Manichean Delirium (In the Time of Jacob Zuma)

Monday, 3 April, 2017 - 15:00

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In 1961 Frantz Fanon, seriously weakened by leukaemia, and aware that his life was rapidly coming to an end, dictated his last thoughts in a flat in Tunis. The Damned of the Earth was published at the end of that year, shortly after his death. It was immediately banned by the French state. Often read as heresy or prophecy rather than analysis the book was, simultaneously, a brilliant and electric critique of the colony and a driving and frequently scathing critique of the gangrenous degeneration of what has since come to be called the postcolony. It offered compelling legitimation to the anti-colonial forces in Algeria, across Southern Africa, in Vietnam, and elsewhere, as well as a forceful warning to these struggles. Its vision is both stereoscopic and, given its strong sense of movement and change, and the articulation of ideas to experience, fundamentally dialectical.  To many readers in South Africa Fanon’s critique of the colony remains all too urgent. At the same time his critique of the postcolony, ruthless and sweeping as it is, has come to seem increasingly prescient in the time of Jacob Zuma. In Fanon’s narrative popular aspirations for “bread, land, and the restoration of the country to the sacred hands of the people” are spurned after independence. As the drama of the new nation unfolds The Leader, once a heroic figure, “will reveal his inner purpose: to become the general president of . . . [a] company of profiteers”. Fanon goes on to describe that ‘company of profiteers’ as a “greedy little caste, avid and voracious, with the mind of a huckster”, noted for “their mediocrity, and their fundamental immorality” and committed to nothing more than the struggle “to be part of the racket”. For this caste nationalisation is not understood in terms of fundamentally “new social relations” but simply as “the transfer into native hands of those unfair advantages which are a legacy of the colonial period”. The party of liberation is turned “into a trade union of individual interests”, “a means of private advancement”.

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