Category Archives: Daily Dispatch

Thinking and Living Fanon

Thinking and Living Fanon

by Chantelle Malan and Danielle Bowler

People are still laying bottles of alcohol outside her house and she’s been a trending topic on twitter and Facebook. Additionally, she has been ushered in as a new member of the “27 club” of artists who have died at the tragically young age of 27 and across the world, her music is being bought and downloaded in remembrance. Few would dispute the importance of Amy Winehouse a week after her death, but what will her legacy be in 50 years time? In a small part of South Africa, young people have been contemplating the legacy of Frantz Fanon and the fiftieth anniversary of his death by choosing this week instead, to buy his books. While most people are largely unaware of the significance of the man from Martinique, as opposed to a singer from North London, the question is perhaps who is more relevant for contemporary South Africa?

Frantz Fanon is the relatively unconsidered psychiatrist, philosopher and revolutionary who dedicated his life to the liberation of the African continent and theorising the racialised black experience. As a philosopher on the experience of being black, he is an extremely relevant and useful entry point into the conversation on race in South Africa today. Given that black people were entirely oppressed during Apartheid and the continuation of this oppression in the post-Apartheid moment, Fanon’s insight is to bring light to this experience and how it must be transcended. To celebrate the anniversary of his death, Rhodes University held a Colloquium to bring together a unique set of scholars and students to rethink Fanon and his importance for South Africa today.

In a time of shrinking press freedom, trust funds for elites in power and “shoot to kill”, the country’s past consistently rears its head. As such, the rainbow masquerading as a symbol of our democracy reveals itself as a façade in the excesses of injustice and oppression both Apartheid and Post-Apartheid have left. Erasing the past, and/or pretending it didn’t happen in attempts at national amnesia have been convenient for some and useful for others, particularly when enjoyed with wasabi and soy sauce. Consequently, we seem prone to “chicken little syndrome”, convinced that at any moment of criticism the sky will be falling – bringing the rainbow, however faint it might be, down with it. In those events where the failure of adequately dealing with the post-Apartheid state and its transitional delusions, our memory is selective and we do not consider the past in its entirety – history, for some began in 1948, others 1994. The ANC’s memory for example is trotted out consistently when it comes to recalling during and after apartheid. We have seen it deploy these memories like artillery, particularly through the strategic use of their tale of the liberation struggle. Its memory however, is remarkably short-term and fails to capture the last seventeen years of democracy which has not improved the lives of the poor and the oppressed since its rule. The Damned of the Earth, to use Fanon’s phrase, remain so.

Fanon, despite his death, is still very much alive in some spaces in South Africa and it’s only through constantly coming back to his work that he will stay this way. It’s hard to imagine that a snappy dresser who changed several times a day while working in a mental hospital in Algeria has much to say about contemporary South Africa. It’s hard to imagine that he “thought” South Africa at all, and indeed some have wrongly argued that he didn’t. Yet, Fanon spoke of South Africa most prominently in his seminal work Les Damnes de la Terre translated as The Wretched of the Earth. In his writings, Fanon thought Africa, and this year at the Colloquium in Grahamstown, we thought Fanon, his work, South Africa and Africa.

Outside this space though, are we, as the youth, thinking South Africa at all? Thinking emerged as one of the most important themes of the colloquium, both what it means to think, who thinks and the role of thinkers in society. We know it to be a problem in South Africa and elsewhere that not everyone has the privilege to be thought of as being capable of thinking, particularly the poor and black. That we think is not a surprise, but the recognition that we all think, that we all have the ability to think and that we all have the ability to think beyond our most basic human needs is another struggle that we need to wage. As S’bu Zikode, president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shack Dweller’s Movement rightly asserts “people must know that we think”.

