Zuma’s hostility towards intellectuals contains a warning of a hidden agenda in educating the nation, writes Xolani Dube.
An assault on “clever blacks” is antithetical to ANC cadre development. César Milstein, the Argentinian biochemist, recalls that in 1966 during the Night of the Long Police Batons, Juan Carlos Onganía seized power from the government, declaring that “our country would be put in order as soon as all the intellectuals who were meddling in the region were expelled”.
The Maoist Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot in Kampuchea (1975-79) meted out the most hideous brutality against intellectuals.
He ordered the “mass killing of intellectuals, professional people, and city dwellers – over a million of his people. People were killed for being academics or for merely wearing eyeglasses (as it suggested literacy) in the Killing Fields”.
When Paulo Neves Freire, the Brazilian philosopher, authored the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the 1964 military coup regime jailed him.
They classified him as a traitor and banned him from Brazil.
Anti-intellectualism is a common tactic of dictatorships to suppress political dissent.
Beyers Naudé, Bram Fischer, Ingrid Jonker, André Brink, Breyten Breytenbach, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, Max du Preez and his Vrye Weekblad newspaper, Koos Kombuis, Stephen Kemp, Antjie Krog, Carl Niehaus and the Voëlvry musicians all risked being killed.
These were mostly Afrikaners who, with their voices and actions, fought against what was perceived to be the absolute norm of the day.
They were prepared to die for their convictions. Rejecting the comfort, even opulence, that came with conformism, they were the apartheid counter-revolutionaries. All were educated, intellectuals, authors or newspaper owners.
These were the “clever Afrikaners”. Likewise, Walter Rubusana, Alan Kirkland Soga, Sol Plaatje, John Tengo Jabavu, John L Dube (Ngcobo), Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Alfred Mangena, Dr J S Moroka, Anton Lembede, Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe and Archie Gumede were educated intellectuals, authors and newspaper owners.
They disowned the comfort that came with their professions. They refused to be deceived and bought out by the repressive and brutal regime.
They were the “clever blacks”. The ANC was conceived by “clever blacks”. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika was composed by a “clever black”!
The ANC was the midwife and a bunker (the safe house) of the “clever blacks”.
We are where we are today because of our forbears who were undeniably the “clever blacks” of their generation.
In all fairness, it is anti-ANC to victimise and despise intellectualism.
Political schools, academic scholarships and many other initiatives aimed at developing the intellectual talents of its members were paramount for the sustainability and progression of the ANC in exile.
A number of young lions left the country with an intention to become liberation soldiers.
They were taken aback when, arriving in the ANC camps, the emphasis was more on education than carrying an AK47.
In the world history of liberation movements it is only the ANC that had a formal school. Oliver Tambo was deeply devoted to preparing clever cadres who would be up to the challenge of governing our country in what became the information age.
Subsequently a number of ANC cadres were offered academic scholarships.
Inside the country, the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) was headed by respected and well-educated leaders.
Teachers, priests, academics, students and pupils were placed at the forefront of our struggle. The MDM, like the ANC, preferred meritocracy to mediocrity.
It is for this reason that it is very difficult to point out a single leader who was below par in terms of intellectual acumen.
The ANC, like other liberation movements, managed to infiltrate academic tertiary institutions and turn them into centres of progressive and robust intellectual debate and activism.
University students were encouraged to contribute their intellectual skills and recruiting strategies. Political leadership was exclusive and a reserved terrain for the clever people.
There was no spewing of empty party-political rhetoric. A well-thought, carefully thought and clearly articulated ideological argument was much more respected.
People were free and encouraged to explore their own personal intellectual pathways. The “clever blacks” were highly admired.
They were the leaders of society. The ANC was not then afraid of intellectual discourse as it was not deficient in ethics and morality.
Livelihoods and socially upward mobility were not obtained by worshipping at the altar of blind party loyalty, corruption, and patronage politics.
In those days, the ANC and MDM were progressive institutions committed to intellectual grooming and growth. The apartheid government hated the ANC, MDM and other liberation movements because it knew that they were the incubators of “clever blacks”.
Despite the Nationalists’ best efforts to use “Bantu education” to suppress the intellectual capability of the black people, the black intellectual voice only became louder.
Black people yearned for political education and to know more about their oppressive social conditions and how to dismantle them.
The black intellectuals, or should I say the “clever blacks”, stood in the gap and marched at the forefront of a movement that boldly demanded equality before the law.
They were labelled agents provocateurs, guerrillas and socialists. The most interesting assertion from the apartheid government was that these “clever blacks” were misleading people and bad-mouthing a stable and caring government.
The “clever blacks” who were caught reflecting the true living conditions of black people through writing, art, and in any other form of expression, and reading enlightening books such as Let My People Go and Chief with a Double Agenda, were poisoned, jailed or exiled among other similarly brutal punishments.
Now we have come full circle! Indeed, as the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change the more they stay the same).
Nowadays our own President Jacob Zuma keeps on directing his wrath against black intellectuals. Referring to them as “clever blacks”, Zuma warned his followers that “people who write in papers are educated. They think they are telling the truth. It is not… It is propaganda that is very dangerous.”
