Commit to the truth – Achille Mbembe at Kathrada lecture

2017-03-16 21:00
Achille Mbembe

Achille Mbembe

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Johannesburg - There is no freedom, democracy and accountability without some commitment to the truth, Professor Achille Mbembe said on Thursday afternoon.

Mbembe was giving a lecture on Ahmed Kathrada and his lifelong activism against racism at the Management College of Southern Africa (Mancosa) in Johannesburg.

The event was also held to mark the unveiling of the college's Ahmed Kathy Kathrada Auditorium in honour of the struggle veteran.

Mbembe said it was difficult to talk about Kathrada without invoking former president Nelson Mandela.

He said simultaneously reading Mandela and Kathrada's books, Conversations With Myself and Conversations With A Gentle Soul respectively, allowed him to reflect on what leadership is and what it is to fight for a just cause.

He said leadership and a just cause were at the centre of the predicaments that South Africa, the rest of the African continent and even the world currently find themselves in.

Knowledge a secure path to truth

"To be a leader requires, through trials, errors and correction of errors, capacity to read one's own time [and] what is peculiar to one's own time, because knowing one's talent is the first step in trying to elucidate what it is that this time requires of us."

He said: "Some have come to believe today that we can [be involved] in revolutionary or rival proxies without paying attention to thinking deeply and seriously."

He said knowledge, to a large extent, was the most secure path to truth.

"There is no freedom without some commitment to some idea of the truth. There is no democracy or accountability in the absence of truth."

Another lesson learnt from reading both books simultaneously, Mbembe said, was that to become a leader, you have to undergo some form of "transfiguration".

He said both Mandela and Kathrada underwent transfiguration in a disciplined manner while they were in prison.

"Prison was a very important place to learn ethics, self-detachment in relation to one's body, the cultural conditions, deprivation of liberty and material possessions in this age of hyper consumption."

Time to revisit archives

Mbembe marvelled at how, in his book, Mandela revealed that all he owned fitted in a box by the time he left prison.

"Detachment has a way of achieving personal happiness, a method to avoid being bitter, being free. It also has a way [of teaching how to] treat one's enemies with dignity and look at one's freedom with the freedom of all."

Mbembe said that was the political project Mandela and Kathrada were able to articulate for a liberated South Africa.

"Nowadays [with] controversies, people want to make us believe that they sold out, but I do not think that we should take such criticisms very seriously.

"Part of what makes South Africa attractive to the rest of the world is the fact that we have a deep archive of how struggles for social and racial justice can be victoriously achieved."

He said South Africa had a tendency to demean itself and now was the ideal time to revisit those archives.

Violence must be 'last resort'

He said every struggle had a cost and the question was: "How do we determine it?"

"How do we determine who must bear the cost, and how such a burden can be proportioned accordingly so that the weakest and the most vulnerable among us are not those who carry most of the burden?"

He said it was concerning to see how the current generation of young people had chosen violence to express their struggles.

"Violence is not a necessary means because the moment we have opened the gates of violence, or counter institutional violence, something precious and irrevocable will be lost."

He said before one resorts to violence, one has to experience some sort of loss.

"If violence has to be expressed in the struggle for justice, it must be the last resort. Mandela and Kathrada are very clear on that."

He said certain moral struggles cannot be won by the means of violence alone.

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  ahmed kathrada  |  johannesburg

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