Rise of the toilet revolutionaries

2011-01-22 13:16

In his seminal treatise on black consciousness, I Write What I Like, ­Steve Biko notes: “To ­accommodate the existing problems, the black man develops a two-faced attitude to the whole question of existence in South Africa.

Deep inside, his anger mounts at the ­accumulating insult, but he vents it in the wrong direction – on his fellow man in the township .­ . . In the privacy of his toilet, his face twists in silent condemnation of white society, but brightens up in sheepish obedience . . . hurrying in response to his master’s impatient call.”

The profound annotations of Biko, the prodigious young member of the revolutionary intelligentsia, have caused those who wage imaginary revolutions through media spaces, that may as well be aptly marked as being “reserved for toilet revolutionaries”, to rest on their laurels.

This type of black man in today’s society misconstrues any association, engagement, negotiation, contact, alliance or battle with whites as fated to result in the “malleable” blacks becoming “sellouts” and “traitors to Africa”.

To him, the activist blacks are forever outwitted, outnegotiated, swallowed and/or co-opted by the master who has the indefatigable cunning to sweeten his chicanery with a few meaningless concessions.

As this latter-day black man hides behind Biko’s regal wardrobe, this toilet revolutionary (who is scoffed at by Nelson Mandela in his Conversations with Myself as the only one who does not make mistakes) vents his frustration at his fellow man.

His brethren’s crimes are usually professing non-racialism, subscribing to the Freedom Charter and participating in the historic Congress Alliance and Codesa. The toilet revolutionary’s catch phrase is “black man, you are being manipulated”.

How else does one explain the assertion by Tebogo Khaas, in his rejoinder to Dr Z Pallo Jordan’s previous article, that “it is unthinkable that anyone could have successfully countered the massive headstart the Nats had over their less resourced protagonists” (What Negotiations? To say that the ANC outsmarted the Nats is a stretch, City Press January 9)

What was to be done?

Brighten up in sheepish bewilderment at the master’s ostensible military and intelligence supremacy?

That is a counsel of despair.

Count us out!

Khaas and his ilk’s understanding of the negotiation process is not only charmingly bookish, but is blissfully ignorant of the fact that the art and science of negotiations is also about maximising your own strengths and exploiting the weaknesses of the enemy.

Our strengths lay in our numbers, while the ­enemy’s weaknesses were, inter alia, its paranoia of losing the sweet life and the moral imperative that drove some of its prime plotters, such as Dirk ­Coetzee and countless Broederbonders, to break rank.

The “total onslaught, total strategy” plot unveiled by Magnus Malan in the 1980s was a desperate response by the Nats to the ­offensive – or onslaught, if you like – led by the African National Congress (ANC).

It is therefore curiously naive to assume that the ANC was caught off-guard by the Nats’ overtures.

There is overwhelming historical ­evidence that the ANC had an unremitting preference for a negotiated settlement.

Suffice to say, Khaas ungenerously admits that what he calls the “restless township masses” gloriously responded to a call by ­Oliver Tambo to make apartheid unworkable and render the country ungovernable.

There is thus no justification for any suggestion that the Afrikaners went to the Dakar meeting out of some predisposed superior intelligence. Their great trek was thrust upon them by the tactics of the ANC.

The “African Claims” document drafted under the stewardship of Dr Alfred B ­Xuma, the call for a national convention during the days of Reverend Albert Luthuli, the Harare Declaration and constitutional proposals released in the 1980s are just a few of the many indicators of a movement determining the agenda as events unfolded.

Oliver Tambo is on record for emphasising that he preferred our national question to be resolved differently from the way such a question was addressed in some of the frontline states.

“Why destroy in order to build?” he pondered loudly. Peter Mokaba, the erstwhile leader of our militant youth movement, urged us “to convince and/or confuse the enemy”.

Joe Slovo added that if need be the strategic retreat of the FW de Klerk regime should be turned into a headlong flight.

 The conference centre ­revolutionaries tended to echo the master’s attempts to divorce Mandela from the ANC despite his numerous protestations that he only ever acted on the mandate of the ANC.

We must emphasise that when Mandela said that negotiations should “address the fears of the white minority and satisfy the ­aspirations of the black majority”, he was merely cogently restating what the ANC had been saying since the days of the prolific Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje.

The aspirations of the African people have now taken centre stage with the advent of the Jacob Zuma administration.

The idea of a ­social economy as a driver of growth should be concretised in community development forums that include multisectoral collectively owned enterprises to seize opportunities created by, among others, public institutions and private sector partners.

A better life for all South Africans does not reside in the heads of blacker-than-thou narcissistic intellectuals, but in strong organised communities.

The historic challenge to intellectuals is not to moan about the Magnus Malans of this world, but to assume the role of meaningfully transferring skills.

Yes, concessions were made to the apartheid authors to hoodwink them into what Khaas and others were lucidly taught to be the big-picture plan.

That bookish understanding of the negotiation strategy translates into such manoeuvres at the battle front.

We do not frown upon debate, self­criticism and appraisal. We are, however, alarmed by the unhelpful grandstanding, symptomatic self-hatred and self-flagellation exhibited by toilet revolutionaries.

Their nebulous pomposity does not help to change the material conditions of our people.

We conclude by reminding those who use Biko’s name to justify their ranting and raving that Biko practically assisted in building organs of self-empowerment in a hostile and diabolical milieu.

» Makoko is a social entrepreneur and small enterprise development practitioner who belongs to grassroots community-based forums in Katlehong. Feketha is an economics lecturer at the University of Fort Hare.

The authors write in their personal capacities

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