Our rulers are ‘bar­bar­ians’ with no ap­pre­ci­a­tion of knowl­edge

Daily Dispatch - - Opinion -

WE HAVE to fol­low Ja­pan if we want to es­cape from our back­ward­ness. Upon con­quer­ing Egypt in 1798, Napoleon went on to es­tab­lish his colo­nial regime ac­com­pa­nied by a large body of highly learned French­men from var­i­ous branches of knowl­edge.

When his sol­diers had done the con­quer­ing, it was left to the men of let­ters to do the rest, which in­cluded the com­pre­hen­sive study of Egypt’s peo­ple and ge­og­ra­phy.

All this work was or­gan­ised and done in a new think-tank Napoleon in­tro­duced when he got to Egypt – the In­sti­tut d’Égypte.

This in­sti­tute had a li­brary full of books about ev­ery­thing Egyp­tian, in­clud­ing a copy of the Qu­ran trans­lated into French.

The philoso­phers who ac­com­pa­nied Napoleon weaved all their knowl­edge into an in­te­grated epis­temic in­stru­ment to fa­cil­i­tate the smooth sub­ju­ga­tion of a whole Egyp­tian na­tion by a hand­ful of out­num­bered French in­vaders.

Be­fore and af­ter Napoleon, Euro­peans ap­pre­ci­ated the im­por­tance of knowl­edge as an in­stru­ment of power. They con­quered the rest of us not be­cause they are God’s cho­sen peo­ple; they sim­ply pos­sessed su­pe­rior knowl­edge.

The Euro­pean se­cret of us­ing knowl­edge in the ser­vice of po­lit­i­cal power was later de­ployed by Ja­pan’s Meiji dy­nasty in the 19th cen­tury.

Thus was Ja­pan turned from a tra­di­tion­al­ist back­wa­ter into a glob­ally com­pet­i­tive, mod­ern polity.

The Ja­panese were the first to em­brace Western sci­ence as an in­stru­ment of na­tional progress.

The rest of Asia was am­biva­lent well into the 20th cen­tury.

The rea­son Africa is the most back­ward re­gion of the world is not merely be­cause we were colonised; it is be­cause we are ruled by bar­bar­ians who have no re­la­tion­ship with knowl­edge.

Even pre­ten­tiously ed­u­cated fel­lows like Robert Mu­gabe are not knowl­edge­able in an eman­ci­pa­tory sense. The be­gin­ning of wis­dom is to ac­knowl­edge one’s own weak­ness. Typ­i­cally, ig­no­rant peo­ple are the most en­er­getic in deny­ing their back­ward­ness.

In the 19th cen­tury, revered Mus­lim scholar Ja­mal al-Din alAfghani was ex­pelled from one coun­try af­ter an­other for telling his Mus­lim brethren they were tor­mented by the West be­cause of their own “lazi­ness, work­ing too lit­tle, and stu­pid­ity”.

We hu­mans are ego­tis­tic an­i­mals. We em­brace flat­ter­ers more than we wel­come those who tell us the truth.

But lock­ing your­self up in a smoky echo cham­ber will not stop the out­side world from evolv­ing.

Here is the un­palat­able truth about us black South Africans to­day: we have in­stalled bar­bar­ians in po­lit­i­cal of­fice who have no ap­pre­ci­a­tion of knowl­edge. These are agents of dark­ness. If you think this is harsh, look at our cab­i­net. Some of the peo­ple we call min­is­ters were sup­posed to be gar­den­ers or clean­ers.

In a nor­mal coun­try, what do you think Batha­bile Dlamini or Mosebenzi Zwane would do?

The sad thing is that our prob­lems as black peo­ple to­day are graver than the im­pe­ri­al­ist nar­cis­sism of Napoleon. Our peo­ple are un­e­d­u­cated and un­em­ploy­able. We have not built fac­to­ries to prove that we, too, can man­u­fac­ture things. Al­co­hol and drug abuse are rav­aging our com­mu­ni­ties.

What we call pol­i­tics is noise about noth­ing. We spend sleep­less nights fret­ting about Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – as if, other than their vary­ing de­grees of cor­rupt­ibil­ity, these in­tel­lec­tu­ally hol­low oldies will re­ju­ve­nate ed­u­ca­tion in black com­mu­ni­ties.

It does not mat­ter who takes over power – be it Ramaphosa or DlaminiZuma – there are no in­di­ca­tions that mil­lions of black peo­ple in our town­ships will, sud­denly, live like kings. You who live in a dusty vil­lage, what do you think Ramaphosa will do for you that he has not done so far?

Do you be­lieve Dlamini-Zuma is col­lect­ing money from cig­a­rette smug­glers for your sake? Wake up from your slum­ber! Alas, where is our Napoleon?

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