Addressing the delegates at the Progressive Professional Forum (PPF) Summit held at the Soweto Theatre on Tuesday, Eskom’s CEO Brian Molefe was scathing of the slow pace of economic transformation. He said he had been asked to address the issue of SOEs but “I know nothing about those things. I prefer to talk about other things,” the energy utility’s outgoing CEO mused.
And with that he opened with a quote by Frantz Fanon taken from his book Wretched of the Earth. Here’s his full speech. Read, be inspired but more importantly, take steps, no matter how small, towards fighting the demon of racism, injustice and the monster that stands in the way of transformation.
“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity”. This is what Frantz Fanon said more than fifty years ago, in his book, The Wretched of the Earth.
As we know, that over centuries, those who conquered the entire African landmass used both Coercive and Persuasive measures. Few places on the African continent were spared the brutalising force of Coercion, resulting in widespread oppression and exploitation of people.
Most of the African torch-bearers, our numerous Liberators in this country being part of the prime examples, lived through the brutalising periods of colonialism, neo-colonialism and apartheid. It is thanks to them that they have left a wealth of valuable literature which must guide our generation as we grapple with the many and varied challenges posed by the stubborn and determined local and international capital, whose main objective is the continuation of oppression so that for ever we should belong to what Franz Fanon aptly labelled, the Wretched of the Earth.
That I am invoking the writings of this great African today to guide us in the challenges we face as a free South Africa, speaks directly to the challenges imposed on us, this generation, by centuries of oppression and exploitation; the response of our fathers and forefathers in their titanic battle to defeat the demon of racism and exploitation; and the things that have been done and not done since the attainment of freedom in 1994.
It speaks loudly to the mistakes we have committed amidst the obvious advances that we have made in a very short space of time; it points starkly and glaringly to the monstrous Beast we are facing as a country and its resilience in resisting change and transformation.
Indeed, this Beast is not only resilient, it is also agile and can adapt very easily, despite it being enormous and elephantine. It easily changes its colours. But more ominously, it has very loyal surrogates who work extremely hard to infiltrate and then reside within the bosom of its opponents in such a sophisticated way, that in time, these surrogates use the same language, the same methods, identical styles as well as similar tactics and strategies of its opponents, so that effectively many begin to believe that the surrogates and the Beast itself, are in fact, the leaders against all that defines the same Beast and its legacy. It then eloquently and convincingly presents the legitimate opponents oppression and exploitation as the incarnations of its historical self.
To arrive at the position I have just briefly stated, the monstrous Beast does so after a long, patient and systematic process of both Coercion and Persuasion. It is a matter of irrefutable historical record that the legitimate representatives of the people of our country and continent have for centuries, heroically resisted the twin measures of the gigantic Beast.
Again, the legitimate opponents of the monstrous Beast, have not and do not willingly and consciously allow themselves to be infiltrated; or knowingly agree to be turned over against themselves and their true objectives. Yet, at same time, the sophisticated monstrous Beast works long and hard to achieve its aims. Where it has failed with Coercive measures it employs Persuasive ones. At other times, it uses both Coercive and Persuasive measures simultaneously.
In an essay from the ‘Decolonising the Mind’, Ngugi wa Thiong’o explains his journey into education in his native home of Kenya. He relates how he grew up listening to the story tellers who could tell good stories, making them alive and dramatic. In this way, among other things, Ngugi learned from an early age the value of language, the essence of words as well as their meanings and nuances. “Language was not a mere string of words.” He tells us.
Ngugi learned early on that words had some suggestive powers well beyond the immediate and lexical meaning. He explains that “the language of our evening teach-ins, and the language of our immediate and wider community, and the language of our work in the fields were one”.
Ngugi then went to school. Initially, at primary level, the language was Kikuyu, his home language. For the first four years of his formal schooling, the schools were run by the patriotic nationalists and there was, therefore, still harmony between the language of formal education and that of his peasant community.
Then in 1952 all schools were taken over by the colonial regime and run by the British. There the language of education became different from the language of his culture. English became the language of formal education. He says: “English became more than a language: it was the language, and all the others had to bow before it in deference.”
