WANDILE NGCAWENI argues that even “woke” South African youth can fall victim to naive social media opinion, and it’s time they start generating new ideas to solve the country’s problems.
On Mandela Day this year I made a conclusion that was contradictory to the opinion I held a few months back when I wrote an article praising the “born-free” generation for being “woke”. It was contrary to sentiments of social commentators and politicians, who seemed to be anticipating a weak generation with no trace of historical consciousness.
I wrote that because the “born frees” were reading, familiarising themselves and engaging with African literature and black philosophy, they are “woke”. Since they are the youth who challenge[d] the socio-economic status quo by starting the RMF and FMF, they are revolutionary and are the youth sparking re-imaginative political discourse. They are frontrunners for progressive transformation in a country infested with the parasite of whiteness.
On Mandela Day, I found myself revisiting an article by Xolela Mangcu urging young South Africans to stop being devout critics of Nelson Mandela when there’s so much work still to be done.
Social media timelines on 18 July were littered with statuses calling “Mandela a sell-out” blah blah blah, and there was no shortage of attempts at revolution personality legitimation.
This is when I realised that there’s something wrong with us as “woke” youth. That we are also susceptible to naive social public opinion.
When we try to argue who was more of a revolutionary between Mandela and Sobukwe. When struggle credentials are being thrown back and forth. Whose prison conditions were most difficult? Who did that, who started this protest…? Pushing and prodding to prove who the legitimate owner of the black revolution was. While in reality, there was no one owner of the resistance struggle.
You see the absurdity in these discussions, which I never take part in, is that intelligent black youth find themselves divisively bickering about legitimate leaders who actually fought for the toppling of the same evil apartheid system, albeit with different political ideologies, but the same system nonetheless.
In fact, I remember fallist social media going insane about Nompendulo Mkhatshwa’s television interview on Checkpoint.
It was evident then as it is now that there was a sense of arrogant entitlement from individuals. I guess some fallists were unhappy that Nompendulo was chosen over themselves; I remember how one Facebook status read: “how many times did Nompendulo find herself in the back of a police van during the protests? Until Nompendulo spends a night in a prison cell for protesting for students, she is not allowed to talk on behalf of fallists across the country… Damn ANC sell-outs!”
Of course, this was a badly reasoned contribution to the criticism of Nompendulo’s interview. But it did expose two things.
1. As a leader negotiating on behalf of the masses you should expect to be called a sell-out if your decisions don’t please everyone.
2. Some are in the fallist struggle for praise and fame.
This is what most fallists think Sobukwe, Biko and Mandela fought apartheid for. Praise and recognition. How can a decolonial fallist not understand that there are many sites of struggle?
Going to jail shouldn’t be the goal of a revolutionary; credibility is not earned behind bars but earned through commitment to values of selflessness in service to the masses.
Calling Mandela a sell-out for making decisions which were consistent with his personality of what professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni calls “decolonial ethical humanism”, is ridiculous.
Him choosing peace over civil war shouldn’t be rubbished so much that his commitment and role to the destruction of apartheid is questioned like professor Pumla Gqola has often done. On a TV documentary (I can’t seem to recall what it was titled), Gqola proudly justified her reasoning for the necessity of a bloody transition instead of a peaceful negotiated settlement in 1993 -1994.
It is regrettable, of course, that the super-feminist professor would argue for a need for bloodshed in any context.
I remember once I raised my hand in a class given by professor Tendayi Sithole and irritatedly asked him why black South Africans don’t just go to war; why they don’t just pick up arms and drive the arrogant whites out. His answer was simpler than I had expected, “Ngcaweni…. War should never be an option because the biggest victims of war are defenceless black women and children”. As a feminist scholar, I wonder if Gqola thinks about the women and children that would’ve died in a confrontational transitional revolution she argues was necessary.
I guess it was Mandela’s experience in leadership and wisdom as a freedom fighter that led him to choose peace over war, same choice Sobukwe would’ve made had he been alive to lead the transition.
What’s left for us to do as Xolela Mangcu advises is to leave Mandela where he is, to stop calling him an askari, and to find solutions to our immediate problems and to generate new ideas for the country.
New ideas that go beyond those of Steve Biko, Lembede and even Mandela need to be generated.
Ntokozo Qwabe’s Facebook is often exemplary in this regard, with statuses that read:
“The intergenerational contestation between us and our parents is that they, led by Mandela, thought we should respond to hundreds of years of white supremacy with a transformative black/ non-racial love and reconciliation. While we (black youth) think the appropriate response is decolonial black/ racial justice…..”
I maintain that he is one of a few decolonial youth leaders giving us insightful ideas. Not like the pseudo-intellectual lot that vilify Mandela with worn platitudes and zero ideas to offer.
In conclusion, it’s up to us to find a method averting bloodshed that will get us solutions that will work. If Mandela’s solutions didn’t work it’s up to us the youth to find bloodless solutions to the resulting socio-economic imbalances we are faced with. But while we do that we need to stop calling the man an askari.
Wandile Ncgaweni is a postgraduate Development Studies student at Unisa