||Wolpe Lectures & Reviews 2010
|CCS Wolpe film screenings Pamela Ngwenya and community videomakers, 20 November
Wolpe Lecture in Honour of Fatima Meer with Ashwin Desai & Goolam Vahed, 16 November
Indians in South Africa: 150 Years.Professor Dilip Menon & Ms. Ela Gandhi, 21 October
Media Information & Freedom A debate between academics, journalists, civil society and the ruling party, 26 August 2010
Social Justice Ideas in Civil Society Politics A colloquium of scolar activists, 29 July 2010
Who scores in 2010 Durban communities march for a ‘World Cup for All’, 16 June
What is global apartheid, and why do we fight it? Yash Tandon, 11 March 2010
Review of the Gerima lecture By Annsilla Nyar
CCS Wolpe film screenings Pamela Ngwenya and community videomakers 20 November
SPECIALWOLPE MEMORIAL LECTURE IN HONOUR OF PROFESSOR FATIMA MEER
TUESDAY 16TH NOVEMBER 2010 - 17H30-19H00
(The Centre for Civil Society based within the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, invites you to the following Wolpe lecture)
Indenture and its aftermath: A photographic journey
by Goolam Vahed and Ashwin Desai
Date: Tuesday 16th November 2010
Venue: Howard College Theatre, Howard College Campus
RSVP: Helen Poonen (031-2603195/3577) by latest Wednesday 10th November 2010.
Bio: Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed are authors of Inside Indian Indenture (HSRC Press) and Monty Naicker: Between Reason and Treason (Shuter and Shooter).
Inside Indian Indenture is an unparalled exploration of a world now vanished beyond recall…This book is an achievement of singular importance unlikely to be surpassed in our time…’ Brij. V. Lal, Professor of Pacific and Asian History, Australian National University.
Between Reason and Treason‘This book is more than a biography of Monty Naicker…I recommend it with pride to readers in search of understanding the intense political struggles waged against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.’ Fatima Meer
Indians in South Africa: 150 Years.
Professor Dilip Menon: The world left behind? The histories of migration in the age of indentured labor.
Ms. Ela Gandhi: The relevance of the 150 year commemoration of the coming of the indentured workers for today's generation.
The relevance of the 150 year commemoration of the coming of the indentured workers for today's generation
Ms. Ela Gandhi
In the last few months we have been exposed to a number of speeches articles and even books focusing on the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the indentured workers to South Africa. Issues discussed have ranged from the influence of the Indian community on education, sports, culture, religion, politics and economics in our country. The highlight being the legacy of Satyagraha or the nonviolent movement started by Mahatma Gandhi and the subsequent defiance campaigns and nonviolent struggle waged by the masses of our people. Indeed our combined history has many highlights too many to dwell on right now. Suffice to say that none of us are an island and we all do influence and are influenced by our interactions with each other.
What however has affected this natural process in South Africa has been three hundred years of enforced separation into racial and ethnic groups. In addition we have all been subjected to propagandist education which emphasised the differences rather than the similarities, and interpreted history in terms of the perspective of the religiously ordained superior entitlement of the white race. I remember for instance learning about the “Indian problem”, “the native incursions” reflecting the subordinate position of the other race groups in the country.
The differential treatment meted out by the government and the abject deprivation resulted in one, a vertical stratification of South African community in terms of class, and two, a systematic break up of family life experienced, as the devastating effects of poverty began to emerge. This is our common heritage against which we all resisted. That resistance is also our common heritage, which unfortunately has largely been left undocumented or documented with distorted versions. For us the slogan “apartheid divides UDF unites”, coined in the turbulent 80’s is the key to our unity and nation building processes.
What then is the importance of the 150th anniversary? For me there are two very significant features which are crucial for our community today and for the 21st century in particular..
The first significant factor is the indenture system, which brought the Indian workers to the shores of South Africa. Historically the white settlers who annexed huge tracts of land would not have been able to run their huge farms without slave labour. Historians record that there was a feeling that white people should not demean themselves by working as labourers. (Frank Welsh) There was therefore a constant struggle for land and for cheap labour. In the Cape a law was passed declaring it compulsory for black people to provide labour.
According to historians the early White settlers saw a 7 thousand acre farm as a birthright. Many farms were much larger.(Welsh) Labour was essential to till such large farms. As a result when slavery was abolished they had to find other means of obtaining cheap labour. So indentured labour was an attractive option.
