A PART of the good reason why Slavoj Zizek has been titled “the most dangerous philosopher in the West,” is his courage and obscene honesty.
Speaking and writing from the West, in his light and entertaining manner, the Slovanian failed actor and successful philosopher has pronounced that, in spite of the anger, the denialism, the depression and occasional acceptance, Eurocentric capitalism is tittering towards a cataclysmic collapse.
Drowning in the global financial and social crisis, the self-confessed political prefects of the world and patrons of Western modernity have no clue as to the way forward, hence the new scramble for Africa disguised in the grammar of human rights, democracy, peace and other gifts from the Greeks that have seen Africa being the new focus of attention as dramatised in Libya and the murder of Muammar Gaddaffi recently.
It takes a good sense of danger and that of humour to tell bad news to the owners of power. There is a price for telling bad news, however true. From Zizek to Julius Malema and from Frantz Fanon to Patrrice Lummumba, the penalty is either a label of idiocy, an accusation of insanity or a clear dismissal as a noise maker of no categorical consequence, if not death.
Yet, what has kept Zizek above the wave and off the sink, to the point of being an intellectual celebrity, is the undeniable truths he tells about a society that he belongs to, and which he still intelligently defends.
Undeniable and ordinarily pricey truths is what impressed the crowd, most of whom travelled far to listen to Professor Sabelo Gatsheni Ndlovu's “Decolonising Development Studies” lecture that he gave on October 16, in acceptance of his full professorship at the University of South Africa and which coincided with his assumption of the leadership of the Archie Mafeje Institute of Research.
Used to the usual inaugural lecture, most of us expected a romantic narrative of how the toddler Professor Gatsheni hunted squirrels in the woods and chased rabbits in bare foot before he thought about school, or some other intellectual rags to riches rendition involving favourite primary school teachers, witches and wizards, blessings and curses or such other usualities that accompany the rituals of inaugural lectures as we have become used to them.
Away from the usual mundanities, Gatsheni delivered an hour of what Professor Peter Stuart, the discussant and the head of the school of Development Studies said “has left development studies and development theory in tatters.” And what fundamentally did Gatsheni say or do that left an entire academic discipline like Development Studies and a total province of thought like development theory “in tatters”? The answer is the subject of this short article.
What has been called “the African condition” by African scholars like Ali Mazrui, and the “African curse” by others in the Afropessimist school or the “African predicament,” by some historians is the troubling paradox where Africa is rich in natural resources and industrial raw materials, richer than most continents, but the people of Africa constitute the definition and name of poverty, disease and misfortune under the sun.
Not only that but as Eric Williams says, “every brick that built Western civilisation is cemented with Negro blood” and sweat. In slavery, mercantilism, colonialism and neo-colonialism Africa built the West, the West that Zizek has warned of collapse. And the West that is the hegemonic power in the globe as we experience it now.
Contributing to a growing family of ideas generated by combative African intellectuals in the shape of the late Arhibald Mafeje, the departed Dani Wadada Nabudere and the insightful Paul Tiyambe Zeleza and Adebayo Olukoshi to name but a few, Gatsheni asked and answered such questions as to why “Western modernity has created” for the world “modern problems for which it has no modern solutions,” and why the West has promised to Africa and the rest of the global South, civilisation, development, economic prosperity, peace, human rights and heaven, but in place of all these grand “sugar-candy” promises it has delivered illusions and no realities.
In raising the question of illusions that currently occupy the space of realities within the African political and economic condition, Gatsheni tore into the curtain that continues to hide the true challenge that confronts Africa but has eluded scholars including the grand fathers of African liberation like Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere. The African experience continues to be the experience of coloniality in its racial, ethnic, gender and social manifestations.
Nkrumah’s “seek yeh first the political kingdom and all other things will be added unto you” dictum was one of the most poetic mistakes of the African decolonisation project that sold to Africans one of the most stubborn illusions to date. Africans sought the political kingdom, they earned the right to vote, replaced white leaders with black ones, designed beautiful flags and sang new melodious national anthems but for money or for love, nothing has been added unto them.
The 44 dead bodies of poor black miners in Marikana, gunned down by a squad of equally black and equally poor police officers on the orders of those who control platinum in South Africa, using their black mouthpieces in the government, should jolt all serious Africans to hard thinking about the continuing reality of apartheid that is disguised behind the illusions of “a rainbow nation” and a “South Africa that belongs to all who live in it.”
The political theatre in Zimbabwe is even more illusory than the one in South Africa. Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF are bearing the brunt of the stick from the West in form of sanctions and threats of prosecution for crimes against humanity. On the other hand, Morgan Tsvangirai and MDC-T are eating the carrot of rich sponsorship and funding to fight the tyranny of Mugabe and Zanu PF. Through their stick and their carrot, the Euro-American alliance are still the owners of the game in Zimbabwe, except for many slogans and wishes to the contrary by a ruling party and an opposition political party that are entangled and imbricated in a web of Western puppetry and coloniality.
In their fight, Zanu PF and MDC-T have provoked such a dust and arrested so much media attention and kept SADC and AU without sleep. There is nothing to be gained by ordinary bread eaters in Zimbabwe. As this happens, the knowledge is in the public domain that the Chinese are harvesting the bounty of diamonds in Zimbabwe and in the global diamond black market America and her allies still buy Zimbabwean diamonds in prices far cheaper than they would be in the formal market, never mind that “Zimbabwe will never be a colony again!”
In addressing his lecture to the presence of illusions instead of realities of independence and development in Africa and the entire global South, Gatsheni was inviting serious thinking about such paradoxes that are symptomatic of the African condition like the Marikana massacre and the illusory political and economic stalemate in Zimbabwe.
So much African intelligence and energy is expended in pursuit of illusions while realities lie unattended to. Using decolonial thought as his spectacles with which to scrutinise the world, Gatsheni was deploying a combative liberatory school of thought whose geneology is traceable to world systems philosopher Immanuel Wallerstein and Latin American liberation philosopher Anibal Quijano and their students, among them activist scholars Ramon Grosfoguel and Nelson Maldonado-Torres.
Decolonial thought as a way of looking at the world and life, is a school of thought that refuses to swallow impressions and illusions but is only satisfied with the smell behind the perfume. Together with the African Decolonial Research Network (ADERN), a group of young scholars in development studies, political science and political communication, Gatsheni is geared to contribute to a wealth of insights on where African liberation movements went wrong in the decolonisation of Africa and how Africa can be recovered from coloniality and navigated back to realities of economic and political independence.
His forthcoming book, 'Empire, Global Coloniality and African Subjectivity' will be a must read. The path of Gatsheni and ADERN, like the paths of other Afrocentric scholars before him is going to be a thorny one. There is no consesus in African scholarship on where Africa should go. The fierce debates over issues concerning the African destiny that clashed Ali Mazrui with Archie Mafeje, Wole Soyinka and Ali Mazrui have not gone away.
There are still some professors in the African academia who are megaphones of Western stereotypes of Africa who regard combative Afrocentric scholarship as a pursuit of “the power of the false” as Achille Mbembe has offensively argued. The ground is fertile for fierce intellectual tussles, but away from university seminar rooms and comfortable hotels, the painful lessons about the true African condition of coloniality and enduring subjection are the blood of Marikana and the politics of illusions and myths that occupies many in Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa where ruling parties and their rivals in the opposition still remain tools of the same Empire.
Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana writes from South Africa. He can be contacted on e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org