By Ronald Suresh Roberts
February 05, 2019.
Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi’s intervention upon the Mbeki Foundation pamphlet is a poignant effort. On the one hand, here is a native intellectual who has previously beaten back melancholic white mainstream mediocrity in its various forms (his televised July 2018 demolition of Peter Bruce is a classic of the genre). And yet here, as well, is all the evidence we need that the paucity of intervention by Ndlozi’s doctor-predecessor (Pallo. Jordan) was not an isolated case, but rather broadly symptomatic of growing gap between the black intellectual excellence of the South African native past, and an impoverished present.
Whereas such figures as Barney Pityana, Mosibudi Mangena, Mojanku Gumbi and Christine Qunta previously formed (and still do) part of a secular-intellectual concordat between black consciousness and what was once the broad church of the ANC, Dr Ndlozi’s performance demonstrates not only the precipitous intergenerational decline in the quality of that cohort, but also its re-estrangement from the ANC, as well as the latter’s inability (evidenced by Jordan) to demonstrate any excellence that Ndlozi might be expected to emulate. Let us then brace ourselves and have a look at Dr Ndlozi’s (il)logic.
DR NDLOZI FORGETS HIS OWN ARGUMENT: THAT NATIVES ARE ANIMALS, NOT HUMAN.
As I will demonstrate in a moment, this argument incidentally mis-states and indeed reverses the true manner in which imperialism makes junior humans (and precisely NOT animals) of its native victims, in order to advise, invade and even enslave us for own supposed humanist benefit. But first let me underline how Dr Ndlozi appears to become distracted from this very argument, at about the halfway mark of his very long essay.
If you hope to demonstrate that natives were monkeys to Europeans, you cannot, after all, quote illiberals for whom those same natives were explicitly not monkeys, but were instead human children (or junior humans). Without inferring anything at all about Dr Ndlozi’s childcare talents, what remains clear is that Dr Ndlozi fails to credit the real difference between a monkey and a human child. This is of course especially ironic, given recent pseudo-activism in which retail outlets were trashed because of T-shirt chosen by a black child’s own black mother, fondly referencing the child as a monkey. The same slippage (from human child to monkey) for which the EFF trashed H&M stores, is now offered by Dr Ndlozi in his own piece!
Dr Ndlozi explicitly overlooks the distinction between animal and human, even as he invokes Mahmood Mamdani (who in turn quotes Jan Smuts). As Mamdani quotes Smuts (and as Dr Ndlozi quotes them both), I have underlined the word “human”, which Dr Ndlozi appears to have overlooked, in citing the following language as his supposed support for the entirely opposite view (!), that the native was not human in the eyes of colonialism:
“The African”, Smuts reminded his British audience, is a special human “type” with “some wonderful characteristics”, which he went on the elaborate: “It has largely remained a child type, with a child psychology and outlook”.
By failing to grasp the low place of the native within a still-human hierarchy of colonialism, Dr Ndlozi disables himself from ever understanding the intimate menace with which imperialism oppresses you for your own good, precisely as a human being, but of a lesser breed beyond the law, and who must therefore be brought within the law, often forcibly. The point is elementary.
Because he has so bewilderingly misread the explicit terms of the very sources upon which he seeks to rely, the ground comprehensively falls away beneath Dr Ndlozi’s feet as he reaches the apex of his intended invective:
“Mbeki and many in the ANC are unable to appreciate what colonisation, which established the conditions for the rise and establishment of the white minority nation-state in 1910, was and is all about. Colonisation is first and foremost the denial of the humanity of African people by Europeans who consider themselves superior.”
When Dr Ndlozi eventually reads Fit to Govern, he may well find the part where President Mbeki himself cites Fanon, on this very matter. In what could be described in the founding gesture of Fit to Govern as a whole, Mbeki centred Fanon, whose relation to Mbeki, the Mbeki Foundation and the broader ANC Dr Ndlozi triply believes himself to be explicating. Dr Ndlozi believes that Mbeki, the Mbeki Foundation, and the broader pre-Polokwane ANC have misunderstood Fanon. Dr Ndlozi thinks that for Fanon, the settler saw the native as animal. But here is what Mbeki quoted from Fanon:
“Colonialism therefore did not seek to be considered by the native as a gentle, loving mother who protects her child from a hostile environment, but rather as a mother who unceasingly restrains her fundamentally perverse offspring from managing to commit suicide and from giving free reign to its evil instincts. The colonial mother protects her child from itself, from its ego, and from its physiology, its biology and its own unhappiness which is its very essence.”
