In love with the oppressor

2013-09-01 14:00

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In his essay Three Fools of Melville in the new edition of Chimurenga Chronic, Aryan Kaganof considers two new books – by Eric Miyeni and Andile Mngxitama – and a new documentary on film maker Khalo Matabane. This is an extract.

On page 137 of his book, The Release, Eric Miyeni writes: “At Thomas’ house, Jeremy took dagga for the first time as it went around and was amazed that nobody cared that his lips had touched it and that they carried on smoking it after he had sucked on it.

“Were these really white people? That night, he was introduced to Linton Kwesi Johnson (LKJ). Everybody else was surprised that he, the only black in the group, was the only one who did not know LKJ.

“Linton crooned pain on this strange night and brought tears to Jeremy’s eyes. All because this white boy loved this music so and told Jeremy as much.”

The scene is moving on many levels.

No matter how perfectly Jeremy attempts to replicate the tropes of white success, his (replicated) success remains entirely ersatz because success in an antiblack world, what the white world always has been and still is, is always and only against himself.

In other words, paradoxically, every time Jeremy succeeds at a particular milestone in his life’s journey, he feels a peculiar sense of failure.

Success in the white world actually drains his life energy, depletes him.

The more successful he is, the worse he feels about himself.

The only way to understand this apparent conundrum is to realise that the world as we know it is antiblack and that, for a black subject, success in this world is self-defeating, a kind of perpetual suicide bombing with all of the pain and none of the closure.

It is precisely from this nervous condition that Jeremy seeks his release. Hence the title of Miyeni’s book.


The reader cannot help feeling a frisson of horror at the sense of self-abjection conveyed by Jeremy as his lips suck on the joint.

He is seeing his lips through the eyes of the white party-goers around him.

He dissociates from his own experience of the event and lives the moment as he imagines a white would.

He expects a reaction of revulsion from the whites when the joint is passed from his lips to theirs.

When no such reaction is forthcoming, the split in his consciousness is not normalised, he does not feel “accepted” or “human” in the manner of the vaunted nonracial Charterist tradition, but rather experiences the event in the form of a question: “Were these really white people?”

Jeremy is split and can only ever experience the world as an incessant shimmering between black death and white life.

There’s no release from the perpetual slavery of the black condition.

This is what Miyeni’s book is about.

It is a wonderful leap of the imagination to have Jeremy experience LKJ, a seminal trope of blackness, through the mediation of his white buddies.

Except LKJ isn’t “a trope of blackness” unless one is white.

Here, something interesting happens. Here we have an example of the kind of thinking that Ashraf Jamal has bewailed does not happen enough in South Africa (if at all).

When whites cultivate an interest in black culture, it is always an anthropological imperative that is being addressed.

When Jeremy discovers LKJ through the medium of the dagga-smoking white hipsters, his experience of his own blackness is entirely anthropological: “Everybody else was surprised that he, the only black in the group, was the only one who did not know LKJ.”

This sentence presupposes that knowing LKJ is akin to a sense faculty for a black subject, that knowing LKJ is somehow ingrained into black consciousness itself.

Here, in their very love of presumed black culture, the whites again reduce the black to something essential, to something closer to animal than human.

More repugnant than this reductio ad absurdum is, of course, that Jeremy shares this moment with them as they do.

He absorbs their surprise and is made aware that his blackness is always the subject of calibration by whites.

Instead of being scandalised by these k****r boeties, Jeremy sucks on the dagga joint, passes it around and becomes maudlin in their company.

“All because this white boy loved this music so and told Jeremy as much.”

Tears come to Jeremy’s eyes as he appreciates his white friend’s love of the trope of his blackness.

He is actually grateful for being turned into an animal by the white gaze. It is certainly better than nothing, for is it not so that all striving by blacks for success in the white world is based on the assumption that the black world is nothing – not even nothing, but less than nothing, not even a world, a lack? Miyeni’s novel is about this lack, about the yearning to be released from this lack.

Stockholm Syndrome

All black South Africans suffer to a lesser or greater degree from this.

The condition whereby a captured subject falls in love with the ideological programme of his or her captors and so fully identifies with this programme that he or she voluntarily joins the captors and becomes a faithful adherent of the captors and their ideas.

The most explicit example of this national conditioning is Nelson Mandela, who emerged after 27 years of incarceration in love with the culture of his captors.

When Jeremy’s tears pop into his eyes at the love of the white boy for LKJ’s music, we are reading a textbook manual on the operation of Stockholm Syndrome.

Jeremy is grateful that a member of his oppressors has validated and vindicated the awful lack of his blackness by loving a music that he did not even know existed until this white man introduced him to it.

The ironies are myriad here – Jeremy actually receives a missing piece of his (b)lack self from the white friend, who presumes to know what a black should know – why else would he be surprised when Jeremy indeed does not know LKJ?

If the truth be told, Jeremy is in the den of his slave catchers and it is a testament to Miyeni’s rigour that the entire pack of them are exposed as such a little later in the book.

Perhaps, inevitably, there is no release from this so-called new South Africa and the novel’s utterly grim and futile finale sees Jeremy turning his gun on his black brother instead of his white captors.

The Release is an implosion of black-on-black violence that exactly serves the white world best.

The book operates as fiction but it might as well be called A Manifesto of Hopelessness. In short, it offers no release.

The unedited extract from Chimurenga:

Chimurenga Chronic: Three fools of Melville



-    Bookdealers of Melville

-    David Krut Arts & Bookstore

-    Exclusive Books – Hyde Park, Rosebank Mall, Sandton City, The Zone

-    Fourth Wall Books – 44 Stanley Avenue, Milpark

-    I.H. Pentz Books – Shop 16, The Matrix, East Campus University of the Witwatersrand

-    Love Books, Melville

-    ROOM – Braamfontein

-    Thesis Concept store - Soweto

-    Vansa – King Kong Building, 6 Vervey Street, New Doornfontein

-    Xarra Books

Cape Town:

-    Africa Music Store, Long Street

-    Blank Books, Woodstock

-    Bolo’bolo, 76 Lower Main Road, Observatory

-    Clarke’s Bookstore, 199 Long Street

-    District Six Museum, 25A Buitenkant Street

-    Exclusive Books – Stellenbosch, Waterfront

-    Kalk Bay Books, Kalk Bay

-    Mabu Vinyl, off Kloof Street

-    The Book Lounge, Roeland Street

»?Visit for more

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