These indentured workers were people brought from the rural areas of India. Persuaded to sell all their belongings and come to a new country where they were, made to believe, that they could build a better life for themselves and their families. In some cases only the men came, in others families came. Back then wives and daughters did not seek employment. Yet arriving in South Africa they were rudely shocked to find that they were all treated as commodities, scrutinized by the buyers and paid for and bought to work on a 5 year contract.
With the exception of some employers, the wives and children were forced to work. This was the beginning of a hard journey for many of the workers, men and women. There was no limit on the working hours, there were no days off, pregnant women had to work to the very last day and even nursing mothers had to leave their babies often unattended, so that they can attend to the needs of their employers, these needs sometimes included sexual favours. It is recorded that some of these workers committed suicide out of frustration and exhaustion, some tried to flee but were pursued and brought back and sometimes killed. Such was the wicked system of exploitation of one set of people by another. It had to come to an end as did slavery.
But there were other systems. Imposition of tax on rural independent African communities who did not trade in money. This was used to force African men and women to seek work. Paying of tax meant that they had to earn the money they needed to pay tax. To earn the money they had to offer their labour. Because they were desperate for work they would work for low wages and face difficult conditions of work. It was this law that Chief Bambatha rebelled against.
Later pass laws were imposed and this time they found an innovative system which enabled the police to arrest African people on a charge of not having a pass on their person. These arrested and sometimes charged people were then sent to the farms as prison labourers. This system was exposed by Ruth First in her investigation of the Bethal farms in the late 40’s and early 50’s leading to the potato boycott.
Today we have sweat shops The common thread through all these different strategies is exploitation of one human being by another. What we see over the ages is that humanity finds justification for such exploitation in racism, in religious beliefs, in cultural elitism and so on.
So for me the relevance of the 150th anniversary is to once again be horrified by the atrocities of the indenture system and pledge to work to ensure that nothing, even remotely akin to it, is allowed to exist in the world again. If we can work towards that goal we would have achieved the dreams and aspirations of our leaders.
Observing the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the indentured workers should be a call to all of us that while we recall and condemn indenture as that inhumane system of exploitation, we also take steps to block other ways of exploitation in the future. We need to impact on the minds of people to develop a conscience which will not tolerate the exploitation of one human being by another be it on the basis or race, class, ethnicity, religion, or gender.
The second point, I realised when I was thinking about this anniversary, and was reminded of the period in 1972/73 when the move was made to revive the Natal Indian Congress. There were some very intense debates on the efficacy of this move, culminating in a poster demonstration at the inaugural meeting which was held to seek a mandate from the public for the revival. The posters clearly stated THINK BLACK NOT INDIAN. This message was loud and clear and remained to guide the work of the NIC through out the following decades of its existence. Yet this was not an uncontroversial message as some were genuinely referring to the “Think Black” while others wanted the organisation to be black. Some who felt that organising the Indian community was practical and would help to mobilise the community at grassroots level. They felt that they will be able to steer the people towards building a non-racial unity; others felt that we should be looking at Indian needs only. There was a group that felt that non-racial unity can only be achieved if the organisation itself was black.
Notwithstanding these differences of opinion, the NIC was revived as a predominantly Indian political organisation, working for a united liberated South Africa. The debate about its composition remained one that occupied many generations of black politicians and the debate still continues. While I know that there are many views on this subject, my personal view is based on one example. That is the one set by the trade union movement. We see that their strength lies in mobilising in terms of sectors and then uniting them into a general trade union. Those who try to mobilise the workers on a general basis remain small and ineffective. Sectors are organised more effectively because of three factors, they have common constraints and issues around which they readily come together; they have common employer base; and they have common wage and conditions of work constraints. These common factors makes it easier to mobilise them.
Similarly when people live in the same neighbourhood, experience the same problems and are interacting with each other there is a greater possibility of them coming together in a strong organisation.
The reality in South Africa was that the different race groups were and to a large extent are living in separate areas. They each have distinct experiences and issues in their residential areas. But when there are common problems then the communities readily come together.
Leaders such as Monty Naicker, Yusuf Dadoo, Billy Nair, Moses Mabida, A.B. Xuma, Duma Nokwe and others while struggling for liberation also ensured that they built unity among the different race groups. .