Dr Ndlozi’s short cut, in which colonialism simply treated natives as animals rather than human children, cannot begin to grasp the wicked problems of the last few centuries. These problems are exemplified by the fact that a figure like Smuts can maintain a somehow respected place in the annals of global humanitarianism, for instance as an architect of doctrines of imperial trusteeship over backward people; or as the apologist in 1923 for the Bondelswarts massacre, which made a mockery of the pretensions of Smutsian trusteeship over the natives of Namibia. Through Dr Ndlozi’s lazy short-cut, all of the intimate menace of such a figure a Smuts is flattened beyond recognition.
The problem of imperialism is, therefore, the problem of gratuitous and eventually violent tutelage over native peoples, for their own supposed benefit. Similarly, when President Mbeki, speaking in the National Assembly many years ago, engaged Jeremy Bentham for his “soulless secular theology”, it was hardly on the simplistic basis that Bentham thought natives to be animals. Dr Ndlozi’s crudification of the intellectual claims of imperialism cannot for instance explain how Bentham, an arch imperialist, might come, at one stage in his career, to author a text called “Emancipate Your Colonies!” (a logic that included Bentham’s reluctance to see European powers should not spill blood over native places). Again, the necessary insight is to see that for Europe the native was both human and inferior.
In his remarkable book on the illiberal and colonial Genealogy that overtook South Africa’s very own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, despite the anti-colonial thrust intended by the ANC in establishing the TRC, Adam Sitze instructively cites what he terms Jeremy Bentham’s “epochal but ambivalent critique of Aristotle’s definition of the human as the ‘political animal’—’The question [for Bentham] is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?’”. This question—this low bar for qualification as “human”—was what in turn enabled illiberal humanitarians to maintain the native within the realm of the human, while at the same time denying the native’s right or ability to speak for herself, or even to reason. They were human, but still worthy of contempt and in need of intervention. Bentham’s native could at least suffer—and this putative human ability to suffer is what then authorized the civilized West us to intervene and save as well as civilize the natives –from Columbus in 1492, to Smuts and the Mandate system, to Blair-Bush in 2003.
Meanwhile, all humans, including Aristotle and Bentham themselves, were “political animals”, but in a benign and non-derogatory sense. It is what sets all of us as humans apart from the non-political beasts of the field (a distinction—between human and animal– that is itself compellingly challenged these days, as in JM Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals, but that is a story for another day).
INCLUSION AS DOMINATION
Since at least 2005, with the appearance of Anthony Anghie’s “Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law”,
This leads to the ironic outcome, emphasized by competent political theorists such as Jennifer Pitts, that peoples who were held to be beyond the human pale (typically for religious reasons) tended to be less dominated by expansionary Europe. It was the quasi equals who came of worst. Hence the many ironies of the Opium Wars, wherein the Chinese, because they were a respected civilization, were required to live fully up to civilized standards of free trade, with civilization now however defined and imposed by western terms of trade (set by drug dealers!). Therefore, the Chinese could not be permitted to close their borders to the civilized obligations to trade opium; and therefore they were invaded at the behest of opium traders (the Rhodes diamonds of another arena), whose private empire, Jardine Matheson, dominates the Hong Kong economy to this day, as Anglo-American and De Beers did for so long in South Africa.
The national question is therefore not (or not only) a limited question of “social cohesion” as Dr Ndlozi posits. There can be cohesion in subordination, as there can be peace on the slave plantation. Dr Ndlozi himself rather remarkably provides an example of this phenomenon of domination-by-inclusion where he discusses American slavery and American slaves. Dr Ndlozi goes out of his way to say that, although enslaved, blacks in the United States and the Confederacy were nevertheless somehow part of something called “the nation”. Tellingly he doesn’t say which nation (the Union or the Confederacy?). It is elementary history that with slavery, the very definition of the U.S. “nation” was precisely at stake in the small matter of an American Civil War.
