Who the hell is Andile Mngxitama, anyway? He’s a self-serving, self-satisfied proponent of black consciousness whose career largely depends on white people in the media and the publishing world paying him some attention. Not being a man very experienced in the arts of irony or self-examination, he fails to identify the obvious contradictions in this embedded lifestyle.
Recently he has become famous for attacking Jared Sacks. But who the hell is Jared Sacks, anyway? He’s a self-serving, self-satisfied proponent of Trotskyism based in Cape Town whose career largely depends on capitalists in the media and the publishing world paying him some attention. If he identifies the obvious contradictions in this embedded lifestyle, he doesn’t seem troubled by it. In sum, the similarities between Andile Mngxitama and Jared Sacks appear to outsiders to be greater than the differences. Perhaps the smallness of the differences drive the desire to make distinctions and thus promotes conflict.
But perhaps there is something else there which is more important, and therefore it might be worth asking what the fuss was all about, anyway.
Jared Sacks wrote an article in the Mail and Guardian about Mamphela Ramphele’s non-party party, “Agang”. Hurray! And in his article he said some stuff, most of which was too boring to mention. One little teeny-weeny bit indicated, however, that Steve Biko would not have voted for Mamphy Ramphy. And this caused poor Andile to go completely off his chump and start charging around declaring (tweeting, truthily) that he himself would give Jared Sacks a thick ear if he ever met him, and indeed that all blacks in South Africa should queue up (with organisational participation, presumably, from taxi-rank organisers) and punch, kick or otherwise structurally inconvenience Jared Sacks until he stopped being that way, whichever way it was.
Yes, it was extremely silly. Why, however, did Andile get so het up? Is it just that he’s blown all his income from posturing as the PC of BC on coke, and can’t handle the stuff? Perhaps not, for there does seem to be some method in this madness.
What does it mean to say that Steve Biko wouldn’t have voted for Agang? On the face of it, simply that anyone who has read I Write What I Like will have noted Biko’s distrust for black people who are working as political facades for black people. All the evidence suggests that Agang fulfils this criterion. Hence, Biko would have distrusted Agang, and therefore probably Ramphele as well, and would very possibly have disowned his “son”. (That is if he had any biological connection with the child Ramphele had after Biko’s death whom she named for Biko.) Said son recently wrote a crock of nonsense on behalf of white big business which he calls “The Great South Africa” (copying President Lyndon B Johnson, the notorious genocidaire). Enough said about such people.
The problem is, however, that Biko is not only a third-rate knock-off Frantz Fanon. As such he is worthy of respect simply because next to Biko’s rather ordinary writing, most current “political commentators” appear fit only for the sewer. But Biko is also an icon of black independence and resistance to white authority. As such, when a white person says “Biko would not have liked that”, even if it is obvious that the point is true, the white person is implicitly saying “I have the right to say what Biko would, and would not, have liked”. In other words, the white person is effectively colonizing Biko for the white community, and in a strange way, is posthumously turning him into the same kind of front-person for white interests that Ramphele is – except that Ramphele consciously chose to be such, whereas Biko is dead and cannot resist his appropriation.
That is, of course, very bad. It is perfectly possible that Jared Sacks didn’t really mean to do this. However, it is also perfectly likely that Jared Sacks would have no problem with doing this. After all, one of the main characteristics of white culture is that it denigrates all other cultures and tolerates their manifestations only insofar as they can be accommodated and repositioned within the frameworks laid out by white culture. Ouch!
Can one be certain of this? Unfortunately, there is a lot of evidence substantiating it. Why, after all, did Sacks mention Biko at all? It is true that Ramphele has moved a long way from Biko’s politics since the days when she used to sleep with him, but we actually do not know how far she encapsulated his politics along with his penis. Certainly, most of her activities since her liberation from her banning order have been devoted to serving the white ruling class, and even before then her concern was much more with local self-help programmes than with the revolutionary struggle which concerned almost everybody else in the mid-1980s. So a criticism of Agang could have, and should have, focused quite exclusively on Ramphele.
