Minds need to be freed

2013-09-18 00:00

TODAY, I seek to debunk myths raised by Sanele Nene’s article titled “Their own worst enemies”, which appeared in The Witness on August 21.

My central argument is that his article suffers from “twisted and narrow liberalism” in terms of its form and content, especially because it falls into the trap of blaming uncritically the historically dispossessed people for their unfavourable material conditions or suffering.

To this end, I will begin by identifying three key points in his article, which I will challenge at a later stage.

Firstly, the learned University of KwaZulu-Natal lecturer shortsightedly argues that in South Africa, women, like black people, have been oppressed and made to feel inferior.

“When people have been oppressed and made to feel inferior for a long time, it is not uncommon for them not only to accept conditions of their oppression, but also to form a belief that their oppressor is superior to them.”

Secondly, he uncritically claims that “even when they are free from the shackles of their oppressor, they carry the belief that they are servants of their oppressor who is the master. And the master knows best. This belief then manifests itself in many often subtle, ways.”

Thirdly, he says: “Men are slowly beginning to accept that women are equals. The problem is to convince women to embrace their freedom and equality … because their parents and society have taught them that the man is the head of the family.”

I have decided to respond to Nene’s article out of fear that the respect that is frequently given to university lectures will mislead readers into believing that his views are a concrete analysis of the continued oppressed-oppressor dynamic.

I would have expected that his use of the term “inferiority complex” be accompanied by a reference to great African thinkers such as Frantz Fanon, who said that in the post-independence era, the previously colonised people need to undergo a decolonisation process that will conscientise them, thereby freeing their minds from false consciousness, which reproduces self-pity and hate, among other things.

However, Nene disregarded the above concrete analysis in that he failed to realise that the oppressed-oppressor dynamic is inevitable unless there is a clear and holistic programme to decolonise the minds of the oppressed, while radically transforming material conditions and structures of power inherited from the racist regime, to facilitate the total liberation of the previously oppressed.

After all, Steve Biko correctly said that “the potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”. It is, therefore, worrying why a university lecturer would not feature this in his analysis, but instead throw in terms such as “inferiority complex” in an illogical manner.

At the very least, he should understand that the ruling party is under no illusion that the liberation of black people in general, and Africans in particular, is now over. Hence, it (i.e. the ANC) refuses to reduce itself to a mere political party, but, instead, views itself as a liberation movement with elements of a political party by virtue of it contesting elections.

The truth is that while the democratic breakthrough brought political freedom, this freedom is meaningless as long as it fails to put food on the table.

In other words, political freedom without socioeconomic freedom is inadequate, therefore useless. In this regard, Anthony Butler provides an analysis of the reality facing black people post-1994 in his book called The Idea of the ANC.

He, like many others before him, felt that “the ANC ... [seeks] to liberate the citizens of a post-apartheid representative democracy from false consciousness that perpetuates sexism and racism … [hence it is necessary] to achieve this second dimension of liberation by lifting the internalised psychosocial constraints on the self-realisation of black people and women.”

Lastly, Nene fails to understand the correctness of the Black Consciousness perspective that post-colonialism, the hitherto oppressed people suffer from the historically internalised feelings of self-hate, tribalism, inferiority complex, self-pity, greed, individualism, xenophobia and low self-esteem, among others. These feelings, as Butler puts it, and “a consequent lack of self-belief, unless redressed, must [read will] remain a powerful constraint on black people’s ability to realise their purposes”.

As such, the fight against poverty, unemployment and structural inequalities remains a dream unless it resolves the question of false consciousness, the oppressed-oppressor dynamic and material conditions perpetuating it.

• Thembinkosi “Guerrilla” Zondi is the Moses Mabhida’s ANC KZ221 Ward 3 branch secretary and a senior researcher of the ANC KZN Legislature caucus, and is writing in his personal capacity.

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