The notion of thinking remained with us all the way through the conference, into the Winter School and into the Round table. A cross section of South Africa was present at the events, young people from universities, townships, schools, engaging and thinking in fidelity to Fanon – a man whose thought matched his action, a man who was so much more than his revolutionary thoughts. His dedication to the struggle for liberation in Algeria, and towards the end of his life, for the larger struggle of a united, liberated Africa demonstrate how he positioned himself in such a way that he was able to live his thought. To practice it. His ideas may have been captured in books, but they were also undoubtedly expressed in his action, his harried insistence in getting the work of thinking done at all costs. For Fanon, there was little time for sleeping or resting, in fact, doing nothing often agitated him and caused him to agitate those around him.

This is what we take from the events we were privileged to be a part of in July this year. Regardless of the particular topic of conversation, be it, Fanonian thought, or how to restructure Universities to better accommodate the lingering pitfalls of race post-Apartheid, or how class fits into the picture, we were all “thinking South Africa”. And thinking about how re-thinking South Africa from the beginning of its history could be used practically for change. The thinking was merely a precursor to the hope of a dedication to action – a project and challenge for the masses of South Africa, across racial lines and class divides, and not just elites. The task perhaps is to think our past as it pertains to our future, and how to transcend our strategic amnesia.

We, who are now continually thinking both Fanon and South Africa, keep him alive in thinking and re-thinking his work in relation to our mission as young South Africans, a mission that must be centred around the fulfilment of a truly emancipatory politics in this country. Whilst it remains difficult to assume what legacy Amy Winehouse will leave, perhaps one of the most important aspects of Frantz Fanon’s legacy for the youth of South Africa is to take seriously his call for real engagement, at the point where thought meets action.

Because, as Fanon warns, this generation has a mission, and we must either fulfil or betray it.

Daily Dispatch: Rebellion against hopelessness

Rebellion against hopelessness

No other option for those in South African grassroots uprisings, says Pedro

AS I was sitting at ease at the Settlers Monument in Grahamstown, listening
to Tariq Ali – one of the great public intellectuals in the English speaking
world – eloquently denounce the horrific state of global politics and its
blind allegiance to capital, only a few blocks away local township residents
were protesting against the denigrating bucket system in front of the Makana
municipal buildings.

As is increasingly the case, the police illegally and forcefully intervened
on behalf of the municipality, attempting to stop disciplined protestors
from carrying buckets of human faeces to the doors of the municipality in
protest against the fact that in today’s South Africa they cannot even shit
with dignity.

In his talk, Tariq Ali emphasised the emancipatory role social movements
need to play in helping bring about social justice.

People around the globe are increasingly suspicious of the State and of the
system of electoral democracy that maintains the illusion of genuine
democracy. And they are organising themselves to stop State abuse.

Increasingly in South Africa grassroots movements are rising up to oppose
the seemingly endless greed of the State (and of those whose interests the
State represents). And it is worth mentioning that the police brutality
meted out against grassroots movements around the country is evidence that
the State is nervous; that it knows it is vulnerable to the wrath of the

Recent events involving police brutality in Ficksburg, Rietfontein and
Zandspruit attest to the State’s nervousness about grassroots
democratically-motivated rebellions.

The reason for Tariq Ali’s visit was to receive an honorary doctorate as
part of Rhodes University’s graduation ceremony.

At it one could see the joyful hope in our students’ eyes. They had made it
through university and could look to the future with optimism. But this sort
of optimistic hope is not altogether free of discontent, for hope
presupposes a level of dissatisfaction with the present and some level of
anxiety about the future. A condition for hoping is uncertainty and the
anxiety that comes with it. This anxiety fuels the creative urges that
typify the human spirit. We are fundamentally creators of tomorrows and we
can only be these if we are not entirely happy with our present condition.
This is as true of graduates as it is of grassroots activists.

Without hope we could not live proper lives. Its total loss leads to

Indeed, the broken lives that are the result of hopelessness are richly
present among the poor today. Millions of South Africans live in conditions
in which it is extremely difficult to have faith in the future.

