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Eugene King
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The Mecca of Hyper Individualism

17 January 2014, 17:56

I consider myself a Pan Africanist, and also a young progressive South African. As a Pan Africanist, I hold a view that just as much as African people all over the world share a common history, they also in the same vain share a common destiny. In order words, I believe that the fate of all African people and countries is inextricably intertwined. Holding such a perspective in life helps me escape the narrow concern with self-interest and self-preservation.

As a young progressive on the other hand, I reject the obsession with archaic cultural and traditional practices. I believe human civilisation (wherever it is found), although repetitive in many aspects, it is a dynamic and flexible process in which humans use culture and tradition to serve a specific purpose in a specific time. In order words, cultural and traditional practices and thoughts are dynamic and progressive, not stagnant and limiting. In my view then, culture and tradition are slaves of man, and not the other way around.

So I’m an individual who is willing to learn from other cultures and traditions, and more than willing to exchange my cultural and traditional practises and thoughts for those that are superior and/or more effective at any given time.  

Growing up in a typical African home and community, I was able to assimilate a lot from the practices and thought processes in my family and my immediate community. Many things I learned about a typical African perspective of the world I picked up as I observed the world around me growing up, instead of being formally taught.

 In my short life thus far, I have been able to interact with many other cultures and worldviews, but none more so than the western perspective, owing to the history of South African colonization. Since I’m not an individual who takes up anything without any critical reflection, I have had to wrestle with (and still wrestling) with some (if not most) western values and views.

I’d like to use this as a preface to why over the years I have rejected many western values. I will specifically outline ‘Libertarianism’ in the context of this piece.

‘Libertarianism’ is a western political philosophy which upholds the primacy of the liberty of the individual as the highest political end. On the surface of it, this is very innocent and harmless, but when you dig a bit deeper you immediately see the rise of ‘hyper-individualism’.

‘Hyper-individualism’ can simply be defined as the tendency for people to think and act in a highly individual way, without any regard to the general society.

What does all this have to do with anything? Well, this here is actually the primary reason I decided to write this piece.

On Thursday, 16th January 2014, I read (with great sadness) an article written by Khaya Dlanga titled “I criticise the ANC, but I’ll vote for it”, in which he tries to give reasons why he will continue voting ANC, despite his criticism of it.

First of all, I must say it upfront that as a citizen of a democratic South Africa, anyone is at liberty to associate with, and vote for any political party of their choice. So I have no gripe at all with him voting for the ANC, but I’m still left to critically reflect on the reasons he has given to justify his choice.    

 In all the reasons Khaya Dlanga gives for his choice, he fails to give a broader perspective of the South African context. He fails to show the reader what the 20 year rule of ANC has meant for ALL South Africans. He fails to show what the GDP growth he so glorifies has meant for the ordinary and poor South African. He fails to show how the ANC has worked to meaningfully uplift many poor South Africans from poverty and hunger.

He fails to show us how the ANC has worked to reverse the effects of apartheid and colonisation in the dispossession of millions of Africans. He fails to show us how the ANC has worked to reduce unemployment and inequalities. He fails to show us how the ANC has worked to break the backbone of structural racism. He also fails to show us how the ANC has worked to bring about meaningful transformation in both the economic ownership and property relations.

No, instead Khaya Dlanga goes on and on about how he as an individual has benefited from the climate made possible by a democratic dispensation (which he misguidedly attribute to the ANC). The status quo seems perfectly fine with people like Khaya Dlanga, for as long as they as individuals have gone through the gate, all is well.

This has been the biggest shortcoming of the African middle class for a while now, they fail to locate themselves within the broader society; instead they see themselves as individuals with no connection at all to the collective. ‘Hyper Individualism’ leads to a loss of common purpose and a loss of empathy for the poor and marginalised.

Imagine for a second if Nelson Mandela held the same view. He was a rising star in the law fraternity, with a successful law practice. Imagine for a second he never looked beyond himself, and found extreme comfort in the benefits he was deriving for the system, and then concluded that there’s no need for a change of regime. Your guess is as good as mine.

The overarching attitude of some (if not most) of the African middle class in South Africa reminds me of a phrase in a song by one of the greatest ever kwaito artists, Zola, in which he says; “God for us all, Guluva for himself.”


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