Today when commemorating the 150 years, we need to remember that heritage of unity and solidarity that was built in the struggle. This is what our forefathers would want to see and this is what our leaders dreamt about –a united democratic South Africa.
Dr Monty Naicker whose 100th birth anniversary we celebrate this year, is remembered by many to be a medical practitioner who attended to the poorest of the poor ailing patients and he gave immediate treatment before checking whether the patient had money to pay the fees. One person actually related a story that Dr Naicker did not only waive the fee because the person did not have any money but after treating him gave him money to get a bus back home, and buy some bread. Can we bring back this kind of caring and spirit of giving?
I believe that this spirit is of extreme importance as we move into the 21st century, a time when we are facing major issues of environmental degradation, climate change and other problems of disasters which makes our planet fragile. We also see in the midst of these looming problems, that millions of people have no access to safe drinking water, shelter, education and health care. We are facing the huge divide between the few billionaires of our times and the millions of poverty stricken people. How does one deal with this situation?
The United Nations has set the millennium development goals. Governments are entrusted with meeting these. Reports indicate that we are not getting anywhere near meeting these goals. Fingers are pointed at governments and perhaps the governments are to a large extent responsible.
But I believe that the governments are a reflection of society, they do not exist in isolation. When our government goes astray we are all tainted. I say this because it is in my understanding important for us as civil society to begin to change our society before we can change our government. We have to change our thinking from highly individualistic attitudes to communal selfless attitudes, from a highly consumerist society to a conservationist society. Such a society will not lend itself to corruption or to amassing of wealth. This is the legacy left to us by our leaders who struggled against tremendous odds but stood tall through it all.
A people who will wait for miracles to happen will continue to wait. We can build an egalitarian society ourselves through changing our own attitudes. The capitalists will be forced to stop producing in excess when we stop buying excessively.
For me then the relevance of the 150th anniversary lies in these two points, viz. stop exploitation and change our attitudes. I think that we can each help to lay the blocks for a new world as our forefathers did when they fought against exploitation and oppression. All through our struggle we spoke about the triple oppression. Oppression because we are black, oppression because we are poor and oppression on the basis of gender. Some young people told me we had a cause to fight for back in those days. I say that we still have a cause to fight for today. Poverty and gender issues continue to remain a cause and we can commit ourselves to this cause. But now that we have a democratic government we need to find other strategies of struggle. We have to work within the community. Awaken the souls of our people so that generations to come will celebrate our contribution.
Abasebenzi bamaNdiya besivumelwano bokufika eNingizimu Afrika kanye nomlando wabo wezombusazwe
Yahunyushwa nguFaith ka‑Manzi
Ezinyageni ezimbalwa sekuthulwe izinkulumo, imibhalo kanye nezincwadi
zibhekene nokugubha kwafika abasebenzi besivumelwano baseNdiya.
Kuze kube ngu1994 bekugxilwe ekusabalaliseni ukwehlukana kwethu
kunokufana kwethu., kuhlalwe njalo kugxilwe kumlando wabamhlophe
njengohlanga olungcono kunezinye izinhlanga. Ngikhumbula ngifunda
kakhulu “ngenkinga yamaNdiya” bantu abanimibiko engenalo iqiniso iyona
ebekugxilwe kuyona noku”ngamuleleki kwabamnyama”, lokhu okwakukhombisa ukubukelwa phanso kwezinya izinhlanga zalelizwe.Lokhu kwavela kwabeka kwacaca ukwehlukana kwezinhlanga futhi okwadala nokuhlakazeka kwemindeni, ngenkathi imiphumela yobunhlwempu isiphumela obala.
Umlando wethu ukuzabalaza, njengoba kwakusho isiqubulo “ubandlululo
luyahlikanisa, uUDF iyahlanganisa”, kwakuyisona esasihamba phambili
ngama80’s futhi kwakuyisihluthulelo ekuhlanganyeleni kwethu kanye
Sisabungaza leminyaka yekhulu namashumi amahlanu kwafika abaseNdiya
kunezinto ezimbili ezigqamile. Okukuqala izisebenzi zesivumelwano.
