[Debate] I Thus Caught That Colonial Mind-Set At Work
nada01 at claranet.co.uk
Fri Apr 13 18:06:32 BST 2012
I have no problems dealing with the substantive issues. However, the manner
of Bohmke's disparagement crosses over too much with a long racialised
Perhaps there is some way of getting those he names to contribute as well.
From: debate-list-bounces at fahamu.org [mailto:debate-list-bounces at fahamu.org]
On Behalf Of Riaz K Tayob
Sent: 13 April 2012 17:26
To: debate-list at fahamu.org
Subject: Re: [Debate] I Thus Caught That Colonial Mind-Set At Work
See my other post, which is an invitation...
For arguments sake, and arguments sake alone, can we entertain some of the
issues Bohmke is raising, as well as Majavu's?
These are surface ripples of very deep currents and both of our brothers are
piqued at something, without polemics as Pw says, that can give some idea
into these currents...
On 2012/04/13 07:03 PM, Neville Adams wrote:
> Whichever way you put it - and you do put it loquaciously - this still
> reads like an accusation that the leading Black activists in the Abahlali
> are no more than ill-educated dupes of Svengali like white academics.
> the supporting claim that other Black people have said similar things, is
> variation on 'some-of-my-best-friend -are...' Where is your evidence,
> apart from the assertions you make?
> -----Original Message-----
> From: debate-list-bounces at fahamu.org
> [mailto:debate-list-bounces at fahamu.org]
> On Behalf Of Heinrich Bohmke
> Sent: 13 April 2012 15:33
> To: Debate is a listserve that attempts to promote information and
> analyses of interest to the independent left in South and Southern
> Subject: Re: [Debate] I Thus Caught That Colonial Mind-Set At Work
> Mandisi Majavu completely misses the point of my articles on South
> African social movements. He would have me write purely to satisfy an
> urge to ridicule these movements and their leaders, poor Blacks. He
> baits his trap with the fact that I am white. But he does so poorly.
> Majavu can only skin me by misconstruing the authority he cites and by
> withholding inconvenient information from his readers.
> I write to criticize, (although I am happy with 'ridicule'), the
> *misrepresentation* of South Africa's new social movements by a
> coterie of mainly white academics. These include Nigel Gibson,
> Michael Neocosmos, Richard Pithouse, and Raj Patel. They are by far
> not alone in this enterprise but these individuals truly do
> distinguish themselves in the unashamed level of hype they supply and
> in some cases the base peddling of lies.
> For some of them, it goes beyond the hagiographic articles. It
> includes assuming PR functions, fund-raising and ghost-writing
> speeches and press statements for movements. It reaches its acme in
> the Abahlali website administered by Richard Pithouse and Raj Patel
> which, far from being a voice of the voiceless, self-servingly carries
> the aesthetic, political and sectarian stamp of these spin-sters.
> With this activity comes power. The power is exercised in two ways;
> *internally*, as resource people, servicing financial, technological
> and 'intellectual' dependencies in exchange for influence and, as
> gatekeepers, policing 'researcher' access to movements, delivering
> 'the' leader to conferences and picking fights with supposed enemies
> on the movement's behalf.
> This feeds into the *external* power; the way movements and their
> academics are branded to the outside world, through unremitting behind
> the scenes work such as on websites, Wikipedia, blogs and through the
> skilful cultivation of 'respected' academics who are given insider
> information. One sees this in the way academics who never actually
> speak to shackdwellers always thank Richard Pithouse, for example, when
writing about Abahlali.
> Most of what I have written relates to the external power that
> movement-aligned academics exercise. Majavu is unable to challenge my
> central point that their writing is riddled with romanticisation,
> spilling into falsification. Movement size, sustainability, internal
> 'radically democratic' practices, ideological orientation, clever
> strategic gambits, level of support and popularity within the areas
> they exist - all these dramatic claims by academics have proven to be, at
best, wishful thinking.
> This is now widely accepted as a problem and a failing.
> Recently, a dispute about an allegedly stolen book erupted between a
> movement-aligned academic and a movement leader. This incident gave
> me the opportunity to examine also the role of the internal power that
> academics exercise over movement leaders. If I were to shy away from
> this it would only be because there is a taboo within left politics to
> speak about this aspect which silenced me.