If one loses all hope in hopeless circumstances, suicide is a clear way out.
If one largely replaces faith in the future with wishful thinking, with
fantasy formations founded on anxiety-avoiding protective fictions, then one
is on the way to madness. And if one chooses to stop reflecting altogether
about one’s condition and comes to live for the sake of raw survival alone,
one’s life becomes almost indistinguishable from those of beasts.

These three alternatives to hope are strikingly present among the poor

But there are those who are able to maintain the flame of hope to some
extent, despite their hopeless predicament. Some of these will do pretty
much whatever it takes, probably with the help of convenient fantasies or
rationalisations, to get out of the hole of desperation. These individuals
are particularly vulnerable to being co-opted by the State, and to do
whatever the State requires of them in the hope – well founded in South
Africa – that the State will recompense them for blind allegiance. These
individuals tend to deeply compromise their moral integrity for the sake of
personal upliftment.

Others will live in hope of quasi-divine deliverance, fuelled by President
Jacob Zuma’s deeply cynical campaign to portray himself and his party as
emissaries of God and all opposition, party political or otherwise, as spawn
of Satan.

Those who believe his ridiculous story are those who have been reduced to
servility by apartheid and who are now being manipulated cruelly by the
ruling party.

Those thousands accepting food parcels in exchange for votes fall within
this category.

Finally, there are those who are neither apathetic, meek nor morally
bankrupt. They are brave and honest enough, and hence healthy, to be able
properly to reflect on their predicament and realise that alone they can do
nothing. These sorts of individuals find the moral price of co-option is far
too high. They notice that the only way they can get out of their
predicament without compromising their souls is to join forces with others
who are, with good reason, no longer waiting for the State to deliver. These
are the typical leaders of social movements responsible for the rebellion of
the poor in our country, which started to gain momentum in 2004.

As these movements gain traction the levels of hopeful optimism among its
members are steadily rising. And this confidence is contagious, encouraging
others to join their ranks. A chain reaction has been set in motion – and
the State knows these forces are a threat.

Social rebellion is fuelled by a special kind of hope – a collective hope
for a better tomorrow that can only be brought about by the concerted action
of those who today are forced to shitt in buckets, forced to rot in shacks,
forced to live in permanent hunger and forced to remain ignorant and

Today’s rebellion of the poor is probably the only healthy option for those
living under conditions in which only the uniquely strong can hope. Those
joining the poor are fighting so that they too may have the joyful hope I
witnessed at the graduation ceremony at Rhodes University.

Daily Dispatch: The Service Delivery Myth

The Service Delivery Myth

The service delivery myth wasn’t invented in South Africa. But our chattering classes have taken to it with more enthusiasm than a Karoo duck waddling towards the first puddle at the end of a drought.

Given that one of its key tropes is that development should be governed by expertise and that this reinscribes the rule of the few in the name of the many we shouldn’t be too surprised by this enthusiasm.

But we should recall that in the 1980s struggles to democratise society from below gathered real force and that ideas like people’s education and practices like land occupations in order to found rent free shack settlements became part of the common sense of some strands in the anti-apartheid struggle.

In the 1990s the idea that development would be put in the hands of ordinary women and men by extending democracy beyond the polling booth was rapidly abandoned.

This was one consequence of the unstable pact forged between the ANC and older elites in which concessions were negotiated, formally and informally, in exchange for a cessation of hostilities.

What had been rendered as political, and therefore as subject to public discussion and action, during the struggle against apartheid was rendered, by mutual agreement between old and new elites, as technical, and therefore a matter for experts, at the dawn of parliamentary democracy.

“Depoliticisation,” Jacques Rancière tells us, “is the oldest task of politics, the one which achieves its fulfilment at the brink of its end, its perfection at the brink of the abyss”.

The service delivery myth is so ubiquitous that service delivery is often assumed to be the natural metric for measuring the performance of the state with the result that justice, dignity, lived experience and the day to day practice of democracy fade into invisibility.

The myth is so powerful that it is often able to impose an a priori meaning on dissent.

It is a rare journalist who sees a need to actually ask someone on a road blockade what she is protesting for before writing about the latest service delivery protest.