Ngokomlando abelungu ababezisikele odedangendlale bomhlaba babengeke
bakwazi ukusebenza amapulazi ngaphandle kwezigqila. Izisebenzi zamaNdiya ezazisuka emaphandleni aseNdiya zatshelwa ukuthi zidayise kinke ezazinako bese ziza ngapha nemindeni yazo ukuze zizophila impilo engcono.
Sebefika eNingizimu Afrika bathuka kakhulu ukuthi kanti
babezosetshenziswa njengabakhiqizi, behlolwa ngabathengi futhi bee
beyadayiswa ngezivumelwano zeminyaka eyisihlanu. Ngaphandle‑nje
kwabambalwa abafazi babo nezingane babephoqiwe ukuthi basebenze nabo.
Kwakungabekiwe amahora abazowasebenza , futni zingekho izinsuku
zokuphumula, abesifazane ababekhulelwe babephoqelekile ukusebenza baze
bazalem kuthi abancelisayo bashiye izingane zabo zingaqaphwe muntu,
ukuze babhekelele izidingo zabaqashi bazo, futhi lokhu ngezinye
izikhathi kwakusho ukuya nabo ocansini.
Ezinye izindlela kwakuwukuphoqa amadoda ayezimele ehlala emaphandleni
ukuthi akhokhele ukhandampondo. Lokhu kwaphoqa ukuthi abesifazane
nabesilisa naseAfrka bafune umsebenzi. Ngoba babexakekile
babephoqelekile ukwamukela amaholo amaholo amancane kanye nezimo
ezinzima emsebenzini. Ilomthetho‑ke owenza iNkosi uBhambatha avukele umbuso.
Ngokuhamba kwesikhathi, kwashaywa imithetho yamapasi okwakuthi lapho
utholakale ungengene nalo uboshwe bese uyahamba uyosebenza
njengesiboshwa emapulazini. Lomkhuba wavezwa obala nguRuth First
ngenkathi eshushisa ngamapulazi aseBethal bgama40’s nangama50’s futhi
okwaholelwa kwisiteleka samazambane.
Namhlanje sinamafektri . Into ehlanganisa lezizimo ukusetshenziswa
kwanzima kwalabantu ngabanye ukuze benze inzuzo. Ngakho‑ke kumina
ukugujwa kwalwminyaka eyikhulu namashmi ayisihlanu ezisebenzi
zesivumelwano zamaNdiya zenza ngibone unya ngendlela labantu
ababephethwe ngayo futhi ngiqinisekise ukuthi isimo esinjengaleso
singaphinde sivunyelwe ukubakhona emhlabeni wonke.
Okwesibili mayelana nokuhlukana kanye nokuhlanganyela ukucuselelwa
kweNatal Indian Congress (NIC) phakathi kuka1972 no1973.Lokhu kwaholela
ezimpikiswaneni eziningi lapho kwaze kwabakhona izinngqwembe ezazibhale ukuthi “Cabanga njengomnyama hayi njengeNdiya”.
Ngaphandle kokwehlukana iNIC kwakuyinhlangano yamaNdiya yezombusazwe
ilwela inkululeko. Manje‑ke kunemibono emimingi ngalokhu, owami umbono ubhekene nezinhlangano zabasebenzi. Ezibahlanganisayo njengabasebenzi.
Abaholi abafana noMonty Naicker, Yusuf Dadoo, Billy Naidoo, Moses
Mabhida, A.B. Xuma, Duma Nokwe kanye nabanya baqinisekisa ukuthi
kunokuhlanganyela phakathi kwezinhlanga ezahlukene.
UDokotela Naicker, Ekade sigubha iminyaka eikhulu kulonyaka, ukhunjulwa
njengodokotela olaphayo izigulu ezihlupheka kakhulu ayezinika imithi
zikhokhile noma zingakhokhile. Omunye wayexoxa ngokuthi uNaicker
wayengagcini ngokykwelapka mahala kodwa wayebuye akumike nemali
yokuphindela ekhaya nokuthenga isinkwa.
Ngikholelwa ukuthi lomoya ungobalulekile kakhulu, njengoba sesingene
kwi21st century, lapho kuhlukunezeke khona ezemvelo, kushintsha isimo
sezulu nezinye izimo ezibucayi ezenza umhlaba wethu ube buthakathaka.
