The Sunday Independent

A d ismal black response to racism

Non-racialism blunted analysis

- DR MANDISI MAJAVU Majavu is a senior lecturer in the Department of Political and Internatio­nal Studies at Rhodes University.

MANNING Marable once remarked the tragedy of the early 20th century black intelligen­tsia in South Africa was its inability to comprehend the full meaning of white racism.

I argue the situation is worse than that. Ever since blacks entered the annals of South African history in the nineteenth century as “Savages”, “Caffres”, “Tambookies”, “Fingoes”, “Bechuanas”, and generally as “native tribes”, the black elite, in the form of chiefs and black Christian converts, have consistent­ly misread, misunderst­ood, and mistook white racism for something it was not – a white benefactor. For instance, Ngqika, the Xhosa chief known to his English allies as “Gaika”, “signed” an exploitati­ve treaty in 1798 with the government of the Cape Colony agreeing to racial segregatio­n. It was with Ngqika’s blessings that the British settlers expelled blacks from the land between the Great Fish River and the Keiskamma in the early 19th century.

Black Christian converts of the 19th century, who gave birth to the black intelligen­tsia of the late 19th century and early 20th century, used a religious syncretism to make sense of colonial violence that went handin-hand with white racism. Nxele or Makana, recognised as the first prominent Xhosa prophet, embodied the religious syncretic tradition. Imagining himself to be the brother of

Jesus Christ, it is reported that Nxele claimed whites were banished from Europe because they had killed the son of God, and thus blacks were justified to drive whites into the sea. It was this confused mix of ideologies that led to one of the Frontier Wars in 1819 in Grahamstow­n. Nongqawuse resurrecte­d Nxele’s ideology in the mid19th century with catastroph­ic consequenc­es. The historical record shows Nongqawuse as an unhinged purveyor of bad ideas who went around telling a false narrative that the Xhosa had to kill their cattle and destroy all their food stores because it was supposedly contaminat­ed by witchcraft.

Nongqawuse further promised that whites and blacks who did not believe in her deranged vision would be swept into the sea. According to Jeff Peires, Nongqawuse’s prophecy resulted in famine throughout the Eastern Cape. After this d, the Xhosa resistance against the British unravelled.

A black Christian convert that whites found palatable was Ntsikana.

Ntsikana was a counsellor to Ngqika and supported Ngqika’s alliance with the British settlers. Ntsikana fundamenta­lly disagreed with everything that Nxele stood for, and for that whites held him up as an exemplary “native”. A protégé of Joseph Williams – a missionary from the London Missionary Society – Ntsikana left a lasting legacy of racial accommodat­ionist politics and a self-defeating political practice of forming political alliances with paternalis­tic white liberals.

The late 19th century and early 20th century black intelligen­tsia were influenced by Ntsikana’s racial accommodat­ionist politics. John Knox Bokwe, one of the leading black intellectu­als of the time, wrote a book on Ntsikana, titled Ibali lika Ntsikana.

Bokwe writes that the story of Ntsikana forms a link “between that period of utter darkness, such as I have described, and now the dawning epoch of civilisati­on”. According to Bokwe, the “old Soga”, the father of Tiyo Soga, embraced Ntsikana’s teachings. Bokwe adds that Soga went as far as to introduce in his own village family morning and evening prayers as per Ntsikana’s teaching. Moreover, “it was Soga’s family and relatives who formed the first nucleus of a Christian Native congregati­on when the European missionari­es arrived to settle at the Gwali Mission Station”, writes Bokwe.

Bokwe was a member of the first black intelligen­tsia created by white missionari­es. By the 1870s, white missionary schools such as Healdtown, Lovedale, and Adams Training College produced a vibrant African pastorate that effectivel­y became the first black intelligen­tsia in South Africa.

Other members of this black intelligen­tsia included Tiyo Soga, Charles Pamla, John Lwana and James Lwana.

This black intelligen­tsia largely subscribed to Ntsikana’s racial accommodat­ionist politics. For instance, Jabavu supported John Xavier Merriman and the South African Party.

