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Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds… from colonial ideology

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Dr Stephen Phiri is a southern African representative of the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute (a Pan-African organisation). He is also an alumnus of the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences.

Africans are socialised to hate themselves and to love anything that is either European or American. This hate drowns them to the ‘realm of non-being’ where their humanity will only make sense not in itself, but in relation to whiteness, as argued by Frantz Fanon in ‘Black Skin White Masks’.

If a person steals bread because s/he is hungry; can you call that theft or a symptom of a deep-seated socioeconomic problem? A mother stealing diapers for her child; such an act says a lot more about her society than just taking something without paying for it.

The recent looting spree in Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal has made me reflect on other looting-related incidents, whether this looting was done in the name of Zuma or xenophobic-related incidents. What is common to them is that the most looted commodity was food. Our people are hungry, and the system put in place to alleviate the “hunger” is not working.

Hence, the mantra of “monopoly capital”, mostly advocated by those in the Zuma camp, cannot be ignored. Maybe, xenophobia or rampant civil unrest can also be explained by the word “hunger”. The ANC government’s call to help rebuild what was burnt during the #zumamustbefree campaign is no solution to the hunger problem, but in fact just helps fortify the poor majority’s predicament.

Maybe we should move beyond this “reformist model”. This problem is not exclusively South African, but African. Africa is “hungry”, and it has been “hungry”, it is time to stop the “hunger”. What role can education play? Can this “hunger” stop if each country fights this “monopoly capital” virus separately?

Thinking pan-Africanism is not academic or imaginary thinking, but a political and pragmatic movement against the African “fragmentation” intentionally induced by colonial powers, which renders it weak in its fight against the capitalist predatory practices of Euro-American powers. A united Africa presents a better opportunity to safeguard its resources from Euro-American plundering and illicit contracts.

What makes the present pan-African objective like Marxism is that they both despise capitalism, which recently has mutated into neoliberalism, neatly packaged within the so-called neocolonialism. The pan-Africanist strategy seeks to propose an effective roadmap to emancipation for people of Africa and African origin. Monopoly capital thrives on subjugation, greed and domination. Aimé Césaire in his essay Discourse on Colonialism described modern civilisation that is essentially defined by capitalism, as dying and unsustainable because it fails to solve its problems.

I perceive the periodisation such as “postcolonial” as a “taboo” or a “dangerous” theoretical construct. Such periodisation seems to affirm a transition that never was. Independence granted through negotiation can best be understood as a strategic mutation of colonialism.

This failed transition cannot just be exclusively blamed on the incompetence of African leadership because they rule within a myopic, regulated and inherently “captured” system, which Frantz Fanon described as “this narrow world, strewn with prohibitions”. Pan-African movements’ revolts today are directed towards this draconian system of subjugation (referred to as “monopoly capital” in South Africa).

The nature of emancipation that they seek is not just limited to the realm of politics, but identity as well. It seeks to re-establish who we are through our culture and languages — great thinkers like Achille Mbembe might confuse this emphasis as “nativism” or “Afro-radicalism”. The modern system is still being reinforced by the present educational systems, both formal and informal. Contemporary thinkers like Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Nelson Maldonado-Torres have shown how the culture of neocolonialism (which I call the culture of “hunger”) is maintained through coloniality.

The studies in decoloniality help us to understand the central role that education plays in the colonial process. Of its three components of analysis, namely power, being and knowledge, the latter seems to define the other two. In this regard, Ndlovu-Gatsheni in his article, Why Decoloniality in the 21st Century, lamented the coloniality of knowledge as follows:

“What is even disturbing is that African children and youth begin a journey of alienation from their African context the very moment they step into the school, church, and university door. They begin the painful path of learning to hate their progenitors as demons, they begin to be taught that all knowledge they possessed before school was folk knowledge, barbarism and superstition that must be quickly forgotten. They begin to be told that speaking mother-tongue is a sign of being primitive.”

Such pedagogies and epistemologies produce Africans alien from themselves. Africans are socialised to hate themselves and to love anything that is either European or American. This hate drowns them to the “realm of non-being” where their humanity will only make sense not in itself but in relation to whiteness, as argued by Fanon in his book, Black Skin White Masks — when black people are taught to hate everything about themselves and love everything that has nothing to do with them.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni argued that African studies most often neglect to invest seriously in investigating “the origins of disciplines, into epistemicide, into how knowledge has been used to assist imperialism and colonialism and how knowledge has remained Euro-American-centric”. 

An education can challenge these colonial stereotypes; this education cannot be limited to formal education, but also include informal education and conscientisation of the limits that slave education was designed to promote. Our university degrees and the nature of learning need to be reviewed. Our education system needs to introduce questioning and more questioning, a critical reading of Western texts. A critical examination of their context, who the author is, the intention of the author and its relevance or irrelevance to students. To make critical thinking an essential element of any discipline.

