How sustainable is the National Question: …Black in general, and African in particular…?
-In Reflection on “The National Question” Umrabulo No23: 2005-
It is said if we going to appreciate our collective future we must attempt looking at the past that shaped our present. Yet the looking at the past will quickly unearth a past in pasts and a past understood in a more recent past.
Let me therefore upfront accept that the arrival at a National Question as articulated fundamentally seeks to recognise a collective search for nationhood out of a historic anthropology. I equally accept in a recognised long history of intellectual thought provocation that embodies the ANC and its ideological partners that the National Question becomes the fulcrum of that contestation of thoughts.
It would perhaps not be fair not to briefly allude to what has been termed the “developmental state”. The notion of a “developmental state” advances a “national democratic revolution” which in turn must answer the identified 5 key aspects as articulated in Umrabulo, No: 23: page 34:
- To firstly liberate black people in general, and Africans in particular.
- The struggle to evidence and bring about a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and united South Africa.
- To search and work for the unitary South African Nation with common, overarching identity.
- To work for the eradication and resolve of antagonistic contradictions between black and white.
- To deal with ethnic oriented, race-filled feelings of any form of ethnic chauvinism.
These aspects therefore constitute the thrust and point of congruence for the relevance of a National Question, simply put in my understanding who are we, where are coming from and where are heading?
We also should not shy away from the admittance that the diaphragm for that theoretical platform in prevalence is an accepted Marxist dialect in custodianship. We therefore may ask what happened when the famous Berlin wall collapsed in 1989, it is clear more than the constructed wall came down and the residue of that still envelopes the ANC, because the influence of communism that has over a long period been the backbone of the ANC’s ideological identity, attest in this season an opaqueness of ideological direction.
At the heart of what is deemed the National Question must be the search for a coherence of social and political realities and life in a geographic space we are confined to regardless of persuasion or preference if we understand politics to confirm the organising of a society.
In Umrabulo No: 23 of 2005, the subject of the National Question is understood and articulated as “the liberation of black people in general and Africans in particular”. This articulation, later policy an ultimately law has shaped the ANC in philosophy, governance, resource allocation/distribution and attention to detail for a mandate of governance.
Perhaps this uncritical adoption of a National Question has us looking at our collective future through the limited review mirror of our past. When one asserts a limited review it is in recognition of the fact that the 1910 Segregation State and the 1948 Apartheid State both in law expression identified its respective clients. For the 1910 Segregation State the 1913 Native Land Act is the fulcrum of that political identity it determined for a people.
Equally the 1948 Apartheid State as can be articulated in Act 30 of 1950 Section C defined a people that always existed as Coloured. Whilst we did not expect of the Democratic State of 1994 to in similar vein and ideology identify its constituents in a moribund and mellifluous sense, we did expect it afford an opportunity for self-define.
We found the Democratic State in harmony and sanguinity with both the Segregation and Apartheid States for its identity configuration of its citizenry. A clear contradiction from where I stand.
It has to be cause for great concern that the Democratic State though as it remonstrates for different reasons, namely to measure and ascertain the quantitative index for change have continued in that same trajectory as its predecessors.
I have elsewhere contended that the Democratic State had best needed to stand in the principle and tradition of the 1955 Freedom Charter (Magna Carta) that despite hosting conflated groups teetering on extinction articulates unequivocally ‘we the people’.
It is thus perhaps time to begin to ask how plausible, honest in pensive reflection and sustainable is the National Question in its articulated form? Also can a leading political party with a mandate to govern continue along this uncritical embrace of a national question?
The interesting thing of this categorisation of peoples who constitute those who under both colonial and apartheid states shared a denotation for their humanness as ‘black’ is that when Umrabulo defines the national question in this sense, Mbeki’s most famed speech “I am an African” delivered almost a decade earlier is in existence and cited by all and sunder.
Thus the undeniable tension between what the ANC articulates as the National Question clearly contradicts this egalitarian romantic prism of an undeniable conflated humanity that Mbeki espouses in Mandela’s era as deputy president.
Not only does it contradicts the notion of a constitutionality of what makes for an African but it equally reduces the identity of African in convenience to a specific group. We thus stand before the reality of either rejecting “I am an African” as at best a mythical poetic expression if we going to make the national question count or we need to question the National question in a honesty of reflection of critique we have never afforded ourselves. We can no longer continue in false attempt to make both stand in a sense of convenience.
