On Air Feature

SA has learnt nothing from the other African countries

Date: Jun 5, 2017

Political independence delivered through nationalism constitutes a blocked dialectic: A comment on the continuing politics of the present by Lwazi Siyabonga Lushaba, PhD University of Cape Town

Journalistic commentary masquerading as thought has fostered on the national imagination an unhelpful narrative that pretends to explain the many failures of post-independence South Africa. If this narrative be believed, President Zuma more particularly and the African National Congress more broadly are to blame. I am not convinced by either of these explanations. It is neither to President Zuma’s indisputable ineptitude nor to the ANC’s hapless leadership elite that we must turn to make sense of the complex problems post-colonial South Africa faces. So where are we to look to locate the sources of the problem.

South Africa’s many post-colonial failures – be they political or economic – it seems to me are emblematic of a far more disconcerting development - failure at the level of thought. Two factors coalesce to explain this failure: one is the ideological duplicity of white scholarship. The other is the absence of a self-respecting generation or cadre of black scholars. Were this not to be so a few things would have come to light for earnest consideration and public debate.

Firstly; the South African colonial experience would by now have firmly returned to a basket case of other comparable African colonial formations. From such African centred scholarship South Africa would have gained comparative insights on the trajectory or life of the postcolonial Africa state? South Africa was the last of African countries to gain its independence in 1994. However because of the pervasive myth of South African exceptionalism it has not availed itself of the lessons from the rest of the continent. It is these lessons that would have enabled us to understand the structural design of the postcolonial African state as well avoid the pitfalls of nationalist driven postcolonial reform.

Secondly, by now we would have learnt that nationalism everywhere in the colonial world is unable to dismantle the epistemic architecture of colonial modernity. Simply put nationalism in the colonial world does not constitute an autonomous discourse and as such it lacks the cultural resources, originality and theoretical existence necessary to imagine or contemplate a model of society different from the one colonialism engineers. 

Nationalism everywhere in the colonial world, including South Africa, accepts the universality and truth claimed for the normative and discursive framework of the modern epistemic and political order. Rather than question the claim entered in rationalist thought for the inevitability of western modernity, it presents itself as the only legitimate vehicle for the engendering of capitalist modernity in the colonial world. It is precisely this project to turn colonial (read African) societies into mirror images the West as if all societies of necessity must be like the west to develop that soon reaches a cul-de-sac and becomes delegitimized. This is precisely where South Africa is today hence my claim that current failures are not those of the ANC but of nationalism. 

One last point needs to be made even if not fully elaborated. South Africa is a settler colonial society where the white colonial Self to underwrite the integrity of its subjectivity maintains through epistemic, economic and other logics the colonized black majority in a position of thing-hood. Because we as the black colonized subsists outside the bounds of humanity the modernist state encounters and relates to us as objects - necessarily many and eliminable. In its eyes our lives hold no ethical value. One only need look at the spatial planning of our cities to recognize the point I am making. 

In virtually all of South Africa’s cities dwells in one part human beings (the citizen-subjects), where values and norms of human deference are the governing order of things, and where planning occurs. In these suburbs where hope, aspiration and dreams live, dwell white people. In the other part where squalor, hopelessness, destitution, lack and disregard for the precepts of modern planning orders life, exists black people. Why? Responsibility I have always maintained calls on to fashion forms of intellection adequate to the complexities of our time. Journalistic commentary that is presentist in outlook is no substitute for thought.  


Dr Lwazi Lushaba is based at the Department of Political Studies at the University of Cape Town. Opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in this article are that of the author and NOT of the SABC

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