Worst kind of afro-pessimism

2009-04-30 00:00

In his last-minute attempt to dissuade voters from voting for the ruling party, Prince Mashele disregarded all fundamentals of reasonable thinking and uttered the kind of afro-pessimism that even the renowned afro-pessimist, David Bullard, would find hard to imagine.

In his article, “Another post-colonial country”, published in The Witness on April 21, Mashele was at pains to explain how South Africa, under the leadership of the African National Congress, has degenerated into another African post-colonial disappointment.

To say that a lot still needs to be done in this country would be to state the obvious. However, to insinuate that since 1994 this country has degenerated from one form of chaos to another would be disingenuous, if it was not preposterous.

Mashele’s loathing for the ruling party, especially its president, makes a mockery of his analysis on the state of the nation. No analyst worth his salt would consistently unleash that kind of antagonism for one party and one individual.

Mashele’s spirited political advocacy, disguised as political analysis, is punctuated with “academic” arrogance, an omniscient tone and a disturbing hint of righteous annoyance. He asserts quite audaciously: “In a normal post colony, it is particularly the most naïve who have faith in politics. Without publicly declaring it, informed citizens deflate their previous inflated confidence in politics as a mirror of society’s collective ideas.”

According to Mashele, the multitudes of our people, who went to cast their vote because they have faith that politics can change their lives, are at best naïve and plain stupid at worst. In his judgment, it is those who voted for the party that “rekindle heroic memories of liberation struggles as a source of political legitimacy” (read ANC) that are to be pitied for their naïvety. He seems to suggest that having faith in the party that delivered liberation is indicative of the worst kind of imbecility.

What is disturbing about Mashele’s analysis is not that he makes a number of errors (to err is human). It is a number of sweeping statements and generalisations that I find repugnant. While failing to provide evidence by way of figures, he irresponsibly accuses the post-colonial leadership of deepening poverty rather than alleviating poverty.

He goes on to accuse African post-colonial leaders of wearing Italian suits, holidaying in Paris and drinking expensive whiskey, while telling voters not to Europeanise Africa. For him, African leaders must look impoverished and deny themselves the world’s niceties to be regarded as leaders of integrity.

What I find disturbing is not only the number of unsubstantiated examples Mashele put forward to back his claim that South Africa is a post-colonial disappointment. It is the media’s insistence on publishing people like him who are activists masquerading as analysts that I find irresponsible. His disdain for the ruling party and intense hatred and undermining of its president are evident. His is advocacy journalism at best.

I think the media in South Africa should give the public the criteria they use in selecting analysts and political commentators to occupy this very significant public space. Giving people like Mashele a public platform casts aspersions on a rather significant role that should be played by public intellectuals. Mashele should be reminded that quoting people such as Franz Fanon, Cheick Anta Diop and many great African thinkers doesn’t necessarily make one an intellectual.

Mashele and people like him would do well to heed Professor Sipho Seepe’s council: “In our stampede for solutions, we should not be easily persuaded to embrace quick-fix solutions and uncritically import models to address national challenges.”

South Africa suffers from dangerous poverty and a dearth of well-informed and critical public intellectuals, but elevating people like Mashele to that status, when they are evidently wet behind the ears, will do this country no good.

• Sihle Mlotshwa is a communication official for the KZN Department of Education. He writes in his personal capacity.

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