Okunye futhi abantu abaningi abakwazi ukuthola amanzi ahlanzekile
okuphuza, izindawo zokuhlala, imfundo kanye nezempilo. Sibhekene
nokwehlukanaokukhulu kwezicebi eziyizigidi kanye nezigidigidi
zabahluphekayo. Umuntu ubhekana kanjani nalesisimo?
Kufanele sishintshe indlela esicabanga ngayo lapho umuntu ezicabangela
yedwa kodwa sicabangelane sonke, kusukela kwimiphakathi ethenga kakhulu kuya kule ephila ngokonga. Umphakathi onjalo ngeke ube nenkohlakalo futhi uloku ulandela ingcebo enkulu. Ilonafa leli esilishiyelwa ngabaholi bethu abebzabalaza ngaphansi kwezimo ezibucayi kodwa baphikelela.
Njengabantu abalindele izimangaliso sizoqhubeka silinde. Songakka isizwe
esiphathana ngokulingana ngokushintsha indlela esicabanga ngayo.
Ongxiwankulu bayoyeka ukukhiqiza kakhulu uma natho siyeka ukuthenga
kakhulu. Kumina ukugubha lemimyaka eyikhulu namashumi amahlanu eminyaka ukuthi kuphele ukusebenzisa abantu ngendlela engafanele nokushintsha indlela esicabanga ngayo.
Umzabalazo wethu wawinxantathu, ngoba sasibamyama, ngoba simpofu kanye nangobulili. Sisenazo isizathu sokuqhbeka silwe………
About the Speakers
Prof. Menon is first Chair of Indian Studies in South Africa at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA), Wits University. Previously based at Delhi University, he is an internationally renowned historian of colonial India. He was educated at St Stephen’s College, Delhi University, Oxford and Cambridge. Prof. Menon has taught at leading universities in India, the United States and the United Kingdom and held research fellowships in Paris and Berlin. His research focuses on issues of caste and inequality in India. Two books Caste, nationalism and communism in south India: Malabar, 1900-1948 and The blindness of insight: Essays on caste in modern India explore themes of caste and social exclusion. Prof. Menon has also translated a 19th century Malayalam novel Saraswativijayam, the first in any Indian language to be written by a lower caste individual, into English.
Ms. Gandhi has a background in the social work field and is a former member of the South African national parliament having served on the Social Development Portfolio Committee as well as the Portfolio Committees of Justice and Constitutional Development, Education, Arts and Science and Public Enterprises. Ms. Gandhi is currently Chancellor of Durban University of Technology, Chairperson of Satyagraha and Trustee of the Gandhi Development Trust. She also serves as Vice Chair of the International Centre Of Nonviolence (ICON).
With support from the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Foundation and Lottery South Africa.
Media Information & Freedom:A debate between academics, journalists, civil society and the ruling party 26 August 2010
Social Justice Ideas in Civil Society Politics: A colloquium of scolar activists, 29 July 2010
What are the ideologies, analyses, strategies, tactics and alliances that popular movements are pursuing across the world, especially in South Africa? And what are the representations of social justice struggles?
In cooperation with the Wolpe Memorial Trust, the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society is holding an all-day colloquium on 29 July, on the topic: Social justice ideas in civil society politics, global and local. The colloquium will review the state of struggles for justice in an increasingly unjust world and country.
The event will be skypecast (audio), by arrangement beforehand: contact email@example.com
Power Point presentation by Patrick Bond
9-9:15am – Welcome, introduction
9:15-10 – Patrick Bond (CCS)
Debates in and about global justice movements, a decade on
10-10:45 – Mvuselelo Ngcoya (CCS)
Ubuntu and South Africa’s role in the world
10:45-11 – Tea break
11-11:45 – Seongjin Jeong (Gyeongsang)
The historical-materialist study of global social movements
11:45-1pm – Colin Barker (Manchester)
Marxism and social movements
1-2pm (lunch with movies) – Pamela Ngwenya’s collection of participatory videos from Durban
2-2:45 – Ashwin Desai (Rhodes)
Legalism in SA social movements
2:45-3:15 – tea break
3:15-4 – Trevor Ngwane (CCS)
Questioning ideologies, strategies and tactics of township protest
4-4:45 – Baruti Amisi, Shepherd Zvavanhu and Busi Xaba (CCS) Iinternationalism; xenophobia; the Palestine struggle
4:45-5:30 – Closure and ways forward
Who scores in 2010: Durban communities march for a ‘World Cup for All’
The UKZN Centre for Civil Society presents
Who scores in 2010?
