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Decolonial Malema: the voice of reason on ‘Freedom Day’
By Brian Maregedze and Tedious Ncube
South Africa recently celebrated Freedom Day on 27th April 2020. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Commander in Chief, Julius Malema made a serious call which resonates with Pan-Africanism, the need for unity among Africans and genuine decolonization in Africa. Drawing inspiration from the Cuban government, Malema argued that Africa should learn to take interventions which are guided by the leitmotif for unity. On 27th of April 2020, 217 members of Cuba’s Medical Brigade landed in South Africa to assist fight Covid-19. South Africa and Cuba have a long history spanning from the liberation struggle as well as of sharing medical resources.
|Image: Julius Malema|
The global health crises pandemic as a result of Covid-19 exposes the truth that the world has no respect for Africans especially the black body. Typically identified in this context has been China with authorities in Guangzhou blaming black bodies as pathogens of Covid-19. Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province in southern China is a hub for African traders buying and selling goods and is home to one of China’s largest African communities. Many Africans in Guangzhou, including Nigerians, Ugandans, Kenyans and Ghananians have been arguably subject to unfair treatment. This is in spite of African governments support including its membership of the United Nations dating from the 1970s, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.
Although China McDonald apologized for the ban on black people which gained social media traction in the recent past, it exposes anti-black racism in general with the damage already committed. Surprisingly, covid-19 has been arguably traced to Wuhan, a province in China.
Also equally blamed is the Africa National Congress (ANC)-led government on the way African bodies are treated, pin-pointing the xenophobic utterances, experiences and racist attacks on ‘other’ Africans living in the country. He further notes that there is no treatment of Africans as Africans thereby denying dignity and respect towards each other. The way food handouts have been patronized by the South African government clearly indicate an Africa full of self-hate since belonging is used as an entry point to distribution of the food. In this regard, Julius Malema emerges as the voice of reason in this time of global health crises.
Julius Malema also argued that;
“As revolutionaries, it is important that we remember this day as an important transition to a democratic dispensation, but not one where we achieved Independence. Many sacrifices and compromises were made, which saw the economy remain in the hands of the oppressor. Power remains with the white minority.”
Previously, Malema argued for a borderless African continent, with one ruling party; “We need a border-less continent, we need one currency, one parliament and one President that can unite the continent. We need a United States of Africa. We need one Africa.” Covid-19 has also exposed the hypocrisy of African leadership in general as they are adopting citizenship, exclusion and belonging as centerpieces for confronting the disease. The 1884-1885 Berlin conference mapping architecture by colonialists has remained in use way after African countries claimed their freedom. The underclasses who are the majority fall victim to these modern nation-state forms of territoriality since they are colonial relics. The Pan African dream enunciated by the late Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere has now waned and falling into deaf ears. Julius Nyerere argued that;
“I reject the glorification of the nation-state [that] we inherited from colonialism and the artificial nations we are trying to forge from the inheritance. We are all Africans trying very hard to be Ghananians or Tanzanians. Fortunately for Africa, we have not been completely successful. The outside world hardly recognizes our Ghananian-ness or Tanzanian-ness. What the outside world recognizes about us is our African-ness.”
Although some may choose to call this first generation of African leaders a failure, Malema is of the view that this generation played its part especially in seeking political freedom which forms the basis of seeking everything else. Now that they rest in power, the second generation of postcolonial thinkers is faced with the task of projecting a future that is economically therapeutic especially for the youth. Unlike the first generation, this crop of thinkers is cognizant of the metaphysical properties of the colonial empire which are discharged on a daily basis to cushion the status quo. The failure of the Marxist theory to account for these properties which go beyond radical political economy legitimize Malema’s assertion that the empire has other properties which are fully operational in derailing the process of decolonization.
Outside the Freedom Day speech context on 27th April 2020, Julius Malema is on record to have ridiculed the visit by Theresa May to Africa in 2018 as not a personal attack on the individual, instead, as a prolific demonstration against the idea of seeking external theoretical support in responding to decolonizing the ‘colonized.’ It also colludes with the continent’s disinterest in Marxism which attempts to liberate natives using market mechanisms, where a strong black middle class (BEE) is created so as to address the question of land reform or economic redistribution. Undoubtedly this method is failing to deliver, 25 years into independence. It has happened in Zimbabwe, from the willing seller willing buyer structure which ignited the 2000 land grabs, to the concluded election which all attest to the failure of the working class mantra in rallying the continent’s population.
The making of the nation in South Africa has had many handicaps, with the Empire still controlling the Judiciary, white capital ‘capturing’ the ruling elite in such a way that the ordinary South Africans yearn for the ‘actual freedom.’ The current land question pauses a threat to ‘the rainbow nation’ as politics of ‘belonging,’ ‘inclusion’ and ‘exclusion’ come to the fore. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) thus become an interesting layer of resistance to the Empire in the quest for ‘South Africanism,’ and unmasks the myth of decolonization in Southern Africa. The unfinished business of decolonization becomes open for all to see.