> What I laid bare does not amount to saying that poor Blacks are
> "morons", the level to which Majavu either reduces my argument or the
> level at which he understands it. Nor, in tracing the relationship
> between movement academics and two particular leaders, do I portray
> Black people in general, or the two leaders involved in the equation,
> as lacking agency. Far from it.
> While criticizing the academics, I have noted the canny use to which
> they are also sometimes put by movement leaders; some of it wise and
> principled, but some, I contend, also self-serving, survivalist and
> power-hungry. I reject the patronizing and simplistic role assigned to
> Black agents in
> (white) social movement writing in terms of which they are either the
> long-suffering victim of structural violence or the pure embodiment of
> truth. No. They are as able to be self-interested individuals
> navigating their way across a complex social and political
> landscape for their own benefit as anyone else. In this regard
> ceding the written tasks of movement-building to enthusiastic white
> postgraduates may be a mutually beneficial arrangement.
> But this is not the kind of agency with which left writing on
> movements is comfortable. The organized Black poor must either be
> pure victims or pure saints. Their leaders are incapable of error or
> offence. When something goes wrong for a halo-encrusted leader, they
> are instantly recast as blood-spattered victim, with their faculty fan
> club lavishing rescue upon them. For me, the perch upon the pedestals
> of utter virtue and utter weakness deprives movement leaders of the
> full spectrum of their humanity just as effectively as straightforward
> I stand by my view that there are indeed instances in which (black)
> movement leaders have *allowed* themselves to be politically and
> intellectually mentored by their (white) academics. At times,
> mentorship has slipped into manipulation. I am not the first person to
note this tendency.
> Incidentally, other writers who have spoken out about this problem are
> seasoned Black activists.
> This problem predates social movements by a few centuries. No-one
> thinks it racist to suggest that white missionaries ideologically
> bamboozled at least some poor black people, including *inkosi*? Or to
> note the unhealthy dominance of white trade union intellectuals over
> black organiser canon fodder in the early days of Fosatu?
> In Mahmood Mamdani's excellent *Citizen and Subject*, he writes about
> FOSATU in the 1970s and 80s:
> 'The division of labour between the black organizer and the white
> intellectual leader had a truly Leninist ring to it: the organizer
> worked full time, openly inside the union, and was subject to worker
> pressure and criticism; the intellectual operated from outside the
> union, in a structure not only external but also secret, remote from
> He goes on to quote a white intellectual, Mike Morris, allied to the
> "Whites had the idea whites should not be dominant in the union . but
> it led to the worst manipulation, most vanguardist. Black full time
> organizers received directions from the outside. But whites were not
> paid, not controllable, couldn't be hired or fired . Whites had a
> backup of whites, it was a secret to everyone except the front line.'
> (Mamdani, 1996: 241).
> The parallels with Fosatu are truly remarkable and the problem for
> people like Pithouse and Patel is that there are people from the
> 'front line' who know the 'secret' and think it should be revealed.
> And then there is the term *askari*, which was applied often to a poor
> Black person 'turned' to serve the system for financial reward. For
> Majavu turning is an impossible phenomenon, racist to even imagine.
> How can a poor, Black person be used by whites?
> One wonders how Majavu accounts for BEE fronting? I very much doubt
> Parliament is racist in suggesting, in anti-fronting legislation, that
> poor Black individuals and communities who find themselves in unequal
> relations of power and wealth with well-resourced whites can be
> manipulated into lending their name to fraudulent schemes. The fact
> that someone is poor and Black is no magic charm against their being
> influenced, just as it is no guarantor of that result either.
> Indeed, in a much earlier paper, 'The White Revolutionary as
> Missionary', published in *New Frank Talk*, I argue that historical
> method and style by which white activists relate to Black distress has
> not changed very much over the centuries. This very often includes
> manipulation, containment and cooption under the guise of help.
> Whether this is successful depends on various factors; chief among
> them whether the people are in such distress that there is no
> alternative to accepting this help.
