A few days ago Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi responded to two of my articles on Black Consciousness, Africanism and the Freedom Charter, I have duly responded.
Mahlatsi seems to be averse to Black Consciousness and Africanism describing them as unscientific and that they are lacking the proper tools of analysis. This irrational approach seems to be a constant theme in his articles dealing with Black Consciousness and Africanism. For example, responding to another writer who had written about Black Consciousness, in an article headlined, “Making the same mistake as the BC organisations of the 70s” in the Sunday Independent of 4 December 2016, https://www.iol.co.za/sundayindependent/dispatch/making-the-same-mistake-as-the-bc-organisations-of-the-70s-2095463, Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi wrote, “In his article, “Cannibalising Biko’s thinking simply cannot go unchallenged”, in The Sunday Independent last week, Malesela Steve Lebelo argues that Marxism-Leninist theory robbed the black consciousness and black radicalism generation of its finest cadres, more determined to strike a blow at white supremacy. Nothing can be further from the truth.
“Lebelo failed to understand the interconnection between black consciousness and Marxism-Leninism. He also failed to understand that complete national liberation is not possible without social and economic emancipation. Lebelo wants us to believe that black consciousness on its own can lead to the total emancipation of the black people.
He repeats the same mistakes that the black consciousness organisations in the 1970s made, failing to apply the proper tools of analysis and the application of the theory of the revolution. Their blunder was to adopt an abstract view of black consciousness.
“The black consciousness trend, therefore, is a failure to recognise the real force capable of liberating South Africa; its failure finally means treachery, political death, renunciation of their own role and desertion to the side of imperialism”.
One wonders if Mahlatsi and others like him knew of some of Karl Marx’s and Frederick Engels’s racist views https://www.commdiginews.com/politics-2/karl-marx-communist-leader-and-blatant-racist-18393/ and https://www.theepochtimes.com/karl-marx-the-racist_2217122.html . Not only did Marx harbour white supremacist views but also belonged to a sect of the secret society known as the Illuminati, according to Gary H. Kah’s book En route to Global Occupation which I reviewed in the early 1990’s, around 1990/91/92. There is no doubt that some of Marx’s and Engels’s theories were progressive but others are neither progressive nor scientific. While we acknowledge their theories we should nonetheless not ignore their racist views or gloss over them. Moreover, as Dr Cheikh Anta Diop pointed out, some of their theories were applicable to Europe but not to Africa and Diop was an accomplished scientist with a PhD in Physics and four more PhD’s in other disciplines.
If one examines Dr Diop’s monogenetic theory, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks, Robert Sobukwe’s teachings on race, Biko’s views on race, Dr Frances Cress Welsing’s theory on white supremacy, Dr Charles S. Finch’s theory on the evolution of the Caucasoid and Dr Marimba Ani’s theory on European culture they are all scientific analyses. Marx’s and Engels’s views on the race question are unscientific and morally reprehensible.
Now why should the Black Consciousness Movement use the tools of analysis of such white supremacists and why should it surprise Mahlatsi that Lebelo argues that Marxism-Leninist theory robbed the Black Consciousness and black radicalism generation of its finest cadres, more determined to strike a blow at white supremacy? It is sometimes necessary to remind those who don’t know much about Biko that he studied medicine for more than three years at the University of Natal before he was expelled for things that were unrelated to his academic performance. In other words, Biko had the equivalent of a BSc degree, he was a scientist. After his expulsion from university, he studied law by correspondence. One wonders why local universities don’t confer to him an honorary doctorate.
Mahlatsi claims “Lebelo failed to understand the interconnection between black consciousness and Marxism-Leninism. He also failed to understand that complete national liberation is not possible without social and economic emancipation. Lebelo wants us to believe that black consciousness on its own can lead to the total emancipation of the black people”.