He further slammed black people “who become too clever”, saying “they become the most eloquent in criticising themselves about their own traditions”.
All these utterances were delivered “in an angry-sounding tone”, according to the news reporters.
What makes our president so petrified of the “educated” and those “who write in papers”? His hostility towards the most capable among our citizens begs a lot of questions about his true agenda at educating the nation.
Our president must visit James Baldwin and he will understand that “the paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated”.
Newspapers have for over a century been one of South Africa’s most vibrant public forums, where people have contested and expressed their ideas and opinions.
When a leader of the ruling party openly expresses his contempt for the educated, writers, and public intellectuals, surely this will cascade down to ordinary party members?
Is it sacrilege to commit yourself to truth for the sake of the prosperity of our country?
When our own people spurn the voice of reason, one wonders what would be the reaction of such luminaries as HIE Dhlomo, Benedict Wallet Vilakazi, EAM Made, CLS Nyembezi, Nimrod Njabulo Ndebele, Albert Luthuli, Jordan K Ngubane, RRR Dhlomo, Mazisi Kunene, Selby DB Ngcobo, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Walter MB Nhlapo, Rueben Caluza, Anton Lembede, Selby Msimang, Richard Msimang, Alfred Mangena, Congress Mbata, Lewis Nkosi, Nat Nakasa, JC Dlamini, AHM Ngidi and Josiah Mapumulo.
These brave South African intellectuals, who were from KwaZulu-Natal by birth, suffered at the hands of the apartheid government.
They were determined, through rational and vigorous debate, to trumpet the voice of all black South Africans in discussions of social and national importance.
They never shrank from the challenge of creating a more normal society for the next generation.
Today we are celebrating this “freedom” because of their sacrifices.
History has proven that power evaporates, but the truth always prevails.
Time is the ultimate judge. It is difficult today to find a white person associating him or herself with apartheid.
In a not too distant past, people were scared to quote and be associated with former president Thabo Mbeki.
It is still relatively a crime to mention his name within certain circles of the ANC.
There is a concerted effort to airbrush Mbeki out of the history of the ANC.
Only the T-shirts with the face of Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma were distributed for this year’s general election campaign.
Yet the probabilities are high that in a very near future President Jacob Zuma shall be alone in his Nkandla homestead and no one shall wear a T-shirt with his image.
The most amazing and undeniable fact is that the “clever blacks” shall always be with us until the return of Jesus Christ, who was, incidentally, also very clever.
The clever people, in general, and “clever blacks”, in particular, will never disappear; instead, they will multiply.
The perpetuation of intellectual terror by the president of our country makes one wonder what is the position of the next generation of ANC leadership?
Here I am talking about people like David Makhura, Nomfanelo Kota, Malusi Gigaba, Lindiwe Zulu, Dr Makhosi Khoza, Nkenke Kekana, Jacob Mamabolo, Mlibo Qoboshiyane, Fikile Mbalula, Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, Lulu Johnson, Mpho Parks Tau, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, Goodenough Kodwa, Sihle Zikalala, Sonwabile Mancotywa, Buti Manamela, Nkosinathi Mthethwa, Mduduzi Manana, and many more of the finest minds of the ANC.
Pardon me for placing you all under the microscope while deployments are not yet concluded.
Nevertheless, the future shall demand explanations and answers.
The true cadres of the ANC who are patriotic South Africans must continue subscribing to Es’kia Mphahlele’s doctrine to always make people, especially the “clever people”, resist sinking “to the degenerate level of Afrikaans writers in South Africa who have always censored themselves and not dared to challenge the government because it has Calvinist boer origins, like themselves. Because they are all a tribe”.
The most bothering aspect of the “clever black” concept is the fact that it solely targets black people.
Indians, coloureds and whites are allowed to be clever.
Are black people not supposed to be analytical and clever? Are we not supposed to be the knowledge innovators?
Why does the president want us to be imbeciles, the idiots, morons and cretins of our society?
Like the emperor who could tolerate in his court none more learned than himself, he will bring disaster upon our land.
Meanwhile, there are countless young black people who are so clever and committed to our country. They are energetic to find solutions to our societal ills.
To paraphrase Ntongela Masilela, they are “the intellectuals who in practice and commitment are characterised by a high moral seriousness”.
The only gift that Zuma and the ANC can give to the next generation is if they prioritise intellectual development and lead our society to a better future, spurn rapacious self-aggrandisement, and commit themselves to public service.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan intellectual and writer who refused to be silenced, said, “Certain people told me that this story was too disgraceful, too shameful, that it should be concealed… There were others who claimed that it was a matter for tears and sorrow, that it should be suppressed so that we should not shed tears a second time.
“I asked them: How can we cover up pits in our courtyard with leaves or grass, saying to ourselves that because our eyes cannot now see the holes, our children can prance about the yard as they like?
“Happy is the man who is able to discern the pitfalls in his path, for he can avoid them.”
*Dube is a senior researcher at Xubera Institute for Research and Development.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.