In Kenya, according to Ngugi wa Thiong’o, at the new schools run by the colonialists, anyone caught speaking their home language in the vicinity of the school was subjected to the most humiliating experiences. Not only were culprits given corporal punishment, they were also made to carry a metal plate around their necks with inscriptions such as “I AM STUPID or I AM A DONKEY!” Sometimes the poor culprits were fined money they could not afford.
This was the beginning of a process that would try to ensure that the native people of Kenya hate themselves and despise everything that is black and African. This, as we know, was the same in South Africa. Making people to hate their language was part of an elaborate plan of Persuasion, where the point of reference and hegemony had to be European. Accordingly, the rich African culture that Ngugi and others had learned from childhood had to be replaced with a Eurocentric view of the world.
In Black Skin White Masks, Frantz Fanon says:
“A normal Negro child, having grown up in a normal Negro family, will become abnormal on the slightest contact with the White world. In a White dominated society such an extreme psychological response originates from the unconscious and unnatural training of Black people from Childhood.”
So, the socialisation that makes some of us to doubt ourselves, to believe that we can’t do things for ourselves and that we are incapable of transforming our society without some validation from those who oppressed us in the past, is the product of years of systematic indoctrination that both Franz Fanon and Ngugi wa Thiongo talked about even in the early 1960s.
Using psychoanalysis and psychoanalytical theory, Fanon explains the feelings of dependency and inadequacy among some blacks who had thoroughly been integrated into what he calls the ‘White world’. For his part, Ngugi emphasises the colonialist imposition of a foreign language as a point of departure in this systematic mental oppression.
Accordingly, the life-long all-round subjugation of black people does not happen by accident, nor does it just take place in few places, such as South Africa, merely because of the bigotry of the apartheid system, itself correctly defined by the United Nations as a Crime against Humanity.
Nor was it only confined to the brutal and naked violence visited on black Africans from the time when the strong and the robust among us were shipped into slave ships. Nor was this naked subjugation ended when King Leopold II, committed genocide in the Congo because he wanted as much rubber as possible from the Congolese forests, exploiting the freely flowing rubber from what the locals called ‘the trees that cry’.
Again, Ngugi wa Thiongo tells us more about his early schooling that because teachers would not always be among the children, they used a process of children spying on each other. They would give a button to one child, who would then give it to whoever speaks the mother tongue, the one would then give it to the next one who speaks in their vernacular and so on. At the end of the day, whoever has the button would tell the teacher where he/she got it from, and the next one would also reveal where they got it from until the whole group is exposed.
So, the initiation of selling-out your own people for speaking their own language began at the early age. Not only that, in reality, what was happening was that children were also taught the lucrative value of being a traitor to one’s immediate community.
At that time, in Kenya, if you fail English, you would fail the grade. Ngugi says: “I remember one boy in in my class in 1954 who had distinctions in all subjects except English, which he had failed. He was made to fail the entire grade. He went on to become a turn boy in a bus company.”
Clearly, the colonialist were determined to turn the young people of Kenya and other colonial places into their own English image. The French did the same in Francophone Africa and similarly the Portuguese in Lusophone Africa. Hence today you find some French speaking African elites calling France their ‘Mother country’. When they get rich, they buy a villa in France rather than investing in their own native country.
In all these countries, the revered position in the elitist colonial and neo-colonial pyramid was reserved only to the holders of the important credit cards which were the European languages. In this way, many Africans were taken further and further away from ourselves to other selves, from our world to other worlds.
As we know, this process also happened even here in South Africa, although the system of apartheid-colonialism had a different and crudest form, which was appropriately described as colonialism of a special type. Above all, it sought, principally, to ensure that we, the black people of this country, become perpetually the hewers of wood and drawers of water.
By the late 1980s, both the oppressors and the oppressed of South Africa had reached a stalemate. Scorched-earth policies of successive white rulers had managed to dispossess blacks of their land. They had tried very hard, as the late Steve Biko and other Black Consciousness leaders rightly observed, to make all the black people to be merely boys and girls and disposable beasts of burden. This was eloquently expressed in the chant that the late great poet, Ingoapele Madingoane, made many of us to repeat after him: “When the white man came, our fathers boys became; when the white man came, our mothers girls became!”