> It all depends on the facts. I have supplied facts and instances of
> manipulation and ventriloquism, in some cases echoing what others have
> noticed before. I know S'bu Zikode and have insight into how he operates.
> I have spent some time talking to him. I have been in
> meetings with him. I have seen him on camera. I have read his
> original work. I can draw inferences.
> Besides, it takes years of rigourous, academic application and a
> bursary or cushy job to wade through a wide and mediocre literature,
> in order to learn how to author such pompous and specious nonsense
> about Fanon; as Majavu himself must know.
> As for Ayanda Kota, I did not simply blurt out my own impressions of
> the relationship between him and his academics. Before publishing I
> asked people in Grahamstown who have knowledge of the people and
> issues. They have shaped and added to my understanding. Indeed the
> idea that some movement leaders, among their laudable attributes, also
> have a broad stroke of the 'hustler' to them was an insight I gained
> from Black discussants, some of them former members of the UPM, as my
paper makes perfectly clear.
> In his rant against me for suggesting that Kota is mentored by white
> academics, Majavu neglects to inform his reader of something very
> This is that my source is Kota himself. A Prof Tabensky is a 'mentor'
> who told Kota that the UPM must resurrect the black consciousness
> notion of collectivism and hope in the townships as the first step to
> Pithouse is another 'mentor' who liked to quote Fanon at Kota and Kota
> now likes to quote the same ringing passage to others.
> A Grahamstown resident and blogger, Rudzani Musekwa, whom I also
> quoted in my piece asks pretty much the same question about Kota's
> 'Who is Mr Ayanda Kota really? Is he someone who is being used to
> further the agendas of some academics? Who are these backers of Kota
> who are quick to politicise everything every time he is arrested?'
> I am not going to repeat the arguments that trace the unhealthy
> relationship between movement-aligned academics and UPM leaders here.
> I believe that while the complex and often calculating interchange
> between academic and leader can often serve both their interests, (a
> case of one hand raising the other up), the movement at large usually
> ends up suffering. This situation deserves a little ridicule and I
> see no reason to spare Kota because he is Black. Indeed, Kota and
> Zikode have left the ranks of being mere local township politicians.
> If the hype is to believed, they are men of national and international
> significance quite capable of defending themselves; with a bit of
> Frederick Douglas and Alaine Badiou thrown in. John Holloway will
> follow soon, mark my words.
> Surely, upon reflection, Majavu must see that the vulnerability of
> leaders and movements I point out is not genetic but is a function of
> an imbalance of power and resources. This is not about ascribing
> inferiority on the basis of race. It is about the power and
> dependency relations at play when well-resourced academics, able to
> talk a certain lingo, the lingo of funding proposals, legal aid,
> conference papers, international solidarity and the op. ed. section,
> use that power in their dealings with people who lack that capital.
> I note that Majavu does not actually dispute that white academics
> write for Black social movement leaders or perform the role of their
> political mentors. It is for him, a priori, racist to ever say so,
> which cannot be the case and is not borne out by either historical or
> I turn now to the work of Buntu Siwisa. Majavu cites him approvingly
> as authority for the fact that city-based, academic-cum-activists like
> me are a problem. Apart from the fact that Majavu correctly notes
> that I am city-based, he gets it all embarrassingly wrong from there
> on in. The entire point of Siwisa's article is that academics and
> other professionals
> *inside* social movements have a disproportionate influence on how
> those movements operate over that of ordinary members. It can get so
> bad, Siwisa suggests, that these city-based, movement-aligned
> professionals are able, even, to rent a crowd; that is, to bring poor
> black people into motion for reasons that suit the academic's own
> agendas which are not endogenous to those of 'the masses'.
> Back in 2001, Siwisa was doing exactly what I am doing now. He was
> asking very pointed questions about how academics aligned to early
> social movements were operating, what were their interests, what was
> their influence upon movements? It is very hard to understand how
> Majavu could hope to pass off Siwisa's critique as having any bearing
> on my writing whatsoever. It is abundantly clear that I am not a
> supporter of these movements, nor am I an activist inside them. Siwisa
> is actually authority against Majavu's mates, listed above. Siwisa is
> the lone, outside critic of social movements, sceptical of all the
> hype, generated by the Gibsons, Majavus, Patels and Pithouses of
> yesteryear. The extend of Majavu's muddle-headedness is even more
> visible when one considers that the writer he tries to use against me
> went so far as to suggest that poor, Black people are capable of being
> 'rented' by middle-class professionals. He should be condemning us both
as racists and bigots.
