The Office of the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) Vice-Chancellor, Professor Xoliswa Mtose, recently held a stimulating webinar/public lecture which touched on matters of black consciousness, black solidarity and the rampant anti-black racism in South Africa.
The lecture was titled “The Texture of Biko’s Being: On Mabogo P. More’s philosophical defence of the Native Club”. It was presented by esteemed guest Professor Tendayi Sithole, an academic at the University of South Africa’s Department of Political Sciences. An author of four books, Prof Sithole is also Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg.
The professor declared the talk a complaint against the liberal consensus, a group comprising white liberals and their black attachés, who shun black South Africans’ lived experiences of anti-black racism, continuously attempt to muzzle black voices and counter black solidarity.
The demise of the Native Club, formed by black intellectuals to advocate for a robust sense of black consciousness, was a prime example of the latter. The club was formed and disbanded in 2006 following backlash from the liberal consensus, Prof Sithole noted.
The speaker, who bemoans the stillbirth of the club, frankly suggested: “By the very fact of their oppression as a collective, blacks therefore needed to gather as a collective to confront what dehumanises them as a collective. They needed to share their collective lived experience that became the basis of their political ontological formation, hence the name ‘the Native Club’ came.”
To augment and emphasise his points, the speaker looked to the intellectual thoughts of late anti-apartheid activist Stephen Bantu Biko and Mabogo Percy More, advocates of black consciousness and black solidarity.
He agreed with More’s view that the uniting of blacks in the Native Club was a direct pathway to black solidarity, which not only was a necessity but also a justifiable mode of politics in challenging the liberal consensus which was calling for the end of the club.
The sentiment of black people needing to unite is one that has echoed throughout the apartheid era. Biko, according to Prof Sithole, had been a great supporter of this through the black consciousness movement. His stance was even more pronounced when he once observed: “We are collectively segregated against – what can be more logical than for us to respond as a group?”
The speaker further noted how unfortunate it was that the critics of the Native Club had rushed to interdict it without first auditing the pervasive anti-blackness in the country. Instead, the formation was misconstrued as reverse racism and a threat to the national reconciliation.
“More is correct to argue that the discourse of individual liberalism denies the reality of lived experiences of groups. Everything is reduced to the white liberal as the individual and there is no way that this can materialise into the collective being, more fundamentally that of the black,” Prof Sithole said.
Dr Aghogho Akpome from UNIZULU’s English Department responded to the presentation by focusing on some of its aspects. Struck by Prof Sithole’s critique of the ‘new’ South Africa, the respondent agreed that indeed because the current political dispensation carries many of the same features as those of the old system, there is a need to question the extent to which it is new.
Dr Akpome noted that “scholars who focus on temporality have made us aware of how especially dominant Eurocentric forms of historization” tend to label what is present as ‘past’ as a way of misrepresenting ugly realities: “It is still there but we’ve put it in a box and called it past so that you cannot refer to them as things that are still current”. He argued that this could be understood from the speaker’s repeated references to features of anti-black racism that continues to describe life in South Africa and indeed the world today.
He also noted how hypocritical it was of anti-black liberals to oppose black collective political and social action when they themselves operate as collectives.
- Naledi Hlefane
From Left: Professor Sipho Seepe, facilitator of the public lecture; Professor Xoliswa Mtose, UNIZULU Vice-Chancellor; and Professor Tendayi Sithole, guest speaker.
Picture: Samkele Sokhela