perhaps moreover out of joint with the world, the point is to find, in a Fanonian sense, the truth in social movements of lower and deeper segments of humanity.

Certainly, the fact that contemporary globalization is considered by many a new form of colonialism, the fact that the Manicheanism of the cold war has been replaced by the Manicheanism of the ‘war on terror’, gives credibility to Fanon’s analysis of colonial Manicheanism as a global phenomenon. But Fanon’s continued ‘relevance’ is not simply articulated in the Manichean statements of a Bush and a Bin Laden. Rather we should begin from the most critical of Fanon’s insights into the postcolonial period and his critique of the nationalist bourgeoisie and the postcolonial petit bourgeoisie.

One place that Fanon’s analysis has taken on a new life is in post-apartheid South Africa where it has been deemed directly applicable. In fact, it seems that the ‘reality’ of neoliberal post-apartheid South Africa has simply been following Fanon’s text. But rather than an ontological optimism based on the revolutionary potential of the peasantry or an ontological pessimism based on the ‘betrayal’ of the nationalist middle class, the Fanonian dialectic not only details the counter-revolution within the revolution but also a new consciousness. As he writes of the intolerable poverty into which the people stagnate, Fanon adds that ‘the masses . . . are never convinced that their lives have changed, despite the festivities and the flags.’ Indeed, they ‘slowly become aware of the unspeakable treason of their leaders.’ This awareness is becoming apparent in South Africa where new social movements among the poor have emerged, directly criticizing the ‘failures’ of the leaders and government. The depth of ‘Fanonian’ critique articulated, for example, in the shack dwellers movements, by those who have absolutely nothing, whose lives are a daily state of emergency and, in the most Fanonian sense, represent the truth of bread and land, judging wealth not only by indoor plumbing, taps and toilets but also human dignity. As S’bu Zikode, one of the leaders of Abahli baseMjondolo (literally people who live in shacks), sees the history of South African liberation: ‘the first Nelson Mandela was Jesus Christ. The second was Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. The third Mandela was the poor people of the world.’


Malaika wa Azania (The Sunday Independent) wrote in his essay, “A revolution’s dreams betrayed”:

“As far back as 1998, then-deputy president Mbeki made a prophetic statement, asserting that our country was “faced with the danger of mounting rage”, emphasising that unless this mounting rage was responded to seriously, our people’s dream of liberation and genuine racial integration would be terminated by a dangerous explosion. No truer sentiments have been expressed.

“There is no respite from oppression and even exploitation for the poor. In retaliating against economic bondage and an apathetic government, our people use violence, the only tool at their disposal.

What we are witnessing in this country is … the ramifications of a revolution betrayed by an economic growth path that has kept the majority in economic bondage and a government that has turned its back on principle.

We are seeing the effects of the triumph of the worst elements of decay: corruption, cronyism, nepotism, maladministration and looting.

We are experiencing the effects of a government that has done little to avert what Mbeki aptly described as a “mounting rage”

Further reading:

Challenging Hegemony: Social Movements and the Quest for a New
Humanism in Post-Apartheid South Africa (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2006), p.1


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