Durban communities march for a ‘World Cup for All’
DATE:Wednesday 16 June, 10am‑1:30pm
VENUES: Dinizulu Park (10am) and City Hall (noon)
Bongisipho Pehlwa, Mzinyathi community
Mnikelo Noabankulu, Abahlali baseMjondolo
Ndumiso Sondeze, Abasha Youth in Action
Nhlanhla Mkhonza, Abasha Youth in Action
Baruti Amisi, KZN Refugee Council
Trevor Ngwane, Centre for Civil Society & Workers’ Forum
Marvellous Ngwenya, Ubuntu Babasha Youth Organisation, Clermont
Bongani Mthembu, S.Durban Community Environmental Alliance
Lushendri Naidu, S.Durban Community Environmental Alliance
Asha Moodley, Azanian People’s Organisation
Patrick Mkhize, Wentworth Development Forum
Alan Murphy, EcoPeace & Climate Justice Now!KZN
Roy Chetty, Social Movements Indaba & Early Morning Market Support
Lubna Nadvi, Palestine Support Committee & Action Group on Palestine
Contacts: CCS ‑ Lungi Keswa – 031 260 3195 Des D’Sa ‑ 083 982 6939, and Roy Chetty ‑ 082 334 8461
What is global apartheid, and why do we fight it?
Yash Tandon 11 March 2010
The term apartheid describes a system of governance in South Africa from
about 1948 when the Nationalist Party came to power to independence in
1994, but it has acquired a broader usage. “Global apartheid” was first
used during the 1980s by scholars, but became famous when Thabo Mbeki in
2001 explained why the 2006 World Cup was given to Germany, not SA, due
to a New Zealander’s vote switch.
In 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, he defined
global apartheid as the continuing disparity between a small minority of
rich (mostly white) nations lording over a great number of impoverished
(mostly non‑white) nations.The late poet Dennis Brutus, at the UKZN
Centre for Civil Society, thought the phrase very evocative, even while
criticizing Mbeki’s foreign economic policies as contributing to the
I distinguish between “global apartheid” and “intra‑state apartheid”. It
is important to draw attention to inequality and injustices within
states as well as between states. For example, present‑day Israel is
almost a replication of the classic model of apartheid in South Africa,
where citizens of non‑Jewish faith are treated as inferior in almost
caste terms, much as black South Africans were treated in the
In other words, the term “global apartheid” should not distract our
awareness of discrimination that people face /within /states.
This said, I do think Mbeki’s “global apartheid” sharpened our awareness
about the iniquitous and unfair global system in which we live. The
underlying reason comes down a system of production and distribution at
the global level that is inherently engineered to further enrich the
rich and impoverish the poor.
A good example of this is the record of Africa in the last fifty years.
Africa’s integration in the global system of trade liberalization and
capital flows (“globalisation”) transferred wealth, in net terms, from
Africa to the already industrialised countries of the North. The irony
is that policies of independent African states are largely responsible
for not only perpetuating “global apartheid” but intensifying it.
African governments are themselves co‑authors of “global apartheid”.
How do we jump out of this hole?
The first step is to become aware of the phenomenon, and its dual roots,
namely the system of global production and distribution, and the
domestic policies of the countries of the South to embrace the system.
They are two sides of the same coin. It is no use blaming “the North” or
“the West” and then engage in policies that accumulate wealth in the
North and deepen poverty in the South.
The second step is to recognise that these policies are not accidental.
It is inherent in the very class character of those who rule and govern
us. To be sure, they do have contradictions with the global corporate
elite in that they would like a bigger share in the global pie. However,
their class character prevents them from undertaking genuine democratic
reforms that would put power in the hands of working people.
The third step is to help popular democratic forces to organize
themselves in order to struggle on a dual front at the same time. The
struggle against the dominance of global finance capital is as salient
as the struggle for democratisation. This may sound like a cliche, and
indeed it is easy to sloganise anti‑imperialist and pro‑democracy rhetoric.
