The Black Agenda - A Critical Look
The Black Agenda is the first book of its kind written by a former MK cadre to come into public domain. It seeks to revive the ideals that gave rise to Black Consciousness and saw the resurgence of the oppressed majorities’ resistance against Apartheid system in the late sixties and early seventies. The author, Comrade Tshidiso Mahlomola Mokhoanatse (aka Alex Mashinini), undertook a monumental exercise to add substance to and recast Black Consciousness teachings. Rightfully, meaningful commentary on the book should follow extensive review of material cited therein to better understand the author’s conclusions i.e. what are Alex’s own deductions and inferences contrasted with what he simply relays from recommended text. As a hypothesis of the new school of thought the book begs a critical appraisal.
In the preface Alex’s writes, “This book represents a definitive and conscious departure from the tradition and practice of looking at South Africa using the prism of political philosophies developed in Europe, such as Marxism, social democracy, liberalism, conservatism and neo-liberalism. It advances race as a primary and defining determinant, and proposes a paradigm shift in the manner in which the socio-political and economic issues of South Africa are contextualised and understood.”
Indeed, a race-based solution to a system of national oppression and exploitation presumably based on the oppressed nation’s colour has its appeal, and has indeed resulted in the independences of many countries in the world. Shining examples are the countries that make up Africa and that are members of the African Union. Almost all of these countries won their independence from Britain, France and Portugal in the 50s, 60s and 70s on a race-nation card. Zimbabwe got hers in1980; in South Africa, Blacks (a controversial term on its own that embraces native Africans, Mixed-race persons and persons of Asian descent) voted for a government of their choice for the first time in 1994.
Remarkably, a common thread in all these countries is that economic independence, or freedom – if you like, did not come simultaneously with the end of colonial rule. The last country to see local majority rule, South Africa, serve as a shining example. Days after the first popular elections Blacks went to put in their spells of work together with their largely white masters. Mine workers went underground and knocked off to sleep in their hostels and shacks; domestic workers went to clean their masters and mistresses houses. Understandably it could not have been otherwise: the newly elected government, not yet sworn in, had as yet to pass laws to address and redress the master-servant, black-white, relationships that had been a norm for three centuries.
Contrary to general expectations in that direction, The Black Agenda underlines the turnaround that followed: “... soon after his election into office in 1994, Nelson Mandela made an about-turn on the Freedom Charter that left his supports (sic) dazzled, but much to the delight of white business:- [He said] ‘In our economic policies … there is no single reference to things like nationalization, and this is no accident. There is not a single slogan that will connect us with any Marxist ideology.’”
The book goes on to quote from The Shock Doctrine, a book written by Naomi Klein, which Alex writes “reveals the behind-the scenes dealings and actors in the CODESA negotiations. In a chapter dedicated to South Africa and appropriately entitled Democracy Born in Chains, Klein states:-‘The talks that hashed out the terms of apartheid’s end took place on two parallel tracks that often intersected: one was political, the other economic. Most of the attention, naturally, focused on the high profile political summit between Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk. Running alongside these (political) explosive summits were the much lower profile economic negotiations, primarily managed on the ANC side by Thabo Mbeki… In these talks, the De Klerk government had a twofold strategy. First, drawing on the ascendant Washington Consensus that there was now only one way to run an economy, it portrayed key sectors of economic decision making – such as trade policy and the central bank – as “technical” and “administrative.” Then it used a wide range of new policy tools – international trade agreements, innovations in constitutional law and structural adjustment programmes – to hand control to those power centres to supposedly impartial experts, economists and officials from the IMF, the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the National Party – anyone except the liberation fighters from the ANC .... In the process, the ANC failed to protect itself against a far more insidious strategy – in essence, an elaborate insurance plan against the economic clauses of the Freedom Charter ever becoming law in South Africa.”