Dr Ndlozi supplements his bad grasp of U.S. political history with an even worse grasp of U.S. constitutional history. He writes that under U.S. slavery “Africans were denied, not so much equal citizenship, but equal humanity”. But in fact, it is short-pants history for young Americans that slaves were not citizens: the entire scandal of the Dredd Scott decision (1857) was the categorical clarification by the U.S. Supreme Court that blacks had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect”, so that a freed black could be captured in free states and returned to slave states as had indeed occurred in that case. Conversely (and here is Ndlozi’s second and inverted error) Thomas Jefferson and many segregationists and slaveholders utterly upheld and insisted upon the humanity of slaves and the benign romantic aspects of slavery, as well as the absolute inferiority of the slave within the realm of the human. This is why Cesaire termed humanism itself “sordidly racist”.
DR NDLOZI ROMANTICISES “HUMAN RIGHTS”
Having romanticised humanism, Dr Ndlozi next romanticises human rights. When he critiques “civil rights” frameworks as insufficient and validates “human rights” frameworks instead, Dr Ndlozi overlooks the long-time understanding of the pre-Polokwane ANC of the ways in which post-war “human rights” rapidly became a tool of American Cold War diplomacy. Again this is an utterly familiar point these days among human rights scholars, such as Sam Moyn in “The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History” (2012) and his more recent “Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World” (2018).
Yet here is Dr Ndlozi, thoroughly unschooled: “To fully appreciate the colonial crime on black people, the distinction between ‘human rights’ and ‘civil rights’ is here very instructive. The colonial problem, as stated in the beginning, is not a civil rights matter; instead, it is a human rights matter.” In fact, decoloniality must transit beyond both civil rights and human rights frameworks because the “human rights” framework belittles and fragments legacies of imperialism as subordination. The “human rights” framework was part of what undid the analysis of the TRC, for instance, of which Dr Ndlozi is presumably a critic, even if he doesn’t understand why he is a critic.
GRAND APARTHEID AS FAKE DECOLONISATION.
Because blacks were humans, but junior ones, black status under apartheid was widely known as “second class citizenship”. Citizenship is of course a fundamentally human artefact: animals are not second-class citizens; they are not citizens at all. To be a second class citizen is to be human, albeit a junior human.
And yet, in a piece of convoluted syntax incorporating a distracting double-negative, Dr. Ndlozi writes: “Thus, Africans were excluded not from being part of the nation. They could not be in a nation, they essentially were excluded from the human race/humanity. A post-colonial nation building project has therefore to proceed from this reality in addressing the land and other important questions.”
What Dr Ndlozi seems to be saying in this semi-written phraseology is that because Africans were not human they could not be part of a nation and his evidence is that they were excluded from the apartheid nation. But again, as with his reference to the American Civil War, Dr Ndlozi fails to clarify which nation(s)? Has Dr Ndlozi never heard of “grand apartheid”, which was precisely a project of “separate development” of independent nations and one that, moreover, cynically mimicked the trendy contemporary idiom of decolonisation in the 1950s and 1960s? All of this was designed for supposed native control of “own affairs”, which were certainly human affairs, only separate and also junior ones.
The Bantustan leader was not an animal but rather a puppet, with extravagant pomp and ceremony to conceal substantive powerlessness. When De Klerk seeks to argue that apartheid was well intentioned, these are precisely the stakes of the argument. He is claiming precisely that grand apartheid was a legitimate variant of decolonisation. It is obviously a very wrong argument, but it is a sign of Dr Ndlozi’s own errors that once one accepts his premise (apartheid positioned blacks as animals) one immediately loses the necessary resources to detect — let alone prevail within — the terms of the “grand apartheid” debate. De Klerk immediately defeats Dr Ndlozi, simply by showing that he did not regard blacks as animals. Game over!
The explicitly developmental vocabulary of the 1955 Tomlinson report is, for instance, now going to bewilder and defeat the unfortunate Dr Ndlozi, because his critique only catches forms of oppression where blacks are positioned as animals. Dr. Ndlozi’s argument is therefore a form of intellectual unpreparedness, as where a man faces deep winter in his underpants.
Even beyond the context of grand apartheid, which was a specific and largely unrealised political project of the National Party, the deep structure of the South African colonial law of persons had perhaps the most conservative and multi-tiered set of principles for creating senior and junior humans, preserving the most reactionary aspects of inherited Roman-Dutch law.
In the standard text book, “The Union of South Africa: The Development of its Laws and Constitution” (1960), Herman Robert Hahlo elaborated how
“following the lines of traditional European jurisprudence, South African pre-apartheid law defined a legal persona as any being or entity capable of rights and duties and, distinguishes between natural and juristic or artificial persons. Every human being is a person in law, having the capacity for rights and duties, but there are considerable differences in status between persons of different class and condition. The main factors determining a person’s legal status in South Africa are race, nationality, domicile and age.”