Bringing in the Biko seems to suggest that Biko was indeed presented as a talisman (exactly as he is used by black consciousness intellectuals like Mngxitama) and that the message was “If you are black and like Biko, then you ought not to like Ramphele”. In other words, “We, the white people, are entitled to tell you, the black people, how to make use of your own iconography”. One begins to see that Mngxitama might have a point in wanting to give Sacks a clip over the earhole.
Sacks is also part of the Western Cape Trotskyite movement. He has, for instance, written exuberantly inaccurate articles for the Daily Maverick, a Web publication controlled by white people and heavily influential over white conservative journalists who like to use left-wing jargon through which they can pretend to be actual leftists. One recent article was about how the Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape is allowing black people’s shacks to burn down without providing fire protection – a claim earlier made by the local ANC leader Marius Fransman, though Sacks doesn’t mention this. It might very well be true. However, it seems obvious that while Fransman’s party has a slim chance of gaining power in the Western Cape, Sacks has no such chance, so his writing has no political significance even though it purports to have political significance. And, of course, Sacks, in writing the work, is crowding out the people who actually experience the fires – the black people who actually live in the shacks.
Sacks, like other South African Trotskyites, does not acknowledge this distinction. His line is that he is representing the People in his writing. But where are the People? They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented (as Marx wrote in “The Eighteenth Brumaire” about the conservative appropriation of the electoral power of the French peasantry in 1848). This, again, is a sign of Sacks and his friends taking the suffering or the conundrums of black people in a white-dominated society and appropriating this in order to make political capital and private gain out of it. This is remarkably like the activities of white liberalism in the days before it became dominant in the white community – when it appropriated black voices in order to empower itself – and it is also characteristic of Trotskyism, which appropriates the voices of shackdwellers such as Abahlali baseMjondolo or those with genuine grievances like the South Durban environmental campaigners, and in doing so erodes the authority and organizational capacity of the grassroots while only temporarily providing legitimacy for itself.
In other words, politically speaking, Mngxitama may be a fool but he is at least authentic in his objectives, whereas Sacks is both a fool and a pseudo-radical.
This is particularly evident in the responses to Mngxitama. One would think, would one not, that a battle between two undistinguished journalists is not worthy of much commentary. However, and instead, this whole affair has flooded across the white-dominated fake alternative media spectrum, where websites and e-journals controlled by white people present messages of radical action to other white people with no intention of implementing them but who feel that transmitting such messages is a convenient substitute for actual radicalism which might deprive them of their swimming-pools.
As one might expect, there has been no support, nor even any understanding, for Mngxitama’s position. Whites do not like blacks – this is the secret which the fake alternative media exists to conceal, but it comes out when the whites have to defend themselves against a recalcitrant black. How dare someone become indignant when one of Our Side does the job which we have allocated to him! So the call has gone out to denounce Mngxitama, coming from the Western Cape Trotskyites – virtually all of them the whites and coloureds of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency rebranded as the Democratic Left Front, together with the spurious nominally black but actually organizationally nonexistent names of Abahlali and the “Unemployed Workers’ Movement”. In other words, the white middle-class appropriators of the image of black working-class activism are leaping to the defense of one of their own.
All this should not surprise Mngxitama, although it probably does – since he has long depended on white endorsements to sustain his own little disempowered political niche. It is perhaps a little more surprising that two Young Democrats have issued a call for Mngxitama to be denied all access to the media and thus silenced forever. (Like, before him, Malema and Ronald Suresh Roberts.) One might think it odd that Young Democrats, the pom-pom girls of the white supremacist free-market, should be marching shoulder to shoulder with Trotskyists who purport to speak for black people in order to crush someone else who also purports to speak for black people.
However, this is altogether comprehensible in terms of the notion that Mngxitama is suspected of actually believing in what he writes. All frauds, fakes and pseuds naturally unite against an honest person, especially a passionate honest person. This is surely the principal lesson we must learn from this episode – that, and the fact that since the frauds, fakes and pseuds are in charge, a passionate person cannot afford to be too honest.