We are equally reminded of a speech delivered by Pallo Jordan in Jamaica during March 13, 2005 as captured in Umrabulo 23 under the title “Blood is thicker than water- The relevance of Pan Africanism for our Time”. In such Jordan contends Pan Africanism is relevant for the addressing of common challenges is evidence that the blood of the Diaspora shared across the Atlantic divide. Jordan is emphatic in his binary interpretation of evil and good, articulated in a ‘white’ and African identity respectively.
The challenge of the notion of reducing the national question to “the liberation of black people in general and Africans in particular” lays in the policy functionality or expression and ultimate delivery of a democratic state to its clients. It also argues that none but what has been determined to be Africans are its in particular focus.
We not sure who defines the identity of African, we not clear if this is directly borrowed from a constricted history in which apartheid minds declared this identity and exacted a suffering measurable to the degree it defined it.
The challenge with an uphold of the binary distinction of general and in particular is its ontology of racists practice leading to an eschatology of racist practice. Regardless to whether the idea of Africans as an exclusive and or inclusive is used, it fundamentally informs societal interaction at economic, opportunity and all levels as a trapped identity in a scripted history of colonialism and more so apartheid.
It thus cannot be that the term African in a postmodern democratic state is used as means to justify opportunity, chance and moment exclusive to those who do not share the determined African claim for an identity marker, when we have not engage the construct African in calmness and honest of mind.
What we do not know is what informed the content for an African identity in the National Question? In order to appreciate my wrestling with the efficacy of interpretation of what constitutes an African as articulated by the Umrabulo on the national question, I am consciously compelled to by way of introduction first relook at the notion of black as used in description of general. Perhaps the fulcrum of my seminal pursuit is understood in content from this reality of a ‘black’ identity. I have spent a great deal of my student and academic life in attempt of question the veracity for a claim of the marker of identity understood in ‘black’.
Yet I too must concede in a sense my indebtedness to this subject was first ignited at the age of 16 when my late biological father took the liberty to engage me in a conversation I at the time did not understand nor had appetite for. His words were simple “I wont tell you who you are, all I request is when you do find out who you are, afford no one the luxury to ever attempt defining you”. He had me commit to this when I had no true comprehension of what he was saying. I committed to this and from that moment I had taken exception at anyone that remotely attempted to define me. It became my lifelong pursuit to self-define.
My conscious dissonance and incongruence with black for an identity marker for myself has very little to do with a denial of how mixed my blood may protest. It equally has nothing to do with a form of shame as some ANC leaders have pontificated that for example Coloureds must embrace their blackness. It equally is not a denial of the role of black consciousness played in the liberation narrative.
My challenge with the notion of black as my research has shown “Black Identity and experience in Black Theology: A critical assessment” is a rational attempt at questioning the usage of the epithet ‘Black’ from a socio-historical and theological perspective.
Having attempted to deal with the borrowed identity marker of black in comfort of exchange between the USA and South Africa in a particular season and time captured as the period 1960- 1970’s, I have concluded the construct as used in black theology remains one uncritically borrowed from the ideology. I have further contended that when Stokeley Carmichael stood up at Berkeley California in 1969, and declared with a clenched fist BLACK POWER he was not defining black but attempting to define a power. The construct black already existed and those, for whom this identity marker became their being, had little to do with the origin of this identity marker.
Equally despite the role and relevance of black power in the USA or black consciousness in SA beyond sentiment for a particular epoch, in this season this notion of black pretends keeping a people and a society carceral to it in loyalty that does neither help nor aid our true emancipation.
I have argued that a reconfiguration of identity in SA is not a romantic pursuit but an impending and burdened reality of a democratic state if we have any hope of defining a coherent society beyond the myth of an unscientific race notion and to question the rationality and sustainability of race as social construct.
One cannot begin to make the case for a challenge of the hermeneutic keys used by the ANC and its leaders for the content of African if one does not first deal with the subject of “black in general….” This black in general notion as claim by an ANC who espouses a non-racial identity is a challenge to say the least.
Therefore if we in any sense may find grounds to remonstrate in challenge the notion of black for a means of identity we must concede we will have grounds to argue the description of general by extension too. It appears the borrowing of the term black in general is also salient in meaning to the reality of a collective colonial and apartheid past.
It would appear to me that the national question commits five immediate and fundamental errors unwittingly or consciously in line with the apartheid state. Firstly it uncritically gives credence and veracity to the false identity markers for people who are South Africans however culturally, socially and politically defined. Secondly it conveniently engages in what is called a form of exceptionalism if not separatism informed by a claimed justified exacted apartheid pain of degrees. It thirdly continues in the trajectory of the exacted pain in configuring peoples group and individual identities out of the entitled residue of an Apartheid STATE constricted and constructed right. It without careful analysis excludes people in African identity when the African identity warrants unpacking. Lastly it in doublespeak denies the subject of self-define, a critical aspect of our collective liberation narrative to be buoyant in a democratic atmosphere and space.
