Afropessimism and clever blacks

By Mkhosana Mathobela Bingweni

ONE of the monumental successes of the slavish, colonial and imperial project in Africa has been to get Africans to lose confidence in themselves and other Africans.

As a result, there is a lot many Africans even some vaunted scholars and journalists, who are disgusted by being African more than colonialists and racist white supremacists have ever been hateful of the African continent and its long-suffering people.

A people who have been emptied of confidence in themselves, their skin colour and their continent float around the world like the proverbial empty shells and can do nothing to recover themselves, their countries and their continent from misery. Within the World Oder, Africa stands as a wounded continent that has been greedily underdeveloped, exploited and then marginalised by the same super powers and advanced countries that claim to be a standard from which Africans can mimic and learn. Even some titanic African thinkers like the formidable Thandika Mkandawire have sadly suggested that Africa should do all that it can to “run while others walk” so that it can “catch up with Europe” and North America in development, democracy and general progress.

Consideration is not made that Europe and North America became so prosperous and industrialised because of the cheap free labour of enslaved Africans, cheap natural resources from the African colonies and a bounty of other stolen resources from Africa and the entire Global South. For Africa to catch up with Europe and North America, even if it runs while other walk, entails that Africa should also enslave others, colonise other continents and siphon cheap labour and free resources from somewhere. Euro-American wealth is in all honesty ill-gotten wealth. To judge Africa against the standard of Europe and North America is to completely ignore African victimhood and also to deliberately exonerate Euro-America from the criminality of centuries of slavery, colonisation, domination and exploitation of Africa.

Among informed journalists and learned scholars, tragically, speaking of African victimhood in the world is looked upon as being old fashioned and living in the past while a bright future awaits somewhere. Yet, in reality the epical and epochal injuries of slavery, colonialism, apartheid and imperialism cannot be healed even in a century and some of the wounds – economic and political – cannot be healed in the first place.

In reality, African enslavement, colonisation and exploitation in world affairs are an injurious process that is still in progress by other names and other means. The sooner African journalists and scholars realise that, their critique of Africa and Africans will be more constructive than the flourish of Afro-pessimism that we are presently witnessing, a high voltage and contemptuous demeaning of Africa by Africans that masquerades as polished journalism and fine scholarship.

A South African Example

Prince Mashele is an intelligent South African who publicly pleads guilty to the wonderful crime of being an educated African, a “clever black” in the grammar of Jacob Zuma. Mashele boasts about his learning. In 2011, Mashele published, ‘The Death of our Society’, a book that mourns the political, social and economic decline of South Africa. Three years later, with Mzukisi Qobo, another educated African, Prince Mashele co-authored and published another book, ‘The Fall of the ANC: What Next?’, which was an obituary of the African National Congress, before its death, a death that many white supremacists in South Africa pray for. The titles of the books themselves bespeak deep Afro-pessimism and shame at being a South African and an African. The contents of the books are even more sordid venom. South Africans are lampooned for ever following and supporting the ANC, blindly like a “herd” of cattle.

On May 9, 2016, Mashele wrote an article for the Sowetan newspaper, a selling South African daily that also trends online. The title of the opinion and really highly opinionated article was, “SA finally African, all thanks to Zuma.” The very title of the high voltage article suggested that South Africa was not an African country until a villager and an uneducated peasant called Jacob Zuma took over as President. Mashele even introduced the article by expressing the concern that some South Africans feared that South Africa would come to an end because of the decline and degeneration that Zuma has brought.

The times of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki in the South African presidency had assured South Africans that their country was no other African country but “some exceptional country on the Southern tip of the African continent.” Thanks to Zuma, South Africa has reclaimed its place in the world as another ordinary and disastrous African country. Sadly, Mashele argued, “Africans and their leaders don’t like to copy from the West” that is rich with good examples of leadership and governance.

Africans are so backward and disastrous that they keep following the “African way” of old fashioned kings, chiefs and indunas that are not democratic and do not duplicate what the Europeans and the Americans are doing. By way of examples and standards, Mashele celebrates Denmark, Germany and the United States of America while he isolates Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria as examples of typical African countries that do not want to Europeanise and Americanise. Zuma was accused of hating and fearing educated black people, much like “Boko Haram.” Africans and African leaders, Prince Mashele argued, should read, understand and implement the “lofty” ideas of Socrates, Kant and Hegel, exalted European philosophers in his view.

The Tragedy of Clever Blacks

Mashele’s critique of South Africa and Africans is a highly popular critique. Many journalists and scholars of fame have repeated and amplified that critique in different words but similar content. As popular as the critique is, it is fragile thinking and unsustainable analysis of Africa and Africans. In the first place, South Africa was always an African country except that the apartheid regime wanted it to be a piece of Europe in Africa, a white country in black Africa. By endorsing that notion of South African exceptionalism and blaming Zuma for eroding it, Mashele dramatises his nostalgia for apartheid, and becomes a black man who defends white supremacy and sensibility intelligently. It was to be sad if South Africans and Africans at large ever tried to be Europeans and Americans, even if by “copying” that Mashele suggests. Socrates endorsed slavery, Immanuel Kant was a decorated racist and Georg Hegel believed that Africa and Africans did not have history and were not worth of mention in philosophy and history studies, which is the foundational loftiness of European philosophers who designed and endorsed slavery and colonialism. African leaders, political parties and liberation movements at large must be critiqued by journalists and scholars in Africa without fear or favour, but they must not be asked to blindly emulate and imitate the European and American examples that are fraught with the same racism and hatred that through slavery, colonialism and apartheid brought Africa the poverty and misery that it finds itself enmeshed in today.

Intelligent and learned African scholars and journalists as information and knowledge workers should be working overtime to generate new and alternative ideas for Africa’s development beyond lazy and even silly imitation of Europe and America. Critiques like the one that Prince Mashele and others represent as educated blacks only serves to prove just how colonised our education systems in Africa have remained and how the universities turn black young people into anti-black racist whites at heart and in mind. Such Afro-pessimism in educated black people, young ones for that matter, gives education a really bad name.

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