So even when that dissent is, in fact, rebellion against service delivery as it is currently practised rather than a demand for it to be speeded up, it is often recuperated into the symbolic logic of the dominant system as a demand for that system to strengthen itself.

The service delivery myth tells us that justice and redress are largely a matter of technical efficiency on the part of the state.

It tells us that progress is something that can be graphed, tabulated and turned into percentages.

The myth tells us that we don’t need to ask, “what is to be done?” because that is obvious and a waste of time and we just need to do what must be done faster.

At the heart of the myth is an idea of the people as passive consumers or beneficiaries who just need to be plugged into the grid of serviced life by a benevolent state.

The myth assumes that people who aren’t yet plugged in are still wallowing in the legacy of apartheid and that as backlogs are steadily overcome they’ll join the rest of us and enjoy a better life.

It makes us assume that patience is a virtue and that dissent at anything other than the pace and efficiency of service delivery is perverse and probably the result of malicious conspiracy.

Of course the state does need to be efficient, statistics can give us important information, some things are obvious and do need to be done with urgency and we do all need decent homes, clean water, sanitation, electricity, refuse collection, safe streets and all the rest.

But when we start to take the service delivery myth seriously we start to collapse into some assumptions that are, to put it politely, fantastical.

For instance the idea that service delivery is steadily chipping away at backlogs inherited from apartheid isn’t always true.

Our current social arrangements are producing new inequalities with the result that, for instance, the number of people living in shacks is growing despite the two million houses built by the post-apartheid state.

And the number of electricity and water connections that have been installed tells us nothing about the affordability of the commodities that flow through them.

There are plenty of women with an electricity connection that have to get up at four in the morning to chop wood to make a fire to heat water to get their children bathed and fed before school because they cannot afford to pay for electricity.

The fact that a house has been built tells us nothing about its quality, location, size or who actually lives in it and how the decision to allocate that house was made.

Moreover progress is not always delivered by the state. There are times when an unlawful land occupation or connection to water and electricity will do much more for people than the delivery on offer from the state.

When service delivery is presented as the alpha and omega of what the state can do for the people and all protest is assumed to be a demand for service delivery commentators are sometimes puzzled by that fact that popular protests often accompany service delivery.

In some cases this apparent paradox leads people to conclude that these protests are either the work of malevolent conspirators or that they are motivated by jealousy as some see delivery arriving for others.

But one reason why protest often accompanies the moment of delivery is that delivery can be a disaster for people.

When delivery means an eviction from a shack in a community of which you are a valued member and which is near to your work and your children’s schools to a transit camp filled with strangers in the middle of nowhere it can be a catastrophe.

When delivery means the installation of a water or electricity meter to someone who previously, legally or illegally, had non-commodifed access to water or electricity it can also be more of a curse than a blessing.

Delivery, in the form that the state currently offers it to people, is fairly frequently refused and it’s not unusual for it to have to be implemented at gunpoint.

Another reason why protest and delivery are often connected is that, at least in some places, it is routine for delivery to be mediated through local party structures for the benefit of local party leaders and their followers rather than through any kind of rational allocation.

This doesn’t just produce inefficiency. It also produces active exclusion that is defended by an increasing authoritarianism at the base of society.

It is not at all unusual to find that people live in fear of local councillors and their ward committees and the Branch Executive Committees of the local party structures.

When the technocrats point to the graphs in their power-point presentations the numbers they allude to will often refer to real progress.

But they will sometimes also refer to new forms of exclusion, sometimes backed by state and party violence.

Society is a lot more complicated than the service delivery myth is capable of recognising.

The simplicity of the myth is part of its attraction but while it may lead to elegant PowerPoint presentations and snappy newspaper headlines, it doesn’t function to simplify a complex reality on the ground.

On the contrary it masks that complexity and blinds us to the fact that the forms of development that we are pursing with the same monomania with which Ahab chased the white whale around the oceans of the world, are in fact, often producing new forms of oppression.

