Monday, 16 June 2014

A review of Nigel Gibson’s 'Fanonian Practices in South Africa'

Vuyolwethu Toli

Frantz Fanon, the Algerian theorist of revolution and social change, is dead but alive: he continues living through his profoundly luminous work that remains influential to the thinking and actions of many a people across the world even today.
- Munyaradzi Mawere

Nigel Gibson’s book, offers us a critical analysis of the post-colonial society. Inspired by Frantz Fanon, the text is peppered with references to Fanon’s texts such as Black Skin White Masks, and the Wretched of the earth. Fanon was a philosopher and a liberation thinker who emphasised the importance of the masses being the deciders of their own fate. Gibson draws very much from Fanon’s work and his text stresses the importance of shifting of the geography of reason. Post-colonial South Africa has been an anti-thesis of the colonial South Africa, whereby the masses played the decisive role in bringing the pernicious ideology of apartheid to its knees. This paper will therefore look at the failures of the transition period, and also argue that these failures led to this current crisis we are currently experiencing-of the masses of our people being not taken seriously by the government. The paper will also discuss the notion of ‘shifting the geography of reason’, to actually start recognising the voices of the marginalised.

Post-colonial South Africa, has witnessed a situation whereby the masses of our people were now told subtly, that their role was now over. During the apartheid years, these were the people who gave impetus to the resistance campaign. However after the political breakthrough, the ANC technocrats took it upon themselves to direct the economic and a political direction of this country without the masses. This for me and also for Gibson was catastrophic, in the sense that the economic policies that followed after the leadership reneged on the promises of the Reconstruction and Development Programme were neo-liberal. One would agree with Gibson (2011:25) when he argues that “Fanon understood that liberation remains incomplete when the colonial or apartheid city is not reorganised but simply taken over…This is one of the pitfalls of a national liberation, where the nationalist elites, seeking economic and social advancement, not only rush for advocated political positions, but also adopt the colonial mentality, leaving the lines of force intact and reproducing urban spaces where the logic and power of money and the political state, not human needs, are sacrosanct and value”.

According to Gibson (2011:220) “after gaining power, it becomes quite simply a means to control the inconvenient and unruly masses…it gradually transforms into an intelligence agency, gathering information and spreading disinformation, eventually using means to suppress grassroots opposition that threatens it”. Followed with its decision to adopt a neo-liberal project, the government of the day has continuously ignored the voices of the poor. The current Premier of Gauteng, David Makhura has repeatedly said that there was a third-force behind the service delivery protests in Gauteng. Recently, Gwede Mantashe the Secretary General of the ruling party, said that there was a foreign third-force behind the mineworkers strike. These comments shows clearly the stance of the ruling party towards the masses. Gibson does note in his text that civil society is a space for critical engagement and for the organisations to put pressure on the state. But certain NGO movements have adopted the top-down style whereby they impose policies and programs on the poor, without allowing them to contribute. One would agree with Gibson (2011) when he postulates that “civil society is for the bourgeois individuals…the masses are mere objects for state’s welfare programs”.

The notion of the state that the people are only fighting for service delivery is very myopic. One would agree with Kota (2011) when he argues that “we are not only struggling for service delivery…we are struggling for justice and dignity, equality between men and women and a democracy that includes and allows poor people to plan their own communities and their own future”. This basically summarises the gist of Gibson’s text in general, and the Fanonian liberation philosophy in particular. Gibson emphasises the importance of the shift in the geography of reason. Within the state discourse, the masses are seen as mere objects for policy planning and welfare programmes. This is just an attempt to contain them as people who do not have the capacity to think, and who should rely on the nationalist bourgeois for political direction. The opposition parties are also not an option for the masses because they have so much appetite for power and that on its own implies that they will not radically breakaway from the status-quo.

I vehemently agree with Gibson (2011) when he asserts that “ideas are not the exclusive property of the intelligentsia, the party, the expert or any elite group…any Fanonian practice must be rooted in strict adherence to the axiom that everyone can think”. Hence the emphasis by Gibson on the shift of the geography of reason. The masses cannot rely on trade union movements such as COSATU because these have become a lobby group within the ruling party. Gibson also challenges the Gramscian and a Leninist notion of the vanguard party, because even there it is only a selected ‘intelligentsia’ that is considered to have a monopoly over thinking. Sbu Zikode in the foreword of Gibson’s (2011) text states that “we have learnt to draw a clear distinction between those forms of leftism that accept everyone can think and which are willing to journey with the poor, and those forms of leftism that think only-middle class activists, usually academics or NGO people can think and which demand that the poor obey them”. These words by Zikode are powerful as they stress the importance of the recognition of the poor people’s capacity to think. The social movements in my opinion need to unite and fight for what is just and right. The constitution is meaningless and inaccessible to the poor because it basically talks about equality that is not matched with justice.

Reference List

Gibson, N. 2011. Fanonian Practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo. UKZN Press: South Africa.

Mawere, M. 2013. The Journal of Pan African Studies: A critical review of Nigel Gibson’s Fanonian Practices in South Africa. Vol.6, no, 6.