But the practice of engaging in transformative politics is harder than
I say this with some experience. I come from Uganda where we suffered
what turned out to be a premature experiment building socialism, called
“the Common Man’s Charter”. This led, in 1971, to a military coup
engineered by Britain and Israel in collusion with local disaffected
The military regime of Iddi Amin was installed, serving the interests of
It took eight years of struggle to finally end the brutal regime, with
the help of Tanzanian forces.
The period since has brought relative peace and stability, and in its
wake some growth. But neoliberal policies created the same effects as in
the rest of Africa: deindustrialization, unemployment, increasing debt
and aid dependency.
Aid dependency is both deeply ingrained in the psychology of our leaders
‑ who wrongly believe that without aid there can be no development ‑ and
in their policies. There are, of course, other problems too. But aid
dependency blocks progress in all other matters.
It also block progress on further democratisation of society, because
our governments tend to be accountable to the donors and the IMF/World
Bank rather than to their own people. It has made a mockery of all
In 2008 I wrote a book, “Ending Aid Dependency”, published by the South
Centre and a progressive African publisher, Fahamu/Pambazuka. The most
crucial first step is the psychological leap that our leaders and our
people need to make out of thinking that without aid they cannot survive.
If Africa wants to liberate itself and get rid of both “global
apartheid” and “intra‑state apartheid”, it has to leap out of this hole
beguilingly called “development aid”. There is no such thing as
Let me end by saying that I do not believe in “armchair
revolutionaries”. Theory is fine, but it is no substitute for concrete
struggle on the ground.
I am pleased and deeply honoured that I can participate in the Dennis
Brutus Poetry and Protest Colloquium here in Durban. Dennis was a model
fighter, with action and lyric, against all forms of oppression,
exploitation, and injustice.
I am also delighted that I am on the hallowed ground where a young twenty‑three old lawyer from India touched the soil of Africa, and became the “Mahatma” Gandhi. Few people remember that he stayed in South Africa for 21 years. This is the apartheid soil where for decades further down thousands sacrificed their life, liberty and property to create a free South Africa.
Nelson Mandela left us the same message as Gandhi. Never, he said, blame
the person or the individual, forgive him/her if you have in your heart
to do so. The problem lies with the system. Fight the system. That too
is what I believe.
(Yash Tandon recently retired as director of the South Centre in Geneva;
this is a short version of his Harold Wolpe Lecture, delivered on
Thursday night at the UKZN Time of the Writer festival’s Dennis Brutus
Review of the Gerima lecture: By Annsilla Nyar
Few, if any, Wolpe guests have had such a striking charismatic presence as Haile Gerima. Despite protestations of jetlag, it seemed that Gerima barely paused for breath during his lecture. In fact, the Wolpe presentation may well be better described as a ‘performance’, delivered in such a vigorously impassioned style and enhanced as it was by his burned, dark-honey voice. The Ethiopian-born, American-trained film-maker began soberly, pleading exhaustion, but quickly became caught up in his own passions for the subject in a way that proved highly infectious for the receptive audience. The entire effect of a flamboyant Hollywood-style show was reinforced by the standing ovation given him by the audience, certainly unprecedented for Howard College!
CCS director Adam Habib introduced Gerima as a “social critic” and an “independent black film-maker outside the Hollywood agenda”. What could that actually mean, I wondered as Habib ploughed through a list of anti-industry accolades and accomplishments that seemed at odds with Gerima’s professional training in the belly of the cultural industry beast itself.
What it actually means became clearer as Gerima went on. The theme of his Wolpe presentation was that of black resistance to the American popular culture machine. His ‘independent film-maker’ status is quite literally that: he has established his own film distribution company, Mypheduh Films and an ‘alternative’ video rental store Sankofa in combative response to the non-recognition of his work by the mainstream film industry, (who have called his work ‘too black’). He explains “too black as “where it's not in the usual paradigm of Driving Miss Daisy or where black people are sidekicks to white actors.”
At first listening, Gerima struck an immediate chord with me. He talks about making (and selling) independent and foreign films to a black film-going population more accustomed to standard ‘black’ Hollywood fare such as Big Momma's House and Scary Movie. I grew up on the very Hollywood cultural diet that Gerima was speaking about. When I was growing up it was Eddie Murphy who was Hollywood’s token black (in such notable denigrations of African culture as the Coming to America movie.) Chris Rock has since replaced the ageing Murphy as America’s resident funny black man. Is it a surprise that Samuel L. Jackson, one of the greatest actors of his generation, consistently plays a secondary role to other white actors? A case in point is the recent juxtaposing of Jackson against Hollywood superstar Ben Affleck in last year’s film Changing Lanes, which had the ironic effect of showing up the contrast between the two actors in its employment of stark racial sterotypes and its complete downplaying of class and race issues within the politically charged terrain of US race politics that the film itself raised. And while the Rush Hour movies raised some great belly-laughs, it was with the realisation that the two brilliant comedic talents are playing to wearying stereotypes.
