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Publication Details

Reference
Suttner, Raymond (2003) The Character and formation of intellectuals within the South African liberation movement. Codesria 30th Anniversary Conference  : 1-0.

Summary
Who are intellectuals in the context of the ANC –led South African liberation struggle?
It is common for scholars to see themselves as representing what is covered by the notion of an intellectual and to restrict the scope of the word to those who contribute via accredited journals, within universities or recognised research institutes. Intellectual debate about various issues surround what are conventionally called `scholars’ and the `scholarly community’ (Codesria, 2003). The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1986,vol 1, 1089) speaks of the word intellectual, used as an adjective as `of, or belonging to, the intellect or understanding. That appeals to or engages the intellect….Possessing a high degree of understanding; given to pursuits that exercise the intellect….’ When used as a noun it refers to `…An intellectual being; a person having superior powers of intellect….’
In similar fashion, The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought identifies intellectuals as a self-designated group, which they say has become a social class and is distinguished by an allegedly disinterested pursuit of intellectual tasks:
In general, one can say that the intellectuals are the custodians of the tradition of creative and critical thinking about the normative problems of their society and the effort of men to relate themselves to symbols of meaning outside their immediate self-interest and experience. In social fact, however, an intellectual is often one who simply identifies himself as an intellectual, participates with other intellectuals in discussions of questions that are deemed intellectual, and is confirmed in that status by those who are recognised, informally, as the leaders of the intellectual world. Indeed, with the expansion of higher education in almost all industrial societies, and the growth of the cultural sectors

These are very limited definitions of what constitutes an intellectual. Instead this paper has in mind a category of individuals who, following Gramsci, should be defined by the role they play, by the relationship they have to others. They are people who, broadly speaking, create for a class or people (in the South African case, the majority who were nationally oppressed under apartheid) a coherent and reasoned account of the world, as it appears from the position they occupy. Intellectuals are crucial to the process through which a major new culture, representing the world-view of an emerging class or people, comes into being. It is intellectuals who transform what may previously have been incoherent and fragmentary `feelings’ of those who live a particular class or nationally oppressed position, into a coherent account of the world. (Cf. Gramsci, 1971, 418,Crehan, 2002, 129-130.)
In a letter of 1931 Gramsci says his definition of an intellectual `is much broader than the usual concept of “the great intellectuals”’ (1979,204). In his Prison Notebooks, he writes:
What are the `maximum’ limits of acceptance of the term `intellectual’? Can one find a unitary criterion to characterise equally all the diverse and disparate activities of intellectuals and to distinguish these at the same time and in an essential way from the activities of other social groupings? The most widespread error of method seems to me that of having looked for this criterion of distinction in the intrinsic nature of intellectual activities, rather than in the ensemble of the system of relations in which these activities (and therefore the intellectual groups who personify them) have their place within the general complex of social relations. (1971,8. Emphasis inserted)
In the same way a worker is not characterised by the manual or instrumental work that he or she carries out, but by `performing this work in specific conditions and in specific social relations.’ Under the capitalist mode of production, Gramsci claims, qualifications of an intellectual nature are needed to perform entrepreneurial functions. This is not to say that intellectual qualities determine the entrepeneur’s part in society, which is decided `by the general social relations which specifically characterise the position of the entrepeneur within industry.’ (ibid).
If we use such an approach and do not first set formal entry hurdles in the way of classifying people in this category, we need to broaden our investigation and examine the many ways of intellectual functioning as well as processes of intellectual formation that may be found in this continent, now and in the past, which go back to the pre-colonial past, though that is beyond the scope of this paper.

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