South Africa has been trapped in the judicial templates left by the colonizers which lubricate perpetual oppression of the indigenous people without their material resources such as land and mines. The call by Julius Malema a few years back to review Section 25 of the South African Constitution point to the need for a legal system which appeals to the indigenous people and land would be expropriated without compensation. This is a noble initiative since genealogically, the colonizers dispossessed the indigenous people with their fantasies and armed with terra nulliusand terra incognito doctrines. Can these wrongs be corrected without being labelled by your own as a black racist?
The people are tired of being thrown into some exotic ideas which use them differently from what they expect from the fight against systemic exclusion. The opposition MDC Alliance which assumed that liberation means working class was clobbered by the second generation of postcolonial thought which saw the native beyond Marxism if not anything else outside the experiences of the majority.
The rude realization that political economy alone is not enough to entirely liberate our people, grants precedence to the second generation of post-colonial leaders like Julius Malema who in this article, is a central figure in defining the process of decolonization in the 21st century, specifically locating the space of the African youth within the theory of decolonization. This is the generation that has realized that the process of decolonization itself has to be de-westernized. It has to be removed from the Marxist underpinnings which only view the economic liberation of black people from indicators like employment, which simplistically assume that the creation of a vast working class is tantamount to economic justice, nonetheless ignoring the fundamentals of liberation which speak to the question of economic participation beyond laboring in and for an economy that you do not own.
The native in South Africa is proving to be more than a worker, contrary to the first generation of postcolonial thought which assumes that black people can be liberated within the context of a misplaced decolonization, the second generation of economic freedom fighters is proving beyond reasonable doubt, the nonsensical belief that economic freedom is only possible within the context of the machinery of either capitalism or communism, it is proving that this abstract assumption is tantamount to saying that what is good for the capitalist or its affiliates is good for everyone. A suggestion that is patently false as far as what is known about the peculiarity and specificity of the native condition is concerned. In this regard, the second generation of postcolonial thought as embodied by Julius Malema, is now demanding for the re-positioning of the decolonial movement, a call for the indigenization of the concept such that it can see the oppression of black people in commemoration of the ontological density of blackness.
Malema’s trending sentiments are therefore a relevant discourse which must be accepted with concern; they resonate with the ignored message that was articulated by the South African students in 2015 when they demanded for Rhodes to fall, a demand for the total liberation of the continent’s second generation. Their case transcended the secret language of apartheid, into reflecting the deep racial disparities that continue to describe the South African situation today. Although the direction of South African politics concerning the question of land is still unclear, Julius Malema’s attitude still reflects the evolution of the decolonial concept in Africa, the shift from merely focusing on objects of inquiry like poverty and unemployment, into focusing on the transporters of those objects of inquiry, which are the metaphysical handlers of colonialism, for instance the theoretical framework used in apprehending decolonization, the international market and the so called index of economic stability which somehow skips the condition of black people.
Franz Fanon with The Wretched of the Earth pronounced well the vanity of post-independent African governments. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, the Kenyan prophet of economic justice in Devil on the Cross echoed the same sentiments. Cyril Ramaphosa conscious of the urgent need to address Malema’s decolonial reminder, has also hijacked the land question. “The dignity of the people is rooted and founded in their ownership of land” echoed Julius Malema (Sane Dhlamini, 2018). Although the country celebrated its Freedom Day on 27thApril 2020, Malema affirmed that the country was not yet independent.
Is it by sheer coincident that South Africa, over twenty years after its independence has witnessed the meteoric rise of the EFF to challenge existing injustices on the land question? Interestingly, the EFF is aware of the ‘bullies’ that are making noise from the Global North with imposition of sanctions as one of their route. Although the decolonization process may be painful, it is a worthy cause. Julius Malema and EFF are rather defying the ‘ego politics’ of Euro-North American thought systems. Perhaps, drawing from Ramon Grosfoguel (2012:97), unmasking the West’s attitude towards Africans are well argued;
“During the last 520 years of European/Euro-North-American capitalist/patriarchal modern/colonial world system, went from “convert to Christianity or l kill you” in the 16th century to, “civilize or I will kill you” in the 18th and 19th centuries, to “develop or l will kill you” in the 20th century, and more recently, the “democratize or I will kill you” at the beginning of the 21st century. We have never seen respect or recognition of indigenous, Islamic, or African forms of democracy as a systematic and consistent Western policy. Forms of democratic alterity are rejected a priori.”
As such, decolonization has mutated into discovering itself at the centre of the struggles of natives, attesting to the theoretical failure of the former which took for granted the notion that decolonization can never borrow from a history that did not experience colonialism. It can only be the colonized who can be decolonized. The shift of the land reform from being a socialist movement into being a social welfare project is another signal that decolonization is no longer stationed on some obscure ideology, but rather it is now centred on the experiences and struggles of the landless people in the continent. A contrast of the students’ demands for a decolonized university that is centred on indigenous knowledge systems and Malema’s declaration to sacrifice his political career for the economic empowerment of the landless peasants, the suffering working class and the alienated groups, therefore situates the concept of decolonization at the epicenter of the continent’s long term goals of economic independence.
Brian Maregedzeis an author, historian and columnist (membership: Leaders for Africa Network [LAN] and Zimbabwe Historical Association [ZHA]). For feedback email [email protected]
Tedious Ncube is a Political Science and Public Management Researcher with Leaders for Africa Network [LAN]. [email protected]
Disclaimer: These are their own views.
Author, historian & columnist
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