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I HAVE been accused of many things in my life. PW Botha’s Police Minister, Louis le Grange, once accused me and fellow reporter Chris Bateman of launching “slanderous and biased attacks on the government and the South African Police” because of our reporting on the police’s assassination of the Gugulethu Seven.
His successor, Adriaan Vlok, accused me of lying when I told the BBC the South African Police were suspected of having murdered the Gugulethu Seven, and he put me on trial, a trial I won. The TRC subsequently revealed a far more evil scenario.
In more recent times, I have been accused by blogger and raver, David Robert Lewis of inter alia being the epitomy of a “macho gun-slinging war correspondent” (I haven’t carried a gun since I did national service in 1975/6).
But I have never before been accused of hate speech.
That’s what Reverend Nosey Pieterse, he of farmworkers strike fame, did on Wednesday when he accused me of “hate speech and insulting Nosey Pieterse and the farmworkers”.
The basis for this “hate speech” was that in this column on January 11, I said that I preferred the term “rural lumpenproletariat” to that of farmworkers when referring to the mass of those behind the recent strikes in De Doorns and elsewhere.
Lifting unashamedly from Wikipedia, Rev Pieterse said “Lumpenproletariat is a German word which literally means rogue. The word lumpenproletariat is used to describe that layer of the working class who is (sic) unlikely to ever achieve class consciousness, and who is (sic) lost to socially useful production and therefore of no use in revolutionary struggle and who is (sic) actually an impediment to the realisation of a classless society.”
That, said Rev Pieterse was the “insulting and dehumanising view held of (sic) Tony Weaver about farmworkers”.
I am grateful to Rev Pieterse for one thing at least – he forced me to dig deep into my nefarious past and actually use my degree in African and Southern African Economic History, and in Comparative African Government and Law that I got under false pretences from UCT back in the mists of time. I went back to my library and dusted off a few of the dog-eared texts I studied then, and thought I would throw a few quotes into the mix as preparation for my defence in the Equality Court.
The first comes from The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels. This was no doubt the text Rev Pieterse studied before laying charges, as they call the lumpenproletariat “the dangerous class, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society”. Engels is even more vitriolic in his Prefatory Note to The Peasant War in Germany where he writes that “The lumpenproletariat, this scum of the depraved elements of all classes… is absolutely venal and absolutely brazen.”
But I thought it was far more useful to use the works of Frantz Fanon, who was born in Martinique in the Caribbean, but who joined the Algerian national liberation movement in 1954.
In his classic, The Wretched of the Earth, he takes issue with Marx and Engels (although agreeing that the lumpenproletariat can easily be co-opted by the oppressors) and writes “… any movement for freedom ought to give its fullest attention to this lumpenproletariat. The peasant masses will always answer the call to rebellion”. Fanon saw the lumpenproletariat as the spearhead for moving the revolution from the countryside into the city: “The rebellion, which began in the country districts, will filter into the towns through that fraction of the peasant population… It is within this mass of humanity, this people of the shanty towns, at the core of the lumpenproletariat that the rebellion will find its urban spearhead.”
Jean-Paul Sartre, in his Preface to The Wretched of the Earth, recognised Fanon’s wisdom: “… the urban proletariat, which is always in a privileged position, the lumpen-proletariat of the shanty towns – all fall into line with the stand made by the rural masses, that veritable reservoir of a national revolutionary army”.
And that great anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin, in his 1872 treatise, Marxism, Freedom and the State, wrote “By the flower of the proletariat I mean precisely... that great rabble of the people ordinarily designated by Messrs Marx and Engels by the phrase at once picturesque and contemptuous of ‘lumpenproletariat’.”
I rest my case, M’Lords and Ladies.