It must therefore confirm that the African in particular… notion is troublesome to. Its perplexity perhaps resonates in threefold strand: namely its origin, its ethnographic loadedness.
- Perhaps the first question the propagators of a National Question must concerns itself with is to ask is there an undeniable need for a form of an intellectual hegemony evidenced in a precise understanding on the National Question?
- We have yet to establish who determines the African identity? When Umrabulo gives us the National Question we are compelled to ask, who determined the description, term and construct? This is crucial for a pretense of a claim of it as originating from the African (which the colonial mind called a Bantu) is not without question. If this the product of the elites within the ANC where and how was it engage in the broader ANC masses, to have arrived at it.
- We must also ask if the ANC in its engaging on a National Question excludes others, what is the yardstick and tool and how different are the means from what the apartheid state practiced? At another level, why exclude others when we have yet to engage what it means to be an African?
- Is the statement of an African identity as used in the national question, a statement of ideology advanced as a statement of fact? If an ideology from where, if a statement of fact how?
- We also must ask is this African identity espoused in the national question as articulated assuming a geographic or ethnographic context? If its geographic how then can others however defined be excluded?
If its ethnographic why and how does that make sense of Africans like Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. If these who clearly have definite links with Italy and France as a claimed origin and home are Africans how are the blacks in the National Question denied an equal African Identity?
Are our brothers and sisters from the aforementioned Africans States also Africans in the same myopic sense as apartheid defined a people when it thought it correct to exact a suffering exemplified in debasing of others because it wanted its false superior identity to count?
- We are not clear what is meant with suitability if such is anchored in geographical or ethnographical sense?
Whilst my reflections on the National Question remain embryonic in articulation, it purports to be standing in an evolving tradition of engaging the subject of a non-racial identity and a conscious break with colonial and apartheid identity configurations prisms and worship.
In conclusion, if we understand the key tenets for a developmental state and the essence of the National Question as understood within the 5 pillars earlier alluded. If we appreciate its historically known Marxist dialect of engaging a past with the hope of eking out a tomorrow one cannot but accept its pragmatism in claim for redress.
Yet whilst we may acknowledge the pragmatism of such one is compelled to ask in this season how sustainable is the national question with its black in particular African notion when it therefore excludes one.
That exclusion emanates on the one hand from a confirmed and conscious rejection of one from the uncritically adopted and questionable generic “black” identity marker for ones identity construction and on the other hand one is equally excluded from claiming an African identity of being which one rightfully believe one in puritan sense identifies with from a birth-right and geographic disposition.
Is it not then fair to ask has the National Question 22 in 2016 not divided us in apartheid anthropology, thought life praxis and perhaps unwittingly doomed us in an eschatology of a confirmed race laden and thus by extension racist heaven on earth in SA?
I do not purport to have the answers, yet I am compelled to give expression to these my musings in the hope of finding the path that will let the ideals of my full humanity live devoid from my history, my current and my scripted future.
We must rise beyond the proverbial picket fences of romanticising about an uncritical ‘black’ identity, and less so in a lyrical soliloquy of an African identity when the latter is seldom engaged honestly and with definite intend to give content to the non-racial identity notion. We run the risk of what McWhorter calls victimology, where we deem it our inalienable right to red flag ‘whites’ on their hardening racist attitudes when we in doublespeak refuse to honestly engage our own anomalies of identity construction and re-configuration.
Whilst I portend to have found my seminal voice on the rejection of ‘black’ configuration for my identity, I am now in pursuit to test the efficacy of how I am denied my claim to be an African. It appears the road to this end for the latter must needs go through the proverbial biblical Samaria where I am denied to claim it at least in the National Question because someone unilaterally has declared me ‘black’ without my permission and equally in exclusion of being African without my consultation, at the hand of apartheid anthropology and identity construction.
I must therefore ask beyond the poetic expression, and licence Mbeki took in 1996 to attempt defining the African identity he understood it to be, why am I not an African if the exacted claim of degree of suffering under a brutal system of apartheid is not the yardstick?
Why was the need never felt to give content to this African identity until the Khoi and San identity lived again? Was Mbeki’s cry purely poetic never to be filled with content? Let it be known today as always I am an African this is my claim.
Bishop Clyde N.S. Ramalaine
September 7, 2016