The Sunday News
One of the punchiest essays by Edward Said is: “On Lost Causes” that features in his volume of the year 2000. The cause of Palestinian liberation looked lost to Said who had grown impatient with the resolve of Israel to dominate Palestinians and the fragility of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in its determination to free Palestinians, in equal measure.
The itch for liberation can really be irritating and enraging to political activists and philosophers of liberation alike. Liberation voices can be sad and lonely, isolated and removed from the chorus of prevailing opinion. As late as 2008 Slavoj Zizek, a thoroughgoing communist, published his treatise: “In Defence of Lost Causes,” which is a defence of communist politics and economics at a time when the world seems to have accepted the tragic but true end of communist and socialist dreams that once enchanted Eastern Europe and the Global South, the proverbial spectre that haunted the West.
Edward Said’s dream of liberated Palestine and slavoj Zizek’s fantasy of a global communist paradise are examples of how philosophers can stubbornly cling to the most seemingly lost causes and utopias. Like the proverbial beauty that belongs to the eye of the beholder revolutions and liberation are the property of the imagination and fantasy of the believer and the activist.
The great African enchantment
The late of 1950s and the 1960s were a period of great enchantment with political independence from colonialism and liberation in Africa. The political independence of Ghana that was declared on 6 May in 1957 inspired other African liberation movements and gave impetus to guerilla movements that were variously called terrorist organisations by colonial regimes.
The change of name from Gold Coast to Ghana inspired the political poets in African countries that began, in advance, to give indigenous names to their countries. On a three months long visit to British colonies in Africa, the then British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, stopped by the South African parliament on 3 May 1960 and delivered his famous “Winds of Change” speech that expressed the inevitability of African independence from colonialism.
The dream of a paradisal liberated Africa was more than a great enchantment; it was a political craze that intoxicated even the most sober minds and made excited babies out of old men and mature women. The Africans were once feeling like the enslaved Israelites on the day before arrival in Canaan. It is only a few African novelists and poets that warned of coming difficulties in the continent. Many of the poets and the novelists were exiled by African regimes that felt that the artists were noisy malcontents and pessimists that did not want to embrace a new African.
The many decades of African difficulties and failures did not stop South Africans in 1994 from being enchanted by their own independence from apartheid. South African exceptionalism is a living ideology. The euphoria about the end of apartheid and the beginning of democracy was described in miraculous and magical terms with Nelson Mandela the leader credited with “Madiba Magic” and political sainthood.
The irony that the South African miracle of independence took place at the same time a major genocide was unfolding in Rwanda did not temper the excitement about Mzansi and Azania. Many decades after political independence South Africa and many other African countries are asking themselves rather very hard questions about the meaning of independence from colonialism.
The dreams of independence have turned into nightmares of coloniality, state captivity, corruption, poverty, disease and misery at a large scale. Africans presently know it well that political independence and the end of juridical colonialism do not mean the end of coloniality, imperialism, domination, exploitation and misery.
The born-free and the 2000 generations
The Africans that were born after the independence of their countries from colonialism were a special group. They mostly did not want to be bothered about stories about colonialism or tales of liberation struggles and independence.
They did not understand why some old men were called heroes. I once supervised a student whose dissertation sought to argue that the Freedom Charter of 1955 in South Africa was a boring sell-out document that was actually drafted by some white people who gave it to some black figure heads that became publicly known as the authors. She believed that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process was actually a political auction where black politicians and religious leaders sold black people to the lowest bidders in the white population.
The whole idea of Mandela spending 27 years in jail was a ruse as the man was actually at school where he was taught by white instructors how to take care of white interests and tender to white egos as South African president. What should have happened at the end of apartheid is that white people should have evacuated their homes for black people to move from Tembisa, Soweto, Mamelodi and Soshanguve to live in the palatial houses in Sandton, Houghton Park, Silver Lakes and Meyerspark, she argued. Of the 2000 generation one must right very little because very little, politically, is known of it.
One of the lot walked late and slowly into a seminar room I was presenting in, wearing the shortest shorts and biggest T-shirt in town, written: “Don’t Grow Up, it’s a Trap.” For this generation the political is personal and the personal is political, life is about the individual and nothing more. Stories about slavery, colonialism and imperialism belong to the genre for myths, legends and folktales to this tribe that believes that the true heroes are movie actors, rappers and cartoon characters.
Defending the lost causes
On hearing such words as “revolution” and “liberation” the born free and the 2000 generation members contemplate suicide in sheer boredom. The words revolution and liberation have lost their political juice amongst the youths of the Global South that do not want to recognise the difference between colonialists and any political leaders. They tend to think that we are long done with slavery, colonialism, imperialism and coloniality.
That colonialism, slavery, imperialism and coloniality are not done with us is not a subject of interest to the youths of now. Ridding on the exalted Fourth Industrial Revolution vogue, the youths of the present, live virtual lives that are punctuated with memes and other objects of high fantasy deep imagination.
That each generation has its cause to discover, to honour or to betray it as Frantz Fanon said is lost to this brave generation. Yet this is the generation that has inherited the weight of all the problems of previous generations and might have no future to talk about or to see if things political and economic do not radically change in the world. Revolution and liberation are still grand-narratives to be thought of and spoken about. That the previous generations have been defeated or have betrayed their cause does not mean that the newly born should not lose their innocence in politics and the struggle for liberation.
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from Gezina, Pretoria, in South Africa. Contacts: [email protected]