Among the practical steps to critically rethink the present university curriculum, the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (under the University of Johannesburg) has made it a priority, through intense research, to introduce books in this regard, among which is The Pan-African Pantheon that will serve as a solid reference volume on both undergraduate and postgraduate level. This month they will be launching another book, From Ivory Towers to Ebony Towers, which specifically looks at the curriculum transformation in the humanities. It focuses on South Africa, Africa and African-American studies.

This “hunger” cannot be stopped by prescriptive solutions of African governments on behalf of the people, not even by the grant system, but by the people themselves through an education that questions dominant narratives. DM

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All Comments 14

  • The sciences and physics have no race.

    Same goes for biology and farming.

    Christianity and religion have no race.

    So that leaves the humanities. By all means study these from a more African perspective if you will.

  • I think I know what you are saying. However colonialism was not a conspiracy. It was an organic development in world history along with all its mistakes. The question is how do you use the collective knowledge the world has accumulated. Greed is a universal human trait and there have always been those who seek to take advantage of any system. We have only to look at our recent history as evidence of this.
    There is a need to change the victim mindset but remember the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We can easily fall into the the same traps.

  • Why does this author never interrogate as to why there is no hunger in America or Europe? Yet there is plenty of hunger in his Marxist paradises!

  • If I were a Venezuelan I would want to be taught the history of my country and I would want to be exposed to the cultural achievements and joys of the culture and language of my people, but above all I would want my education to be on par with that of the rest of the world, be it in physics, biology, engineering, sociology, world literature – you name it.
    I certainly would not want to be relegated to being just – or even proudly – “a Venezuelan” or “a South American.”
    The world has become globalised, have you noticed?

    • Johan, Interesting case. I was in Venezuela in 1994 and it was a dynamic first world country, reaping the rewards of their oil bounty. Caracas was beautiful with an underground to match Paris’ Metro. We toured all over South America and it appeared to be more advanced than most of the other South American states. As is the case globally, some people were more successful than others and the less successful obviously became envious and wanted what the successful ones had. Populous politics followed, resulting in almost universal poverty. It’s a bit like a herd of impala’s forming a union so the slow ones don’t get left behind and eaten by the lions. Natural selection fails and the system fails – it doesn’t matter which system it is.

  • Why is there such an obsession with reversing the effects of colonisation, or as I prefer to refer to it imperialism? The creation of empires has been going on for as long as we have recorded history. It did not start with European imperial ambitions in the 15th Century and is clearly not limited to Africa. The earliest known empire (Akkadian) Started in Mesopotamia in about 2250 BC and the process has never ceased. The Chinese, Phoenicians, Romans, Vikings and many others all developed significant empires. King Shaka built the Zulu Nation by conquering all the surrounding Nguni clans. That was colonisation. The Chinese are the most active colonists in the world at present. This article is written in English, which is a mix of Anglo Saxon, Danish, French, Latin and many more. It’s a hybrid language resulting from the many times the British Isles were invaded and colonised. The English people are also the result of those many colonisations over thousands of years – for good or bad – it cannot be changed. There is absolutely no point in trying to undo or rewrite history. A large part of every country’s history is really bad, which hopefully means we’re improving. We cannot go back and sanitise it or pretend it did not happen, but we can learn from it. Every act of imperialism or colonisation has brought untold suffering and harm to those colonised but has also been the most efficient transferor of knowledge, language, science, engineering and improvement in life expectancy due to medical technology. It is as important to acknowledge the harm and the benefits. As for “Monopoly Capital” – (WMC) that was a term created along with Radical Economic Transformation (RET) by Bell Pottinger at the behest of the Gupta’s to deflect attention away from State Capture. I do not know of any monopolies in South Africa other than those controlled by the state, which are all failing. (BMC?)

    • And thank you for this perspective too. It seems to me that Helen Zille was making the same important and to me self-evident point about not tossing the baby away too, but such views simply are not heard in the deafeningly racialised bubble in which we now live. I appreciate your soldiering on.

  • The looters were people from all sections of society, the unemployed, working class, middle class….they arrived in cars , in bakkies, some even drove to shopping centres in their Mercs.
    The biggest prize was to get into bottle stores and department stores, to get the booze, the tv screens. The saddest part was that those looting saw nothing wrong with gutting shopping malls, and stealing everything inside. Everything and then destroying the buildings.
    Why would you destroy everything if you want a better life.
    And if you want to free your mind from mental slavery, why worry when there are still billions to be plundered, banks and successful business’s to be nationalised, farms to be taken, because those bad colonialists stole everything. It’s all those white people’s fault with their foreign work ethic and attitudes about governance.
    Now we can free our minds.
    Mmmmmm ….but with what?
    So lets look north of our border to see how successful and prosperous life is, away from Colonial ideology.

  • I wonder what kind of hunger should be attributed to the traffic snarls outside shopping centres by frenzied middle-class looters in July? Opium of the people, and all that?

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