Statistics can be useful tools but they will only be able to speak to the lived reality of ordinary people with more fairness if we democratise our thinking about development and subordinate the state, and its experts, to society.

Daily Dispatch: AmaMpondo under siege in KZN?

AmaMpondo under siege in KZN?


IN AN “emergency press release” on Sunday, September 27, last year, the shackdwellers’ organisation Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), based in Durban/eThekwini, published a statement about a violent affray that had taken place the previous night at Kennedy Road in Durban.

Now, 13 months later, 12 members of AbM continue to remain on trial charged with public violence, assault and murder, following arrests made by police the next day.

In an earlier article, Undermining of the rule of law in Abahlali case, (see, I argued that the continual postponement of this trial – always sought by the prosecution, and always agreed by the court – amounted to a denial of justice to the accused. By comparison, the Rivonia Trial in 1963/64 of emeritus President Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and their colleagues lasted only 11 months from the date on which the accused were charged to the date of their being sentenced, and involved issue of violence no less complex than those in the Abahlali trial.

I argued that the conduct of this trial “suggests a process of breakdown of law in South Africa”. It appeared likely to reveal itself as “the first and most important political trial under the post-apartheid system of government”, threatening a “breakdown of the constitutional structure of South Africa set in place in 1994”.

The most serious dimension to this matter, however, is that during the whole of the 13 months since the affray at Kennedy Road, neither the police, the prosecutorial service, the judge, nor the ANC – whether as political party or as government – appears to have taken notice of very menacing claims made in the emergency press release by AbM, instead preserving what can only be understood as guilty silence.

Over time, this issue has the potential to take South Africa into the realm of violent tribal conflict, in contradiction of the ethic on which the ANC was founded nearly a century ago.

In its statement, AbM alleged that on the night of September 26, 2009, a planned and violent tribalist attack was carried out on behalf of the ANC, as the governing party of South Africa and of the province of KwaZulu Natal.

Irrespective of its source, this allegation could not be more serious. The ANC was accused of launching a violent tribalist assault in which AbM acknowledged two people had been killed, both of them from among the attackers.

The main points in these allegations are as follows:

AbM alleged a “group of about 40 men heavily armed with guns, bush knives and even a sword” had attacked a meeting of the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC) in the Kennedy Road community hall in Durban/eThekwini.

It stated the attack had been “planned and organised by Gumede, from the Lacy Road settlement, who is the head of the branch executive committee of the local ANC. He is a former MK soldier and is armed.”

It stated further: “The men who attacked were shouting: ‘The AmaMpondo are taking over Kennedy. Kennedy is for the AmaZulu.’”

According to a further allegation made by AbM, when arrests were made the next day by the police “only members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC) have been arrested and not one of the perpetrators has been arrested.

“All the people who are arrested are amaMpondo.”

A number of points follow from this.

1. These allegations should have been a vital issue for clarification in South Africa. Had there been a similar issue involving whites and blacks, there would rightly have been cries of outrage. By comparison, silence over more than a year concerning allegations of a tribalist issue of this kind is very worrying.

2. This is an issue for every member of the ANC to raise in her or his branch. The truth must be established as to what did take place and what did not take place at Kennedy Road on the night of September 26, 2009. The integrity of the ANC is at stake as a political organisation founded on the principle of forthright opposition to tribalist prejudice, and even more so to violence carried out on a tribalist basis.

3. If the ANC, the government and the courts fail to take up this issue in the spirit of honest inquiry, then efforts should be made to establish an international commission of inquiry composed of independent-minded and respected jurists.

I should further add – it is no credit to themselves that not a single political organisation in South Africa appears to have taken up this issue.

Paul Trewhela was editor of Freedom Fighter, MK’s underground newspaper during the Rivonia Trial. He was a political prisoner between 1964 and 1967. In exile in Britain he was co- editor of the banned journal, Searchlight South Africa

Dream of true freedom lies smouldering in the grave


Dream of true freedom lies smouldering in the grave

INSIGHT – Nomboniso Gasa

“THE democratic genie has been let out of the bottle” pronounced Neil Coleman, of Cosatu in the heady days after the election of President Jacob Zuma and his government.