Why would black consciousness on its own could not lead to total emancipation? Black Consciousness leaders understood clearly the interplay not only between the social and economic factors but also the political aspect. Hence they embarked on raising the political consciousness of the people of South Africa through the philosophy of black consciousness. Let us examine what the leading spokesperson of the Black Consciousness Movement Steve Biko said on a range of issues and the tools of analysis he used. http://abahlali.org/files/Interview%20with%20Steve.pdf
And Lebelo and other naïve BC followers who want to treat as mutually exclusive Biko’s ideas and that of Robert Sobukwe should take note of what Biko himself says about Sobukwe in that interview. Lebelo claimed, “Where orthodox Africanists of the 1950s such as Robert Sobukwe were ambiguous about the status of blacks of Indian descent in the definition of “African”, Biko was unequivocal.
What is an orthodox Africanist and why does Lebelo describe Sobukwe in those terms? I do not have time to respond to words that are bandied about without substance and words that are used too loosely. Sobukwe has never been ambiguous that is why the apartheid government and the West feared him so much. He is the only leader whose audio and visual recordings have been hidden because of the way he was feared. “Biko’s wider definition of “blackness”, considered a stroke of philosophical genius rather than an act of needless and misplaced magnanimity, was put to a test by white supremacy’s reaction to an enduring black radicalism”.
Without taking away Biko’s philosophical genius, many Coloureds and Indians do not consider themselves black. It could have been a brilliant strategic move to use a wider definition of “blackness”, I doubt if it was a stroke of philosophical genius. The strategic move got some Coloureds and Indians to refer to themselves as black. However, the effect was ephemeral. Sobukwe’s definition of an African being a person whose loyalty is to Africa and identifies with the aspirations of the African people is the one that will last forever. It can’t be described as needless and misplaced magnanimity. In some of his writings Biko used the word ‘Africans’ a lot.
One wonders if Lebelo has read Biko’s interview and what he would say about Anton Lembede’s views on the same subject https://africanexecutive.com/article/read/9467 Were Lembede’s tools of analysis unscientific, Mahlatsi? And was Lembede ambiguous, unequivocal or vacillating, Lebelo? Speaking on SAFM last year, Biko’s son, Nkosinathi said his father and Sobukwe were in touch, they visited each other and they also wrote each other letters which the Biko Foundation has in its possession. How do you know Lebelo that Sobukwe and Biko examined Lembede’s ideas on Indians and Coloureds and Sobukwe’s on the Indian merchant class and came up with what you described as Biko’s unequivocal stance? Is that possible? And are you aware, Lebelo that Biko’s political consciousness was raised when he and his brother Khaya were arrested for his brother’s association with the PAC? This was Biko’s baptism of fire. Are you aware Lebelo that the ideas of the Black Consciousness Movement were influenced by Sobukwe’s ideas? And are you aware that Biko regarded Sobukwe as a ‘God’? Biko is Sobukwe’s protégé’. This was a necessary diversion to address Lebelo’s naivety and self-gratification.
Let me revert to Mahlatsi. He continued, “We should nevertheless acknowledge that black consciousness will continue to be a vital reality in the struggle as long as the aspirations of the oppressed have not been fulfilled; and black consciousness will continue to find expression in the ANC. However, it will remain a mere black shell unless it interconnects with the social emancipation of the exploited”.
Black consciousness and Africanism will remain relevant as long as the material conditions of the African people have not changed. How can Black Consciousness find express in the 1958 ANC when they have rejected it because of influence from the SACP? Mahlatsi should go and read what his leaders said about Black Consciousness. It means Mahlatsi does not read speeches and writings of his leaders. Is Mahlatsi suggesting that Black Consciousness was not about the social emancipation of the exploited? Is Mahlatsi aware that it was because of the Black Consciousness Movement that trade unions were able to engage in unionism around 1973/74 after they were banned for may years? Mahlatsi’s writings are sloppy.
He writes, “Marxism adds another important element, the study of the process of change which is a dialectical process of inner conflict and contradiction. Hence, there are not various “brands” of socialism. In the brief century that has passed since Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels founded the modern communist movement, Marxism has vanquished all other, non-scientific theories of socialism and proved itself the only correct and scientific theory of socialism. The scientific theory of Marxism-Leninism does not pretend to supply a ready-made formula for the solution of every problem. Nor does it pretend to forecast in every detail the future course of events”.
