Death of intellectualism in SA

The historic role of accusations, counteraccusations, finger pointing, propaganda campaigns and attempts at character assassination packaged as intellectual analysis have intensified.
And, if all fails, the last resort then is assassination of informed opponents of those who dictate public thinking in South Africa.
They are viewed as a threat to a strategised course and quickly labelled as being “conspiratorial theorists” and “mad outsiders”, as “spin doctors”. Then they are marginalised from the public domain.
Author and journalist Barry Sergeant quotes in his book on the murdered mining tycoon, Brett Kebble, “The Kebble Collusion”, Arthur Schopenhauer, who once said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Once, Former President Thabo Mbeki was recalled by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), a space opened for open criticism and robust public debate of the ANC and its leadership. Those same “intellectuals” said about Mbeki, “he speaks above the heads of everyone.”
That newly opened space was, however, promptly filled and closed by a self-appointed, mischievous pseudo-academic, exclusive elite, dictating their well-paid, same sold, same old, predictable analysis.
Instead of building a national participatory debate and incorporating the broad indigenous African majority and their daily concerns, they proved to be one-sided parrots, who merely regurgitate propaganda.
Not only have they discredited themselves and those, who aspire to be professional academics, but they have also killed democratic public debate.
They are all tied to their institutions, representing the policies of those institutions.
The national democratic debate was therefore, never allowed to be born. In fact, there were no articles, no public outcry and no complaints in any of the news bulletins and current affairs programmes about the establishment of media monopoly and its crass silencing of the national public debate.
Like all democratic countries throughout the world, South Africa and Namibia need free and open-minded intellectualism, not tied to institutions that pay them.
It would mean that whatever such “intellectuals” utter would have to be checked by following the trail of the money. Always remember, he who pays the piper calls the tune.
If South Africa’s democracy wants to survive, it needs the national public debate – preferably without any of those paid-up mischievous armchair academic intellectuals who have nothing to add – to give credence to daily news and current affairs.
The Southern African region will wilt away without real independent intellectuals, as their space would always be filled by opportunistic propagandists, attempting to mislead the uninformed public.
The mind of an intellectual should refrain from any form of participation in the execution of a propagandistic course. It should rather be investigative and add real substance to research and fact.
What has happened to real intellectual debate and analysis of the likes of Anton Lebede (ANC), Robert Sobukwe (PAC), Johnny Makathini (ANC), Mzala Nxumalo (ANC and SACP), Abraham Tiro, Steve Biko (BCM), the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Ruth First (SACP and ANC) and James Thaele (ANC)?
The aforementioned demonstrate that this continent, including South Africa, once had solid intellectuals who were a shining light to their people.
Today, the self-appointed “intellectuals” are subjective, repetitive and predictive. This has turned particularly South Africa into an intellectual desert. A new generation of intellectuals needs to come up to assure a healthy, balanced and democratic debate.
They need to overcome the branding and labelling of those self-appointed and institutionalised ‘intellectuals’, who would obviously try to destroy them.
South Africa’s national democratic debate has suffered marginalisation over the years. “Objectivity” in the media has disappeared there is no logical clarity on how “intellectualism” is interpreted and viewed.
The open space for debate has been abused and filled with a form of hate-propaganda. It is disappointing that there is little intellectual analysis that can put the current situation in South Africa into a realistic and factual perspective.
• Udo W Froese is a political and socio-economic analyst and columnist who is based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

November 2012
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