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. South Africa News · Racism · Society · Discrimination · Politics · Human Rights · South Africa · Africa · Cape Town · William Welch · Grahamstown · Eastern Cape · London · Charles I of England · African National Congress · Booker Huffman · Washington · Steve Biko · Cape Colony · Nongqawuse · Joseph Williams · John Knox Bokwe · South African Party · Booker T. Washington · Pixley

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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