Mhambi has been redeployed.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Mbeki's ANC is Africanist not Nationalist

...and that is the problem.

Nationalism - A double edged sword?

This week Ivor Chipkin, Wits Professor and author of Do South Africans Exist? roundly denounced African Nationalism in a commentary The curse of African nationalism published in the Mail & Guardian.

Chipkin argues that everything from the denial of the current spate of xenophobic attacks to the government response to Aids can be laid at the door of anti-white sentiment driven by African nationalism.

"It would not be an exaggeration to say that government responses since 1994 to as diverse a range of challenges as macroeconomic policy and HIV/Aids have been informed by a preoccupation with race and white racism in particular."

The reason for a pre-occupation by the ANC with whites is obvious he says. "Apartheid was a phenomenon of mass, institutionalised white racism sustained over many decades."

But says Chipkin, because whites held all the human and financial capital - economic development and racial redress were contingent on managing white racism.

This of course makes sense. But the problem was the wildly divergent ways of seeking redress and managing white racism between the Mbeki and Mandela governments.

Mbeki holds the view that whites can not escape their racism. In exile Mbeki even lobbied to deny Joe Slovo leadership of the South African Communist Party on the basis that he was white.

Before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission whites could, so the theory goes, "by recognising their personal and collective complicity in this violence, resurrect their humanity and enter the new South Africa."

But even the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was to be whites' bapticism of fire is insufficient for Mbeki's racial view of the world.

Chipkin is on the button when he says that one of the key ideological tenets of the Mbeki administration has been - "if whites could not escape their racism, then they could not be trusted in public life." This is the essence of what the government transformation policy is says Chipkin.

This thinking is closely associated with "African nationalism" he ads.

"It is distinguished from the politics of non-racialism by its insistence that the post-apartheid government is a black government."

And he diagnoses the negative fall out of this kind "African nationalism". The dismissal of all criticism which is invariably equated as racism. And it works quite simply like this:

1. the government is a black government;
2. criticism of the government is, therefore, criticism of blacks; and
3. criticism is racist.

"The inability to come to terms with the agency of black people is, ironically, the hallmark of African nationalism. It is driven to reduce the actions of blacks to the machinations of others (white racists, in particular). Claims of a "third force" are merely instances of this political logic -- a refusal to come to terms with the racist nationalism of those committing ethnic cleansing throughout the country."

And this is where Mhambi disagrees.

Yes, it's endemic of not just the ANC but also white left-wingers like law blogger Pierre De Vos to present black South Africans as marionettes and to routinely abrogate them from responsibility. Rhoda Kadalie was right when she said that black South Africa has clothed themselves as perpetual victims that makes them oblivious to their own hate.

My problem with Chipkin's piece comes from the description of this phenomena as African nationalism and equating the xenophobic events in the townships with the government's ideology.

As I pointed out in another post it may well be a chauvinistic nationalism that drove the xenophobic violence. It may well be that the fantastical Africanist ideology of the government made for fertile xenophobic soil, by not controlling immigration. But the xenophobia should not be confused with the government's "dominant racially exclusive Africanist ideology" as Van Zyl Slabbert describes it.

Even if this racial Africanism tries to excuse the chauvinistic nationalism, the nationalism actually stands in opposition to much of Africanism.

I would argue that this Africanist ideology is not classically nationalist at all.

Anthony D. Smith of Nationalism and Ethnicty School at the London School of Economics, is considered one of the founders of the interdisciplinary field of nationalism studies.

According to Anothony Smith, the preconditions for the formation of a nation are as follows:

  • A fixed homeland (current or historical)
  • High autonomy
  • Hostile surroundings
  • Memories of battles
  • Sacred centers
  • Languages and scripts
  • Special customs
  • Historical records and thinking

Those preconditions may create powerful common mythology. It's easy to see why on a massive continent with so many divergent culture's, and such weak transport and communication links, the drive for one African Nationalism is a fantasy and out of kilter with reality.

Smith also posits that nationalisms are formed through the inclusion of the whole populace and not just elites. And nations can me multi-ethnic. It's easy to see how the joint fight, often organised on a civic basis, by the grass roots against apartheid could have contributed to a uniting of our different ethic mythologies. Combine this with labour mobility, good transport, and even achievements like winning the rugby world cup and it's easy to see how South Africans can begin to see themselves as a nation.

Although Smith thinks that nations often have some much earlier pri-mordial base that helps the building of the national myth he recognizes that nationalism as a powerful force first presented itself in the 19th century as civic nationalism. It was an age when the winds of change blew through Europe.

When the uniter of Italy, the nationalist Garibaldi arrived in England he was welcomed by English radicals as a progressive. Why?

Because this is the form of nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry, from the degree to which it represents the "will of the people".

This nationalist movement had it's base in the people, uniting them against autocratic rulers.

It is often seen as originating with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and especially the social contract theories. Civic nationalism lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism.

When Jacob Zuma was warned to wild cheers to shape up or ship out in a township in Springs, we witnessed perhaps the benign side nationalism introduced to Europe in the 19th century that is normally so lacking in Africa.

A nationalism that not only makes it citizens ask, what can I do for my nation, and not what I can get from my nation. It makes it's people citizens in the first place.

Compare this to Africanism with its woolly insistence of African unity and it's often criticised disrespect for Africa's difference. In this respect the Africanists are much like the Euro centric westerners they despise, they all see Africa as a country.

Africanism is elitist, and sees the whole African continent as the domain of the powerful. The people itself, nevermind their will is all but ignored. Practical evidence of this is for all to see. African leaders at African forums rarely choose the side of populations in opposition to their elite piers.

This clash between nationalism and Africanism explains the ANC and Thabo Mbeki's acute embarrassment when well organised xenophobic nationalism burst his Africanist dream. The people attacked were not white. And allegations of the attacks being driven by Zulu's not withstanding, the hatred united South Africans across - until recently very divisive - ethnic and regional lines.

Intellectually Mbeki would have been allot more comfortable if it was white South Africans being attacked. It would have fitted neatly into his grand narrative of incurable white racism as the source of the countries ills.

After all his biography, A Dream Deferred, references a favourite Mbeki poem used by him to sound a warning to whites in parlaiment.

What happens to a dream deferred?

It explodes.

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Reggie said...

I wantot come back to this one, later... espescially ralting it to Mbekhi's 'racial nativism' according to Xolele Mangcu- I love this debate

Reggie said...

bad spelling... sorry, just a quick question: if Pierre de Vos is a left winger, what does it make you ? Just for interest sake...

Wessel said...

What am I? A good question.

I mean, is Mbeki left? Is Steve Hofmeyer right wing or a working class hero?

Is transformtion, as applied in SA, left or right?

All of these can be debatted.

In South Africa people are trapped in old definitions often determined by conservative ideas like race.

Does it matter if your left or right, or is it really whether your right or wrong?

I don't think the two binary opposites adequately explain the complex issues with which we grapple.

In the extent that it does however, I like to think of myself as left in the sense that Camus was left, and not in the sense that Satre was left.

And I think of myself as left in that I hold the view that societies can intervene to make themselves a better place for all its citizens. I.e. I dont think the market will solve all our ills.

Perhaps I will make that a subject of a next post.

PS: Mbeki's racial nativism just proves my post I think.

Reggie said...

I was justr asking because you said Piere is a leftwinger

Wessel said...

Well, I said it deliberately because I think allot of the problems we are encountering now is because of naive and mistaken positions taken in the name of the left.

Nasdaq7 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.