Adam Sitze, in turn, contrasts this apartheid and colonial vision of the human with the contending vision of human equality stated in stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (See, The Impossible Machine, 221-22). The entire intellectual burden of apartheid-colonialism, then, was to embody a multi-ranked humanism as a challenge to more universal norms, all of which Dr. Ndlozi flattens to rhetorical flourish of the supposedly non-human “animal.
WHAT INDEED ABOUT “WHITENESS”?
More insidiously, and of far more present-day relevance, is how Dr. Ndlozi’s intellectual unpreparedness leads him into an explicit form of neo-apartheid. This is clearest in the entire section of his piece headlined “What then of whiteness?”
While I am certainly pleased that Dr. Ndlozi has discovered the literature of the critique of whiteness at the late date of 2018, I assure him that he is not going to find any earlier introduction to and engagement with the works of David Roediger and the associated syllabus of the critique of whiteness than what I set out twenty years ago in a 1998 essay on Nadine Gordimer, “Hillella and the Whale” collected in Celebrating Nadine Gordimer. Dr. Ndlozi will find references collected there, the extent to which Nadine Gordimer pioneered “whiteness studies” as early as 1977 (long before the American academics through whom Ndlozi has now arrived at whiteness-insights). Gordimer was provoked and stimulated by her close attention to Nusas and worked her critique of whiteness as a reciprocal gesture to the Steve Biko.
The point is that neither Gordimer nor Biko ever confused or conflated whiteness with white people. That is why there is a kind of cottage industry in white people claiming sightings of or acquaintance with Biko (Anton Rupert, Helen Zille, Donald Woods . . .). Biko would certainly never write, as Dr. Ndlozi so very violently does, that “white people do not belong in South Africa.” Basically, such a statement is a pseudo-radical revival of the logic of “grand apartheid” and of “separate development” and it fails in the indispensable ethical requirement to separate “whiteness” as a socially constructed identity from the banishment of particular white people.
By analogy, Edward Said always very carefully separated the critique of Zionism from any racist rejection of Jews in general, or as a category of persons. For Said, to banish Jews was banal anti-Semitism; to critique versions of Zionism as
It is one thing to say whites need no liberation, quite another to say they are not contemplated within the purview of the nation, or for that matter that whites as such were or are the “strategic enemy”. Unless one equates the motive forces of a nation with the entirety of that same nation, Dr Ndlozi is making no sense. His nation is a rather monochrome and solipsistic place in which, as it were, “only motive forces need apply” for the passport. What then are the motive forces moving or motivating, which is what motive forces do? Only themselves? Cleary the nation incorporates dissenters, whose dissent is defined precisely by their exclusion from its motive forces: who must be intellectually and politically disempowered, but certainly not oppressed or expelled.
Such dissenters embody what Ndlozi himself calls “false membership” which, as his own phrasing unintentionally acknowledges, remains a flawed form of membership! Such members are themselves subordinated through inclusion within a democratic non-racial project they may even despise — like some of those farmers whose water was taken without compensation under the 1998 Water Act in order to defuse the recent Day Zero water crisis. At its best, the ANC ‘s radicalism is to turn the long-time colonial gambit of domination-through-inclusion back upon those who despise us. This is precisely what I meant in Mail & Guardian piece that I ghost-wrote for Kader Asmal back during the 1995 springbok rugby emblem controversy, where we argued: “Let’s steal the Springbok from Verwoerd”.
To mention Asmal is incidentally to see that Dr Ndlozi’s pseudo-radicalism is not only a forms of neo-apartheid but also demonstrably unnecessary in the land reform context, because natural resources law in principle already does what he wants land law to do. Dr Ndlozi writes: “This [EFF] position is doing something even more radical; land becomes a common property of the people of South Africa under the custodianship of a democratic state. This is new and relocates land outside the logic of capitalism as we know it today. The land belongs indeed to all.” Unfortunately, “custodianship” of rights to natural resources traces back to the 1998 Water Act even, before it entered the 2002 Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) which Ndlozi himself cites, as he must, because it is referenced in the EFF’s own policy.
The final joke of the EFF position is that they understand that expropriation without compensation in appropriate cases is already the law of the land. They have said so in their own policy document, which yet again Dr Ndlozi has quoted, but apparently has not as yet read.
Ronald Suresh Roberts is Senior Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics