Sunday, 13 November 2011

50 Years After Frantz Fanon: Namibian Youth Still Without Shoes

by Alfredo Tjiurimo Hengari, The Namibian

ABOUT three weeks ago, I attended a video projec- tion and discussion around the disturbing oeuvre of the extremely talented Congolese artist, Freddy Tsimba.

While Tsimba is brilliant, passionate about his sculptures, the Congo and his city Kinshasa, he remains a marginal artist, not only because he uses spent bullet casings in his sculptures to express despair and hope, but because he refuses to surrender his artistic independence to the state. About his beloved Kinshasa, he says: ‘Kinshasa est une très belle femme, mais elle est sans chaussures’ (Kinshasa is a very beautiful woman, but without shoes). Having grown up in dusty Katutura and spending long vacations in Otjimati, Epukiro (Omaheke), I understand what it means to feel grown-up, but still be deprived of shoes. It could imply both the physical and symbolic dehumanisation in front of peers and others with shoes.

When you look at the work of Freddy Tsimba and Frantz Fanon, complementaries and continuities become evident. Both use different styles to tell and explain the African experience with racism and decolonisation. These are experiences that left Africa barefoot, both in a physical and intellectual sense. Fanon provides two seminal works, ‘Peau noire masques blancs’ (White Masks, Black skins) and ‘Les damnés de la terre’ (The wretched of the earth) as a means to rehabilitate and explain the African condition. The first speaks of colonialism and its human consequences such as racism and violence. The second speaks with the same force and urgency about the consequences of decolonisation and its own type of violence. As Fanon would tell, decolonisation eventually becomes the replacement of one species of men with another species of men. Similarly, these two themes cut through the shocking, but highly illuminating and commendable work of Freddy Tsimba. How are these two conscientious men relevant in the context of our youth without shoes? The universality of justice and tolerance, which cut through the work these men, whose oeuvre are half-a-century apart seems to be lost to a youth which has ceased to think. It is in the intellectual sense that our youth is barefoot. And it should hurt to have a generation that is not au fait and up to date with the demands of its time.

Even if Fanon could explain this post-colonial condition, he would still be exceedingly embarrassed with the degree of intolerance that has permeated a youth who speaks to and for the ruling party, Swapo. A youth where the dominant artists are rent-seekers shouting party slogans at every opportunity is less likely to mobilise a unifying vision of the country. Our youth and those who speak for this dominant youth have become Lumpen-radicals spewing racialist, racist and homophobic remarks in a country that is also the product of universal human solidarity. In doing so, these intolerant Lumpen-radicals, working hard to outdo South Africa’s Julius Malema, are trying to uncover and resuscitate the ghosts of the past as a means to remain relevant.

At a time when progressive youths elsewhere are mobilising with lucid analyses against social injustices as a result of unregulated capital, the Namibian youth has identified lazily and in default mode, senile anti-western imperialist rhetoric and homosexuals as being the source of societal ills.

Xenophobia largely informed the racism in colonialism, while rampant homophobia and xenophobia codified Adolf Hitler’s Nazism. These two tragedies of the past century should provide sound reflections and analyses through which a progressive youth debates the present and future condition of Namibia. If the men and women before this youth were confronted face-on with the colonial and racist experience, the emerging post-independence youth should seek to own a different experience. The youth in Namibia cannot own the residues and chapter on colonialism, worse, imperialism. That chapter is closed!

It is true that when human beings are faced with events and contexts they can no longer control or understand, it becomes tempting to turn and be attracted by totalitarian forms – racism, xenophobia, homophobia and other forms of radical isms. Our youth is in this uncomfortable and dangerous zone.
However, what our youth should see in the new world that is emerging is an opportunity and moment of societal introspection. This does in no measure imply resentment toward the West or homosexuals. To label and instinctively denounce these categories speaks of ignorance. This type of ignorance is oblivious to the degree of co-constitution of identities. These in turn define the success of nations in an increasingly globalised and interdependent condition. Importantly, their ignorance is ahistorical and discounts the fact that Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth was prefaced by one of his many intellectual companions, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. In sum, the ignorance that is manifesting itself in these thoughtless debates shows a pervasive inability and intellectual laziness to understand the complexities of our modern condition. Our youth appear barefoot when faced with these complexities. Evidently, it needs to raise the intellectual and analytical bar.