> Perhaps it is not muddle-headedness. Maybe it is just a desperate
> rant by someone who is very much part of this group of praise-singing
> academics, someone noticing the demise of these movements and
> anticipating with bitterness the reduction in his reputation, such as
> it is, that will surely follow. For, while Majavu stands out starkly
> in some ways from the other academics, it is not on account of his
applause being any less wholehearted.
> Why is any of this interesting?
> It is not really very interesting. It is part of the usual left
> ya-da-ya-da-ya. There are only negative lessons to be drawn.
> Abahlali is now practically defunct. So are many other movements.
> There is no joy in this. It is a time to reflect on whether the
> social movement project was well served by the contributions of
> It is also time to reflect on the way white people in particular,
> inside movements, conduct themselves. I have already made the point
> that they tend to assume the missionary position over movements.
> I did play a role in the first social movements to arise, around 1999,
> injected with a generous amount of mythopoesis. I was still around in
> the early days of Abahlali. But the distance between the stories told
> about movements and the reality was just too great to be sustained or
> It was also disconcerting the way radical discursive gestures made by
> social movements were increasingly incorporated into liberal
> governance. It was amazing how the 'right to the city' became *in
> situ* upgrading of shackland infrastructure. How eloquent talk of
> dignity and voice prepared the way for a retreat from the social
> antagonism initially articulated by movements in their protest mode
> infancy. How the turn to law and the 'victories' it supplied
> unraveled in unenforceable court orders, reverses on appeal and
> repression. How liberal discourses of social change entered movement
spaces and came from movement mouths.
> The most difficult to stomach of all was how social movements became
> an industry, where website form replaced street-level content, and
> Manichean dramas of repression were constructed from events that were
> far more complex and implicated movements in events at odds with their
> publicized values. Until all that remained to validate movements
> were the spectacles of repression themselves, ones that became as
> strained and ridiculous as the book theft arrest of Ayanda Kota (charge
> Until it seemed that the instinct, if not conscious role, of left
> civil society in movements had all along been to nudge them into a
> position where, at best, they contained and profited from the social
> emergency in our society, rather than exacerbated it.
> Why does any of this matter?
> Social movements never attracted the numbers of people who could mount
> a challenge to the ANC and its anti-poor policies, either at the
> ballot box or in the streets. Partly as a strategic recognition of
> its weakness at these levels, but partly also to experiment with new
> ways of doing politics, social movements were held out to be
> prefigurative of the life and values the left would want to live in a
> world not ruled by global finance capital and the governments that
> serve it. In other words, we did not need to have numbers, we simply
> needed to demonstrate, in the way communities ran their own movements and
struggles, that a 'new humanism' was possible.
> Unfortunately prefiguration has failed. It failed for reasons that no
> one in the left has deeply reflected upon. South African society
> seems ripe for protest and disaffection. Indeed there is plenty of
> protest and disaffection to go around. Yet why have social movements,
> as such, not ripened with any of it. How is it that a Malema, with
> all his obvious contradictions with respect to the poor, can sponsor
> so popular a discourse in support of taking back the land and
> redistributing wealth when the best and most principled minds, rooted
> in social movements, could and dared not to put the social contract itself
> When positing the joys of a prefigurative politics, what assumptions
> were made about the poor, about shack dwellers, about rural women, the
> unemployed that did not pan out? What assumptions were made about
> South African society in general? What organisational forms were
> adopted? What turns were made that ended in these doldrums? Who were
> turned off by the way movements were presented? Who let themselves
> in? What unnecessary sectarian fights were picked? What alliances
> were not forged? How did Siwisa's academic-cum-activist types regulate
> their conduct within movements? And finally, would whatever struggles
> and community organisations that arise in future, not be better off
without the hapless left.
> Heinrich Bohmke
> On 4/9/12, Mandisi<africaparticipatorysociety at gmail.com> wrote:
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