Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The intellectual emptiness of the post-colony

William Gumede and Leslie Dikeni call it 'the poverty of ideas' in the title of their recently published collection of essays. For Peter Vale, it is the think-tanks that should launch new ideas and provoke through launching challenging debates. Yet all they do is rehash old and tired, ideological standpoints.

Professor Achille Mbembe, in his opening two part lecture of the Sawyer Seminar series at Wits University, reviews Frantz Fanon and his relevance for South Africa, and Africa, today. In Fanon's analysis of the newly liberated countries, ruled by the nationalist parties of the liberation movements, a profound lack of intellectual engagement dulls the spirit of the post-colony. Lazyness, especially of the intellectual type, marks the landscape.

Parallels with our present of this observation are all too close. On the left, we have the resurrection of a revolutionary discourse that adds however little insight. It is a mere regurgitation of apparently anti-colonial, anti-racist, and anti-imperial agit-prop as it has been the staple of left-wing, Marxist inspired discourse since the 1960s. Or how does the equalisation of the white liberal with the racist, criminal murderer a la 'prime evil' Eugene de Kock add any new insights to our contemporary society and politics ?

From the right, we read that affirmative action, as it is practiced today, is the precursor of genocide. Current BEE policies are the same as the policies implemented by the Nazis in the 1930s in Germany against Jewish Germans. This is a variant of a theme that compared apartheid oppression to fascism, an existing strand in standard academic discourse on apartheid. Again, little insight about current predicaments is gained from such arguments.

Unfortunately, I could continue with this list.

So where to can we turn for the emergence of an intellectual discoursre that deserves its name and will provide us with new insights on our current politics and society? We may be quite far away from such a new impetus, and perhaps a long spell of a sobering draught is upon us, but I think it will emerge from a push for a renewed affirmation of non-racialism and in defence of the values enshrined in our constitution.

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