This is what Gerima calls Hollywood’s “silent propaganda”, the use of blacks as marketing tools for a particular demographic and the refusal to portray blacks as complex nuanced human beings outside the Tupac Shakur/Snoop Doggy Dogg mould.
Gerima is all about challenging the American popular culture machine and is driven by the stranglehold of the white American-based cultural industry, whose negative imaging of black people is seen as inherently destructive to black pride and self-love. His message is that of black empowerment through arts and culture-‘don’t under-estimate your own individual power’ he advised-it was Gerima at his compelling best. I looked around and it was difficult to miss the skeptic looks of the handful of academics scattered throughout the audience. I was reminded of the petty remarks (‘populist’ ‘academically unsound’ etc) that circulated amongst academic corridors after the brilliant writer-activist Arundhati Roy graced the Durban Writer’s Festival. The rest of us thought it was a rousing good show-and we all left Howard College profoundly different from when we came in. Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be all about, really?
This is not to say that some of the remarks made about Arundhati Roy do not actually apply to Gerima! Gerima himself is in an interesting position, having studied, worked and raised a family (albeit with an American partner) in the United States. There is some sense that this begs the question of how such a radical agenda fits in with his broader personal assimilation into the United States. Certainly some degree of interrogation of his own personal situation might have added a great deal to an understanding of the man and his struggles.
It was somewhat ignominous that he declared “every time I come to South Africa it’s hard for me to eat”. As if black poverty were particular only to Africa!
There is also some irony in the fact that Gerima spent a fair amount of podium time railing against the tyranny of the availability of food…and yet is calling for an African cultural revolution. What is more central to African culture than food? Food is a culturally centred commodity.
But the question has to be asked, how far can the black resistance theme play itself out without the risk of insularity and divisiveness? He proclaimed that ‘the middle passage is the most ungrieved holocaust in human history’. It begs the question, do black people have a blueprint on suffering? The consequences of racism and white supremacy represent a universal tragedy, not just one belonging to black people. Other indigenous peoples have been brutalised, traumatised and profoundly damaged. They too have had to suffer the ignominy of the non-recognition of their decimation under white imperialism, such as the native American Indian peoples (the ever politically correct Canadians call them the ‘First People’) or the aboriginal peoples of Australia. “Guilt,” says Gerima,”will be left for white people to work out”. But its not just white people who have to work out their guilt. It is black people too who have to work out their role in the dissolution of the continent, such as the handful of black billionaires who have their spoils tucked away in Western bank accounts or the couple of million black intermediaries who are acting on behalf of their foreign-owned companies. The black elite must bear their fair share of guilt, not just the enemy that all we all know, ‘white people’.
I spent a fair amount of the lecture trying to catch a troubling thought chasing around my brain. Finally, as I drove home, I made the connection. Gerima’s presentation had brought to mind the seminal (but romanticised) work done by historian Basil Davidson, which was so exhaustively studied in my political science classes. Despite the pragmatism of Gerima’s closing call for Africans to “experiment, let (our) understanding of what it is to be African grow, trust (our instincts, resurrect it in your memory and let it grow”, there is a similar degree of romanticisation about his constant reference to Africa’s past. But the core of the persistent thought in my head was the troublingly over-simplistic binary oppositions raised by Gerima, of African vs Western culture. In this way, Gerima’s presentation begs an (un-romanticised) analysis and problematisation of what African culture really is. It seems to me that any attempt to speak authoritatively and conclusively about all of African or Western culture must involve a level of incipient over-generalisation. Is ‘Western’ culture the looming and menacing monolith within which we are all helplessly and inevitably subsumed? These are questions that we have to answer for ourselves in the daily structure and minuteia of our lives. It is to the Wolpe forum’s credit that such questions were raised and debated within an autonomous and politically secure space.
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