[Debate] An imaginary trip to the land of the Anthropoid Apes: RW Johnson’s racist outburst, apartheid nostalgia and other hysterics
Riaz K Tayob
riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Sat Apr 14 17:04:30 BST 2012
This debate is quite charged.
At a more general level of abstraction, for the movement as a whole, can
we look to see what grains of truth are in what Majavu and Heinrich are
alluding to. For this purpose, I am distilling what is important to me,
to explore perhaps with others some key themes.
On Majavu, there is a strident, and much needed, call regarding the
Black Consciousness perspective. While addressing the particular cases
of UPM etc, instances of reproduction of race relations, he asserts the
capability of black people to lead their own campaigns. Simultaneously
he has to deal with and struggle with defining the terms (ontology) in
which the problem is defined, and here he is not in an enviable place
however necessary his task is, and I am glad that he is taking it up. As
Ran pointed out, the 'enemy within' is a key issue. Race is a valid
category, but how it coexists with other categories, gender, class, etc,
is as usual not easy to navigate. But his insistence on agency and
capacity (which is both an indicator of current capabilities as well as
potential capabilities) is a key point that cannot be dismissed. It is
not about an authentic BCM, but a BCM that starts with African
person/people as the central feature. And, the situation is grave, and
the radical positions he puts forth as well as claims to legitimacy are
guided by this perspicacious perception of need, priority and action. If
any find him prickly, this is precisely what we need from his vantage...
The issue I see lacking is how Majavu's BC can come together with other
social forces (people, social movements, intellectuals) to enhance their
power (in quest for emancipation, pedagogy, service needs, etc).
Part of how Majavu defines the problems seems to make the primary
problem in terms of the race relations, well meaning
Heinrich on the hand, _arguably_, sees the issue not in terms of race.
He raises issues about the quality of social movements. As does Johnson.
While I would put them in different categories, there may well be gems
of truth in what they both say. Johnson's take on universities and the
bureaucracy has been echoed even by others with more credibility for the
left (eg Vally) than him (one can just look at the piling up of debt by
institutions that shows that like the Arms Deal universities are also
ATMs for massive withdrawals). In this vein, Heinrich's points about
activists lacking depth may or may not be true. But can we afford to
ignore the warning irrespective of the source? Does it matter if Fanon
is the inspiration or not, or if social justice is framed in local
terms, with Fanon bastardised in a convenient form?
Is there something about the way we frame the legitimacy debates in SA
discourse that prevents us from more targeted and unified concerted
action? If legitimacy of position must be backed up by people support
then is it any wonder there is an "imposition" by left academics on
social movements? Likewise, do social movements supplement
(strategically, unstrategically or opportunistically) their shortcomings
(perceived or real) by relying on others?
If these debates are so fraught, why is it that we lack the ability to
put in place processes or people that can at least ensure that these
conflicts are understood within the broader conception of the left as a
movement of servants of the people? This is not some romantic notion
about no conflict, these can be healthy, but we cannot presume that this
issue is being handled best in this way, particularly if it has
implications and lessons for the movement as a whole. Perhaps this is an
issue that perhaps more debaters can weigh in on, as we come to these
types of issues time and time again, and it is hard to resist the
When collective action and solidarity are hemmed in by "unspoken" (i.e.
not dealt with properly) conversations, then perhaps some discourse
analysis rather than navel gazing may be in order...
I hope we can open this topic up, at a general level, and deal with the
very important themes... Majavu, Heinrich this is not just your issue...
so you both are not alone...
On 2012/04/14 12:57 PM, Benjamin Fogel wrote:
> I don't understand why anyone would bother to defend R.W. he's such a
> pompous bougy dick in everything especially his prose. His
> anti-apartheid cred is also suspect, a quick trip to the LRB archives
> reveals he seems to have spent the 80s painting the ANC as the
> antichrist and praising the IFP for possessing a semblance of liberal
> social democratic values.
> Debate-list mailing list
> Debate-list at fahamu.org
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