Friday, 26 October 2012

A Review of Nigel Gibson’s 'Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo'

by Mbali Baduza

Glory to a book that expresses the need for a new humanity, one based on human relations and action: a humanism that puts people first. A book that expresses the need for self-determinism that is divorced from pre-determined, normative and misanthropic notions of what it means to be a human being of worth. Nigel Gibson’s Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo is such a book. A book so well written that the reader escapes their own reality and begins to imagine, or rather re-think the possibilities of freedom, when taking seriously “the quest for a new humanity requires fundamental change” (50).

The most groundbreaking chapter, for me at least, is the first chapter called Biko’s Fanonian Practices. I remember exclaiming at the end of the chapter: ‘Yes! Finally, someone who recognises the critical humanism in and of Black Consciousness’. I quote Gibson at length (49):

“Eschewing the old non-racial approach, Black Consciousness’s claim to authenticity and self-determinism would have to come endogenously. But this did not mean that it could not look to anything outside of itself for its self-development; rather, Biko saw self-determination as a prerequisite to mutual reciprocity”

Gibson’s book is a demonstration of when theory is put into practice. The truth about Fanon’s philosophy is that it is living, it is only realised in action. In reading Fanonian Practices in South Africa, we see how the “working out of new concepts comes from dialogue with common people” (43). We are reminded that Fanonian thought is not abstract, but finds its meat, its relevance, in the recognition that “it is people and human relationships that are at stake” in how we exist and know the world (45). Too often, do we divert responsibility on the condition of our world to ‘society’, when, in fact, we are society. When we talk about healing our world, we are so concerned with ‘getting it right’, that we ignore, and as Biko says, we ‘forget’ the most crucial part in ‘getting it right’: not the end result, but how we go about getting there.

Gibson, through Fanon and Biko, makes visible the insidious nature or rather ‘invisible whitely’[1] tendencies of white liberals, democrats, ‘Friends of Blacks’ or what have you. Gibson says (48):

“It is not the crude colonial and apartheid racism but white liberalism that became a great threat to liberation, since liberation would be mapped out on its contours with blacks having to prove themselves in terms of its values”.

There seems to be three worlds. The world of the oppressed, the world of the oppressor, and also part of the world of the oppressor is the world of the liberal, who prescribes how life is supposed to be. ‘We will recognise you insofar as you are an extension of us. To be like men, you must live like us’, they say, ‘on our terms’. A world of Christianised normativity begs the following questions: what could the ‘white man’ want from the ‘black man’ other than work? Why would he need recognition from someone he does not even see as human or human enough? And by human I mean, a person of thought and experience, a person who can be affected and affect in return?  Why would you need recognition from someone who you regard and treat as perpetually 16?

Gibson’s book shows us the reality of the shackles in assimilating to a sub-standard version of being human. Black Consciousness was, and continues to be, a necessary attitude of mind for self-determination. As Barney Pityana says:

“I am not a potentiality of something; I am wholly what I am. I do not have to look for the universal. No probability has any place inside me. My black consciousness does not hold itself as a lack. It is. It is its own follower” (50). It is in this assertion of being and not merely being a copy, that we find freedom. Gibson’s book makes it clear that human freedom lies in practice, in being actional and in doing we begin, again, to recognise the humanity of all human beings. 

[1] Marylyn Frye (1992) calls this nature of being ‘whiteliness’. ‘Whiteliness’ refers to attitudes and behaviours that are largely characterised as arrogant and morally ‘superior’. For example, the whitely character is associated with those who see themselves as being the judge, preacher, peace-maker, martyr and authority of moral goodness (Frye, 1992). Although the term is applicable to anyone with relative privilege and not just ‘white’ people, ‘whiteliness’ or whitely habits are common amongst many ‘white’ people and thus the reference to the racial group. In most cases, ‘white’ people are not even aware that this whitely ‘way of being’, because it has become so normal and thus becomes invisible to the self, it becomes unconscious