It was a government described as open, accessible, people friendly and pro-poor.

Coleman is not only a decent man. He is also a man of principle.

There was no rancour, populism or triumphalism in his words. His was a deep yearning to see our democracy maturing.

So what has happened to the democratic genie?

Today, images and messages are everywhere, they give us a glimpse of what lies ahead. Slowly and systematically our hard won freedom is being limited. The stranglehold is political, economic and geographic.

In Makhaza township in the Western Cape, the DA gave the poor its Hobson’s Choice – open toilets or continues the bucket system. “The choice is yours.”

This of course, was not about a provincial government that was willing to explore options with the citizens in the light of financial constraints. No, it was an open and direct display of contempt for the poor.

The DA is not alone in its contempt for the poor. In Bizana, Eastern Cape, people were forcibly removed from the “squalor” in which they lived, their shacks mowed down in an action reminiscent of the apartheid era. Yet some of the hands and brains behind the bulldozers this time were those of comrades with whom some of the community had once shared battle trenches.

For some, these were their sons and daughters, metaphorically and literally.

These shacks probably took a long time to put together. Squalid as they seemed, they were the only homes the people of this community had. The people were given no alternative accommodation as the law requires.

Municipal councils flout the very laws they are supposed to uphold and enforce. They do so unabashed because they know crimes against the poor are crimes for which they will not be held accountable or risk losing their jobs. Why should they?

The minister of human settlement, in a fit of populism, knocked on someone’s door and spent a night there, while the owner went to sleep with the neighbours. She hoped this unwanted intrusion was a small price to pay for the change that would be brought once the minister had “experienced” sleeping in the shack.

Well, things did not turn out that way. As soon as the cameras stopped clicking and ink of journalists had dried, Tokyo Sexwale promptly forgot about the tourist experience in the shack. It was only when people claimed their agency and began to protest and reminded the one- time, one-night visitor of their existence that the minister went back.

He partly remembered his word.

This is an era of short term mass appeal – camera, lights and action.

Even the President took time to help someone settle in a better home. We saw him unpacking the refrigerator, lounge suite, microwave and all, including, I hope electric vouchers.

The government with a human heart was in full swing.

Now, the other day, Sexwale described informal settlements as ugly eyesores and this was not for the first time. People live there wena, we muttered accusingly at the television screens, shaking our heads with embarrassment.

Why do people live in these conditions, we asked angrily pointing at the screen.

Look at what has become of this democratic genie.

Now, if the promise of the President to the National House of Traditional Leaders is realised, by December 2010 South Africa will have a dual legal system. The areas that were formally marked as “homelands” on the map before 1994 will be rezoned as “traditional communities”.

The Traditional Courts Bill is no Mickey Mouse law. We are Africans, are we not? In the name of restoring our cultural dignity and honouring the wise ways of our forebears, “traditional” leaders will decide on economic development and even hear criminal cases and disputes and much more. For the subjects in traditional communities, the magistrates’ courts will not be courts of first instance.

Reading the draft Traditional Courts Bill the question arises, why should people in these communities vote in the forthcoming local government elections? The municipal and local government system has nothing to do with these communities. There leadership and governance are predetermined. So, what will they be voting for?

Everywhere, we see images of a troubled land and its people. The dream lies smouldering in the grave, says the poet.

The gap between grandiloquent statements, cameo appearances amid the drama of poor people’s lives and the real lived experiences of a world shrunken by poverty and the indifference of the powerful is becoming wider by day.

Freedom will only have any real meaning if citizens claim it for themselves. This requires careful and deliberate building of a promised nation. Freedom is earned every day. Only then, shall we find that democratic genie which we will have to continually protect.

Nomboniso Gasa is a researcher, writer and columnist on gender, politics and cultural issues