Where has this socialism ever been practiced? What does Mahlatsi think about other Marxist scholars such as Ralph Miliband who think socialism must be accompanied by democratisation and egalitarianism?
On Marxism and Method, Daniel Little of the University of Michigan writes that… “There is no single answer to the question, ‘what is the Marxist methodology of social science’? Rather, Marxist social inquiry in the twentieth century represents a chorus of many voices and insights, many of which are inconsistent with others. Rather than representing a coherent research community in possession of a central paradigm and commitment to specific methodological and theoretical premises, Marxist social science in the twentieth century has had a great deal of variety and diversity of emphases”.
Why should Mahlatsi think his method of analysis is the only one that’s correct and that everybody must therefore employ it?
Mahlatsi is so obsessed with Marx’s ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’ which he quoted in his response to one of my articles and has quoted in his rejoinder to Lebelo that he now sounds like a broken record. He wrote, “Marx wrote in his seminal work, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that “men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please. They do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past”.
Has he tried to read Dr Diop on history? Why does Mahlatsi think Africans should learn to analyse history from the perspective of white people from Europe whose reality is far removed from our reality and have claimed Africans have no history of their own? This is exactly why I raised concern in my article on Angie Motshekga’s suggestion of changing the history curriculum and making history a compulsory subject in High School that such a history is going to reflect the wishes of the SACP and ANC. I don’t have a problem with Motshekga’s suggestion per se, my problem is that our kids are going to be taught history from a curriculum designed by characters who think like Mahlatsi without even changing the philosophy of education.
I have no problem with this paragraph, “From a long-term point of view, the achievement of national liberation and socialism will lay the basis for a final smashing of backward-racial ideas and for the creation of a better South Africa for all. Our revolution is one continuing process. Its immediate emphasis and the chief mobilising factor is black liberation. But this immediate objective has strategic relevance for social emancipation”.
“It is always important to understand the class and national aspects of our revolution. We set out from concrete conditions of men and women in the South African politico-economic setting, and based on their real life-process we demonstrate the development of ideological reflexes and echoes of life process”.
Black consciousness recognises the primacy of race over class. In South Africa our oppression is a racial one, it is not based on class.
I also have no problem with this paragraph, “Black consciousness, therefore, is a product of no imaginary grievances; it reflects our concrete material conditions in the colour-defined position we occupy in relation to the wealth of the country, the political institutions, education, etc”.
“Trying to grasp the meaning of black consciousness must not come by juggling with invented abstract definitions, as suggested by Lebelo, but by examining the historic-economic conditions of the oppressed in the country”. I wish Lebelo could address this one on abstract definitions.
“We must inevitably conclude that black consciousness is simply Black Nationalism. The drive towards unity of the oppressed, which is the core of black consciousness, has deep roots in the history of the country”. The founders of the Black Consciousness Movement defined black consciousness as an attitude of mind and a way of life.
“The idea that blacks are in no way inferior to whites was pioneered by the ANC, as was the idea of black unity spreading across the barriers of tribalism, language and ethnicity. Hence, black consciousness was not the beginning and the ending of radical South African politics, but its outgrowth”. One wonders which ANC Mahlatsi is referring to. Was he referring to the ANC of 1912, the original ANC, or the Freedom Charter ANC of 1958 which came about as a result of thuggery? There is a difference between these two.
Finally, Mahlatsi seems to come to grips with reality towards his concluding paragraphs as he seems to contradict his earlier negative statements on Black Consciousness. I wonder if the editors follow Mahlatsi’s jumbled and garbled articles. I wonder if he himself understands the jumbled and garbled articles he sends for publication.
Mahlatsi should stop confusing himself and should be himself and take Marxism as one of the theories that is not more important than other existing theories.
Sam Ditshego is a researcher