Dialectical materialism teaches us that social contradictions can reach a stalemate. But that state of social equilibrium cannot be permanent. Accordingly, led by the African National Congress the stalemate was broken when the leadership under both Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela ensured that negotiations would bring about a democratic breakthrough.
I have heard some peace-time heroes saying that Mandela and the ANC sold us out. In this regard, I listened to the voice of Lawrence Phokanoka, that great revolutionary and mathematician teacher from Limpopo, who fought in the Zipra-Mkhonto, Wankie operation with Chris Hani and others and was captured, brutally tortured, made to sleep with dead corpses of departed comrades and then sentenced to 18 years in prison. He observed that: “Only those who don’t get involved in the actual war, don’t enter into negotiations, and thus don’t make compromises!”
The leadership of our people, led by Nelson Mandela, ensured that there is peace and stability in the country. They worked hard to bequeath to the next generations a sound constitution, notwithstanding a number of shortcomings given the nature of ‘give and take’ of a negotiated settlement. In addition, a Truth and Reconciliation process was undertaken so that the country can move forward, albeit still carrying serious scars from the past.
Of course, in the protracted negotiations the leadership of the ANC was alive to the fact that the attainment of political freedom would not necessarily and automatically translate into economic freedom. Accordingly, since 1994, the ANC government had put in place many policies, programmes and processes aimed at the economic emancipation of the black majority.
But I have already mentioned that the monster that we are dealing with is, apart from being huge and monstrous, adept at manoeuvring and is also very dexterous. Because of the resources at its disposal and indeed because of the legacy of education and power, it is a master of intrigue and subterfuge. It can easily negotiate and navigate seemingly difficult situations. Because of its enormous wealth, it is able, easily to pull strings.
Accordingly, when we embarked in earnest, on the titanic struggle of trying to re-distribute the wealth of the country, we found the owners of the means of production – those who hold economic power in this country – more than prepared. In fact, we are only now touching their raw nerve.
Among other measures, as we know, government introduced Black Economic empowerment and Affirmative Action, as part of the raft of measures to redress the economic exclusion and marginalisation of black people. Sophisticated that they are, the white bourgeoisie realised that they could not be seen to be opposed to these measures. What did they do? They ensured that they control the programmes and processes of BEE and Affirmative Action. A number of outcomes are evident.
Firstly, significant numbers of whites have become the real beneficiaries of the BEE processes, either as transaction advisers or as the ones selling shares to blacks. Secondly, many white companies use the same process for fronting, thus ensuring that the economic benefits remain in white hands. Thirdly, in some instances, the principle of ‘once empowered always empowered’ means that the economy of this country would remain, mainly, in white hands. Above all, the pace, the content and the shape of these BEE measures proceed according to the dictates and fancies of the powerful white capital.
Unsurprisingly therefore, economic transformation moves at a snails’ pace. Economic change touches only the periphery of the South African economy. Indeed, few of us from the villages and townships of South Africa would and have made it into the economic mainstream. Those who have made it into the affluent ranks of South Africa since 1994 are the exception rather than the norm. On another occasion, this leadership gathered here today must examine whether the few who have overcome the many apartheid economic hurdles are themselves lending a helping hand to those who are still struggling.
Clearly, the economic power in South Africa still resides, in the main, in the hands of those who benefited from apartheid. In other words, it is still in white hands.
At the same time, the de-culturalisation that Ngugi wa Thiongo experienced when the colonialists replaced the education run by the patriotic nationalists in Kenya, has become handy, both in South Africa and in the rest of the African continent, since the time when the sweating black hands of Africans began to beat the drums of Uhuru.
The Beast and its surrogates have been hard at work throughout Africa to ensure that African wealth continues to benefit white people, whether resident locally or quietly settled in their home countries. They continue to use various methods to fight attempts by the natives to be sufficiently empowered. Attempts by the natives at economic transformation are seen by the beneficiaries of apartheid and colonialist economic systems as trying to interfere with white monopoly capital.
