Category Archives: Thinking Africa

Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo – a review by Donald Paul

Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo Nigel C Gibson, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press

Review: Donald Paul, Independent Online

At a time when the “bloody agents” (normally referred to as the “media”) discuss Julius Malema’s skills as a leader versus Jacob Zuma’s cunning as a follower, Nigel Gibson, a visiting research fellow at the School of Developmental Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, has produced a philosophically refreshing book on what constitutes a civil society and whether we can lay claim to it in our new democracy.

In so doing, he provides a historic look at South Africa’s transition and a scathing critique of the moral – and, more important, intellectual – failure of the ANC, which in the words of Patrick Bond, “talked left and walked right”.

The result of this, says Gibson, is a dumbed-down political rhetoric that espouses “a bootstrap mercantile capitalism based on micro-savings and micro-entrepreneurship”, and by “reducing poor people’s struggles to demands for ‘service delivery’ strips them of agency” so they become “simply a subjugated mass that can only be represented”.

Gibson cites the classic example of a High Court ruling that required a municipality to collect garbage. The municipality complied by supplying garbage bins but then didn’t empty them.

The rhetoric may induce an “oh-so-last-century” Marxist yawn but this is a book worth wading through if you want to enter into a discourse about South Africa that goes beyond the headlines.

Gibson asks two questions. First, “how [Frantz] Fanon, the revolutionary, would think and act in this period of retrogression”; and second, what is the legacy of Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness and “is [it] applicable to contemporary South Africa”?

In setting out his answers, Gibson manages to clearly convey Fanon’s criticism of imperialism and the intelligence Biko brought to the struggle for democratic freedom. In other words, you do not need to read The Wretched of the Earth or I Write What I Like to follow his arguments.

Fanon is probably only matched by Mohandas Gandhi as an anti-imperialist thinker. Admittedly, Fanon and Biko do not endorse Gandhi’s philosophy of passive resistance – as Gibson points out, Fanon mentions violence more than 70 times in the first chapter of The Wretched alone – but they do share the idea that a nation’s independence does not come about by simply replacing one set of rulers (the NP) with another nationalist movement (the ANC).

As Gandhi famously said of the Indian Congress Party, it would merely replace one set of deluded rulers in India with another.

Gibson argues that pretty much the same has happened in South Africa and that the real liberation revolution is now happening in the “directly democratic and localist shack dwellers’ organisation” Abahlali baseMajondolo (AbM).

AbM was formed in 2005 in response to plans to forcibly evict residents from their shacks in Durban. Its current president is the quietly spoken 35-year-old S’bu Zikode. And it is he who has the final word: “It is one thing if we are beneficiaries who need delivery. It is another thing if we are citizens who want to shape the future of our cities, even our country. It is another thing if we are human beings who have decided that it is our duty to humanise the world.”

The media would do well to give Zikode the attention they heap on Malema.