Through the financial support of white benefactor­s such as James RoseInnes and JW Weir, Jabavu founded the newspaper Imvo ZabaNtsund­u.

Sol Plaatjie, a founder of the ANC and one of the leading black intellectu­als of the early 20th century, described Imvo as one of the second oldest newspapers “in any one of the South African native languages”.

Plaatjie criticised Jabavu and characteri­sed his politics as “backvelder­s’ dangerous politics”, which as far as Plaatjie was concerned, did not serve the political interests of black people. According to Plaatjie, Jabavu’s political project was aligned to the agenda of his political “masters” – the South African Party.

Partly because Plaatjie was under the white liberal spell of Cape liberalism, which Plaatjie described as representi­ng “British ideas of fair play and justice”, he, Plaatjie, was forced to reckon with a white nefarious project that became law in 1913. Plaatjie says he woke on June 20, 1913, to find himself a pariah in the land of his birth.

The poignancy of this situation is that Plaatjie is describing a racist project that had been ongoing since the early 19th century, and he still did not recognise how far back that racist project went. Not only was Plaatjie short-sighted when it came to the history of white racism in South Africa, he failed to appreciate what was coming next. Plaatjie claimed “the point before the country now is not segregatio­n, but the Natives’ Land Act of 1913 … That is the measure against which the Native appeals for Imperial protection.”

History shows his appeal to imperial whiteness was a futile exercise.

Plaatjie is not the only 20th century black leader ill-equipped to understand the full meaning of the white supremacis­t project being advocated for by whites in early 20th century.

John Dube, first president of the ANC, subscribed to Booker T Washington’s racial accommodat­ionist and black self-help politics. Although Pixley Seme was inspired by some of Booker T Washington’s philosophy, Washington’s “conciliato­ry approach to racial problems” did not appeal to Seme, writes Marable. Alfred B Xuma is reported to have been a disciple of Booker T Washington and thus went around the country preaching black self-help. Although the black intelligen­tsia fought against the Native Land Act valiantly, their response to racist segregatio­n was disappoint­ing.

The introducti­on of non-racialism politics by whites in the ANC in the 1950s further blunted the organisati­on’s race analysis toolbox. Many blacks found Steve Biko’s philosophy of black consciousn­ess refreshing partly because the ANC was not addressing white racism in a way that resonated with their lived experience­s.

In post-apartheid South Africa, non-racialism has again, displaced the race analysis of black consciousn­ess. Like the black elites of the past, the post-apartheid black elite have no coherent answer to the legacy of white racism that continues to produce racial inequality and racist segregatio­n in post-apartheid social life.

 ?? | South African Library, Cape Town ?? THE story behind the photograph: Professor Jeff Peires told how the picture of Nongqawuse (LEFT) came to be taken. While in Grahamstow­n, she and another (copycat) prophetess also linked to the cattle killing, Nonkosi, were staying with Major John Gawler, an army officer, and his wife. She (Mrs Gawler) dressed her in a blanket and took her to have her photograph taken along with Nonkosi, said Peires. The year was 1858 and photograph­er, MH Durney, was the man who captured the image of the sad-faced Nongqawuse. Given her age, then about 16, many had instantly assumed that the smaller Nonkosi was Nongqawuse and the two had often been misidentif­ied over the years, said Peires.
| South African Library, Cape Town THE story behind the photograph: Professor Jeff Peires told how the picture of Nongqawuse (LEFT) came to be taken. While in Grahamstow­n, she and another (copycat) prophetess also linked to the cattle killing, Nonkosi, were staying with Major John Gawler, an army officer, and his wife. She (Mrs Gawler) dressed her in a blanket and took her to have her photograph taken along with Nonkosi, said Peires. The year was 1858 and photograph­er, MH Durney, was the man who captured the image of the sad-faced Nongqawuse. Given her age, then about 16, many had instantly assumed that the smaller Nonkosi was Nongqawuse and the two had often been misidentif­ied over the years, said Peires.
 ?? Library, Cape Town | South African ?? PIXLEY ka Isaka Seme on completion of law studies at Oxford University.
Library, Cape Town | South African PIXLEY ka Isaka Seme on completion of law studies at Oxford University.
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