Accordingly, a number of concerted campaigns have been mounted to discredit as many black businesses and black entrepreneurs as possible. This is natural for them, because the true success of black businesses in this country is seen as a threat to white monopoly capital. In reality, this should not be the case, because there should be a symbiotic relation between the inevitable advancement of black business and the protection of established white business.
Unfortunately, the deep polarisation of our society, the legacy of legal apartheid, still makes many white people to see ‘Swart Gevaar’ whenever black people like ourselves, appear across the corner. Again, unfortunately, significant parts of the media still pander to the racist view that a black person is guilty until proven otherwise.
The Nazi propagandist, Goebbels used to assert that if you repeat a lie often enough, people would eventually believe it. Tragically, in our country, even some among our black people have begun to believe the often repeated lies that blacks can only advance economically if they steal or if they are corrupt.
That to advance, we need white supervision and tutelage. This is despite the fact that since black people took over the country they have helped to increase the economy of South Africa threefold, often defying intermittent global economic meltdowns.
In the past few years we have seen a number of whites being brave to display their racist attitudes. This did not happen in the years immediately after our liberation, simply because many of our compatriots were fearful that we may embark on some revenge missions.
But over time, they realise that ‘ag maan’ these are just poor desolate souls, especially when we did not adequately and aggressively put on a programme of addressing, as we should have, both the issues of land and the economy. So, in recent years they started to openly insult us calling us all manner of names akin to the days of legal apartheid. They even started telling lies that they fought for our freedom. They say brazenly that Nelson Mandela belongs to them.
Wearing a party label that uses the name democratic, they tell us that we don’t know anything about the democracy that many of us fought so hard to achieve. Like Goebbels they repeat the lie many, many times. Like during the time of the Nazi rule in Germany, some decent folks have also begun to believe them. Indeed, even among the liberators of this country, many have fallen silent, both in talking loudly about the real problems we face as well as exposing the lies of the beneficiaries and defenders of white capital.
For instance, we know as a matter of fact that true to their colonial bonds, the liberals in this country, the political and economic god-fathers of the Democratic Alliance wanted a vote only for ‘educated blacks’, among the natives of South Africa. To them, here and elsewhere, then and now, a good Black African is the one who is fully assimilated and turned into a localised European. Not only that, a very good Black African is the one that works against his own people and consciously or unconsciously helps to entrench the socio-economic position of the white people.
Gathered here is the leadership of society. Therefore, let us stop the notion that ‘I am not a politician’. When our political leaders do what we think is wrong we must speak out. Similarly, when charlatans and chancers tell a repeated lie that this country was liberated by them and that only they can take us forward; they who represent white capital, white values, white interests and the continuation of the dichotomy that should always define blacks as inherently poor and desolate and white as naturally wealthy and empowered; then we should take a stand because in the end, this is the type of South Africa we will donate to our children.
So, together, let us be inspired by the words of the great African poet, Ben Okri when he says:
“Let’s gather ourselves together,
Clear our minds,
Make ourselves present to ourselves
And to our age.
That we be focused
On this stage.
That we concentrate.
That we prepare ourselves
And with joy.
Let us be be wonderfully awake
For what we are going to create,
To make happen, in this mass co-scripting.”
Indeed, we owe it to the past generations of fearless freedom fighters, who sacrificed so much in order for us to gather ourselves in a free South Africa. We owe it to the future generations that ‘we clear our minds; make ourselves present to ourselves; and our age’ as Ben Okri urges us. Once we are focused and not distracted by those who want to derail the project of transforming the economy of this country, then we will be able to bequeath to our children a better South Africa.
We have to be ‘wonderfully awake’ and ensure that we are not easily discouraged by those who want to see black people fail. We must never lose focus of the main challenge facing us. The struggle was never a sprint, but a marathon.
Nobody can sort out this white dominated economy for us. History has imposed that obligation on our shoulders, just as our ancestors demanded of the generation of Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu and others to deliver political freedom in their lifetime.
The determination that made them never to waver, even in the face of great difficulties, must similarly inspire us in this mammoth task of economic transformation. Personally, I have no doubt that we have what it takes to overcome.