Dashiki Dialogues: Corrupt leaders are a threat to patriotism

2012-08-04 10:37

I sat with friends talking about whether South Africa needs to build a debate about patriotism and loyalty to the nation, its traditions and prospects as a method of building social cohesion.

It was an arty circle so we discussed colonial painter-journalist Thomas Baines’ painting, The Loyal Fingo.

Baines worked in the eastern part of the Cape in the mid 1800s.

The painting depicts a Fengu man in a leisurely stride.

He follows his fellows into a valley, perhaps to or from a battle in aid of his British allies. He carries a rifle and other itinerant soldiers’ utensils , complete with European dress.

The question became whether it’s right to call him “loyal”, since he fought in alliance with colonial forces.

The amaFengu were highly skilled gunmen and were invaluable to the Cape government during its frontier wars when natives were fighting to defend their land. AmaFengu were formed from the people broken up and dispersed by Shaka and his Zulu armies in the Mfecane wars.

They settled among amaXhosa, but after years of quarrels they formed an alliance with the Cape government circa 1835.

Any talk of patriotism also requires a way to define the unpatriotic. So someone brought up Kenyan novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o. He framed a brilliant definition of patriots and sellouts.

He fashioned a working binary that includes an African resistance tradition on the one hand and an imperial tradition on the other.

Baines’ Fingo would fall into the imperial tradition. His loyalty was a form of submissiveness in the face of oppression. He was no African patriot.

This relationship, Thiong’o writes, is today maintained by the international bourgeoisie using multinational corporations and the flag-waving native ruling classes in the pockets of big business. Corrupt African politicians, therefore, are modern “loyal Fingos”.

The resistance tradition, which fashions the stock of what I would call African patriots, is now carried forward by urban and rural working people aided by students, intellectuals (academic and non-academic), and other progressive social elements.

Thiong’o writes that their resistance is reflected in their defence of the peasant/worker roots of national cultures and of the democratic struggle in all the nationalities inhabiting the same territory.

Our patriotism debate is complicated by our continental identity.

The “Africa” part is far more important than the “South” part in our country’s name.

As we search for a working definition of South African patriotism, our dialogue should continue to rely on a deeper tradition to colour our dashikis, way deeper than our borders to the north or the waters around us that brought Baines and his ilk.

Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu 

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