Nationalisation talk – a big question mark

How many chances does a party need to prove itself? In the face of dissatisfaction, much unhappiness and agitation on the part of the masses expressed in service delivery protests and the inroads made by the main opposition party in black communities, the ANC in the form of the ANCYL is stepping up its rhetoric to appeal to the masses. But then the ANC has always been a party of rhetoric; and, the rhetoric has, in the past, worked wonders. The agitation expressed in communities and threats of greater opposition strength are signs that South African masses are now beginning to question their loyalty to the ANC.

What is the ANC’s response? Rhetoric! Rhetoric! And more rethoric! How does the ANC, in the form of the ANCYL respond? Nationalisation and expropriation without compensation! A policy position, clearly, not in line with the ideology and politics of the sitting president of the country.

Instead of being easily impressionable, we must, at this stage of our evolution as a nation, begin to ask ourselves searching questions. Was it not the ANC and, in particular, the ANCYL, that sold us Ntate Zuma as a people’s person? Was it not the ANCYL that convinced us that Ntate Zuma is the one we have been waiting for; a leader in tune with the pulse and heartbeat of the poor and economically excluded black majority; in contrast to his predecessor, presented as “aloof, stubborn, intellectual and English?” Was Ntate Zuma not presented by the ANCYL as the type with the wherewithal to listen to people and the capacity to usher in a new era of delivery, accelerated transformation, equality and peace?

Given the ANCs capacity to raise and dash hopes we must now probe: on what basis should we embrace the current nationalisation rhetoric as an expression of deep commitment to a people? Is this not another trick played on us? Is this not another ploy on the part of the ANC to entrench its hold on power?

The Appeal of Black Consciousness

In 1954 Hendrik Verwoerd, one of the main architects of the apartheid system, said that blacks ought not to be trained above certain “forms of labour”.  This was intended to limit the prospects and possibilities of black people in South Africa   The statement, viewed from a post Apartheid vantage point, can easily be dismissed as words of a twisted old crank.  It would, however, be very naive on our part to adopt this attitude.  For one thing, the thinking behind the statement was to shape policies and programmes that were to affect generations of black South Africans. Black people’s possibilities were to be limited in ways that threatens their human being-ness; their agency; their capacity to being human in their own terms.  The Black Consciousness philosophy is essentially a response to this thinking and its social, political and economic consequences. 

To be sure, there is a certain arrogance in the historical black consciousness movement’s response to the white supremacist Apartheid thinking.  One can almost hear Biko, the black consciousness theorist, telling Verwoerd and his cronies “who the hell are you to tell me what I can and can’t learn?  Who are you to tell me how far I can go in life?”  The title he adopts for some of his articles is telling “I Write What I Like”,  and to fool the system he refers to himself as “Frank Talk”.  This is a man who, in his “writing” and “frank talk” dared to defy the limitations and restrictions set by white supremacist ideologies and politics on himself and his ilk. 

The Apartheid system buttressed by Verwoerd, set definite limits and restrictions on the possibilities of black South Africans.  In thought and practice, the Black Consciousness response to the system was to defy these limitations.  Black Consciousness has articulated black defiance and the rejection of standards set for black people as a precondition for freedom.   A refusal to conform to standards set by the system is accompanied by a call to take initiative, to test what the realm of possibility is and to shape a future.  “On his own, therefore, the black man wishes to explore his surroundings, and test his possibilities. In other words to make his freedom real by whatever means he deems fit.”  “Black man you are on your own” became a rallying cry for a generation of BC thinkers and activists in the 70s. 

Within the context of a society still addressing the legacies of the white supremacist politics, ideologies and economies, Black Consciousness remain appealing to some of us.  It remains appealing in its nullification of historical limits set on blackness.  It remains appealing in it capacity to inspire the speaking of truth to power.  It remains appealing in its call for imagination, initiative, the creation of a different reality and the expansion of our human possibilities.