Indeed it’s now common knowledge that it was the political track in the CODESA negotiations that received public exposure whilst the economic track hardly received any press coverage. The gist of the political track was the on-your-face, race-related aspects of Apartheid: Pass Laws, Separate Amenities, Urban Areas, Group Areas Acts, etc. The outcomes of this track were the concessions made by the ruling classes to grant political rights to all citizens, as is the case in all constitutional democracies. Alex correctly says: “The CODESA negotiations sealed the future of South Africa, which was the outsourcing of government to an elite group of Black people (the ANC and its allies) to maintain the status quo of structural racism, white supremacy and white privilege. At these negotiations, South Africa’s future was put on auto-pilot and it did not really matter who sat inside the cockpit.”
Given the spiteful race-card manipulations, how is it possible to likewise reach a conclusion that race must be ‘a primary and defining determinant’ in the solution to the oppression and exploitation of the majority South Africans? Is it not clear that race is a tool to be used to continue the exploitation of Africans, this time around with ‘an elite group of Black people’ in government?
A partisan conclusion would be that the ANC team abandoned a class position in the negotiation process. The average trained MK cadre knows from the basic political economy classes that in capitalist societies class and economic ownership are indissolubly linked. The communities are divided into groups of people that are determined by their relations to economic tools i.e., do they own the means of production, productive forces like land, factories, industrial machines and capital to finance their functions or whether they merely work these for wages and salaries. These relations in turn determine how the groups relate to one another. The owners of the productive forces are classed as capitalist. Those who work for wages are classed as workers. The capitalist are the masters, the workers are the wage slaves.
In South Africa the Land Act of 1913 gave 87% of the land to whites, but the working white person owns no land, except for the patch of soil on which his/her house is built; neither does the average white person own a factory. The laws of the country were merely couched in a manner to incorporate whites’ sentiments into the system and to make them feel as co-owners of a state that was theirs by name, exactly in the same manner and degree a peasant in England had shares in the British Empire.
Above servicing petty white supremacist ideas, Apartheid was an ideology aimed at reaping super profits from the labour power of Africans and of appropriating the natural resources of the land by capitalists. The same capitalists that supported and propped up the Pretoria regime used different social mechanism in other continents to gain their ends. In Europe exploitation is and has always been based on classes, because the exploiters and exploited are of the same race. In the death of Apartheid open class oppression and exploitation is the development that is gaining grounds in South Africa.
A shining example of a flawed race-based approach to the liberation struggle was the document titled The Second Transition that was discussed in ANC branches, leading to the June 2012 National Policy Conference. The Second Transition went so far as to identify emerging Black capitalist as one of the motive forces in the National Democratic Revolution. Appropriately, a caution on these Black capitalists was noted. It underlined that “the dependence of this stratum on white and multinational capital and the state, makes some susceptible to pursue narrow interests, which may not always be in the interest of economic transformation.” Marikana Massacre which happened hardly two months after the conference justified that concern.
Race is not a category likely to provide a solution to the exploitation of Africans. In The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith says, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.”? Own interest, self-love and own advantages are the motivation factors behind business people – our butcher, brewer and baker included.
Originally our oppressors came from the lands of Adam Smith, Europe. Thus of necessity we learned of those societies and the behavioural patterns of our oppressors within. In that manner we learned that even therein our oppressors were up to the same trickery with their own peoples, and were in fact taken and seen as a distinct section in European communities; and there were ongoing struggles against them. We can, of course, dispense with this knowledge and choose to see them together with those who fight against them as all constituting our enemy camp i.e., choose to see all Europeans, based on their common skin colour, as our enemies. Would that make the struggle against neo-colonialism easier or simplify ideological confrontation? Military war against Europeans is out. We don’t have war resources for it.
Even the radical knowledge advanced in The Black Agenda is in need of refinement. Example, the statement “That the Greeks invented philosophy, the Arts and the Sciences is the only basis on which the arrogance of Europe stands.” is too sweeping. Pride in Greek culture cannot be the only basis for the arrogance of all European colonialists. Greek philosophy, arts and science may not even feature in their psyche. Ownership of superior weapons of war is a better source of arrogance.
