Biko: Who articulates him best?
Julius Malema’s plea late last year to be “treated like Mandela” was met with a volley of jibes from some of his former comrades in the ANC and the general public. But some, myself included, just laughed it off.
Malema’s laughable plea stemmed from his false perception of himself as a leader of our former president’s caliber.
South Africans have gotten used to ANC leaders’ public spats to the extent of turning them into jokes. Their vitriolic verbal exchanges don’t raise eyebrows anymore. It’s free entertainment.
But what should we say when well-respected commentators stoop to the same level?
This brings me to Andile Mngxitama and Xolela Mangcu’s recent verbal fight.
Mangcu’s recently published book Biko: A biography started it all. In this book Mangcu traces Biko’s black consciousness philosophy to pronouncements by early leaders and thinkers such as Tiyo Soga and King Hintsa. He also brings to the attention of the reader Biko’s early days in Ginsburg near King William’s Town, Eastern Cape – something that most writers have overlooked.
I have read Biko’s biographies and I must say, this one is the most comprehensive of them all.
This book seems to have irked Mngxitama to the bone. In his review of the book in the Mail and Guardian, Mngxitama tore in Mangcu for what he calls “a vulgarization of Biko’s name”. According to him “Mangcu’s grasp of black consciousness is too limited to allow him the scope to deal with Biko in a satisfactory manner”. He also rebukes Mangcu for “dragging us to Ginsburg and for tracing Biko’s philosophical genealogy to Xhosaland instead of Martinique. He ends his tirade by branding him an “obsessed tribalist”.
I must say, I thought Mangcu was going to turn the other chick and let us (readers) judge for ourselves. But it seems he found Mngxitama’s verbal onslaught too unbearable to be ignored.
Some few days later, the spectacled one retaliated with a heavily worded article in the same publication, hurling words such as “sophistry, patronizing and myopia”, in the direction of his opponent. He also blames Mngxitama for “distorting Biko’s view of Nelson Mandela and spinning yarns about Oliver Tambo”. Oh, he also asked: What is the guy smoking?
Both these gentleman (I still respect them) have done a wonderful job spreading the black consciousness gospel. Through their writings, they’ve revived Biko and his philosophy in many peoples’ minds.
But their public spats have left my 15 years old cousin confused. Now he wants to know who, between the two commentators, articulates Biko him best.
I told him that his answer lies in Biko’s own words. That he should first read Biko’s own writings before reading Mangcu and Mngxitama’s articulations of him.
The look on his face told me that he wasn’t satisfied with my answer. It’s clear he expected me choose between the two.
I recommended him to read Biko’s writtings because I think his own words speak volumes about who he really was and what he stood for. I think this will go a very long way in helping him to evaluate these two commentators’ articulations. For instance it will, amongst other things, help him wise-up to the fact that black consciousness is not a tribalist or racist philosophy.
Our few minutes conversation made me realize just how important critical thinking skills are. My biggest concern is that without these skills my little cousin and many other folks like him will find it difficult to navigate our increasingly noisy and crowded marketplace of ideas. They will passively accept what opinion leaders feed them. And ultimately they will become blind followers of deceptive ideas.
I could be wrong, but that’s just the way I see it.