Again Alex also says “The hypothesis of this new school of thought is further advanced as the ideological and philosophical basis for the evolution of the New Black Nationalism - as the only viable vehicle for the total emancipation of Black South Africans - that is premised on the following foundation:-
i) The reclamation of the authorship and heritage of the Bible by Black people ...
ii) The reclamation and heritage of the African origin of civilization by Black people
Africans south of the Sahara have as yet to re-learn en masse that Christianity was not introduced to them by the colonisers and Western missionaries; that it is of their own creation from a forgotten past. After that they’ll have to sort out that newly acquired claim of biblical ownership vis-à-vis Arabs in the Middle East, for they (Arabs) believe, with geographical justification, that North-Western Europeans stole the Biblical narrative from them.
Christianity as the dominant religion in the Western world is under concentrated and intense study: its origin, veracity of related events, compilation and presentation style – factual or allegorical, reasons behind adoption as official religion by the Roman Empire, etc. In Ethiopia there are preserved Christian scrolls dated at the earliest time of the religion, and Ethiopians have an axe or two to grind as regards the extent of their role in the origins of Christianity – which is soundly diminished in the Bible and supporting doctrinaire text. If almost two centuries after the contestation it can be conclusively proven that Africans are in fact its authors and subjects, that would sure boost the morale of Christians among them.
That fact though has no relevance to atheist among them. Even the depth, meaning and understanding of Christianity ethics among the self-confessed African Christians is open to debate, just as it with the European Christians who went on a colonial rampage in the name of their vengeful God, Jehova. That behaviour which had been acted out and re-enacted by the so-called European Christians places the very role of Christianity and the other religions under scrutiny: to what extent do religious convictions influence everyday morals and ethics, if at all; might not the religious labels we attach to religious campaigns be mere excuse for material driven incentives? Quite often the moral practices of religious people are indistinguishable from dog morality – a bit harsh, but how do we explain the murdering, maiming and raping of Africans in the name of Christian civilisation? How do we explain the arming of masses with weapons of destruction to be used against brethren in the name of religion?
Religion is fraught with too many questions. The proprietorship of the Bible by Africans as its disinherited authors or subject people is peripheral in the struggle to end exploitation – it’s more like a continental concern, if not international contention, parallel to the immediate concerns of the exploited South Africans.
On the second point, it’s not a given either that as Africans, potentially, South Africans so keenly resent European domination in the so-called civilisation of the world that it’s just a matter of leaning how Europeans stole African legacy for them to discard European lifestyle and arm themselves for battles – in whatever guise - and go on to fight and reverse the effect of colonisation and indoctrination. Evidence is that we are stepped so deep in and entangled with money ethics and morality of the Western world that we keenly sell our time and labour for salaries and wages, and truly have no inkling what else we could do in our lifetimes in this world, except get those salaries to buy the glittering consumables on sale.
Again, given that the structure of Western society has been replicated in African communities, however shallowly we may perceive class division in the urbanised communities, we cannot argue a case that awareness of our presumed great past will lead to a transformation of continental psyche, do away with our inculcated inferiority complex and lead us onto a path of conscious creators and producers of own destiny henceforth.
Rather than attributing the inferiority complex shown by Africans to the alleged Noah-Ham curse, as The Black Agenda asserts, a keener cause of that complex could be the violent conquest of Africans; a conquest that was followed by calculated measures to undermine and obliterate from their minds the pre-colonial African way of life: supplant by a Christian doctrine a belief system that we now vaguely know as African spiritualism or belief in the active involvement of ancestors in daily life; disruption of chieftaincy, marriage system and subsistence economy - all which were achieved through dispossession of land, plunder of cattle and imposition of taxes that could only be paid by money. The Black Agenda does not enumerate these measures but its spirit alludes to the machinations. That is the appeal of the book. It contains an ideology in its formation.
To obtain a copy of the book visit website www.theblackagenda.org.za
Wonga Welile Bottoman