Wretched of the earth (preface) – Frantz Fanon

Jean-Paul Sartre 1961
Preface to Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth”

NOT so very long ago, the earth numbered two thousand million inhabitants: five hundred million men, and one thousand five hundred million natives. The former had the Word; the others had the use of it. Between the two there were hired kinglets, overlords and a bourgeoisie, sham from beginning to end, which served as go-betweens. In the colonies the truth stood naked, but the citizens of the mother country preferred it with clothes on: the native had to love them, something in the way mothers are loved. The European élite undertook to manufacture a native élite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture, they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed. From Paris, from London, from Amsterdam we would utter the words ‘Parthenon! Brotherhood!’ and somewhere in Africa or Asia lips would open … thenon! … therhood!’ It was the golden age.

It came to an end; the mouths opened by themselves; the yellow and black voices still spoke of our humanism but only to reproach us with our inhumanity. We listened without displeasure to these polite statements of resentment, at first with proud amazement. What? They are able to talk by themselves? Just look at what we have made of them! We did not doubt but that they would accept our ideals, since they accused us of not being faithful to them. Then, indeed, Europe could believe in her mission; she had hellenized the Asians; she had created a new breed, the Graeco-Latin Negroes. We might add, quite between ourselves, as men of the world: ‘After all, let them bawl their heads off, it relieves their feelings; dogs that bark don’t bite.’

A new generation came on the scene, which changed the issue. With unbelievable patience, its writers and poets tried to explain to us that our values and the true facts of their lives did not hang together, and that they could neither reject them completely nor yet assimilate them. By and large, what they were saying was this: ‘You are making us into monstrosities; your humanism claims we are at one with the rest of humanity but your racist methods set us apart.’ Very much at our ease, we listened to them all; colonial administrators are not paid to read Hegel, and for that matter they do not read much of him, but they do not need a philosopher to tell them that uneasy consciences are caught up in their own contradictions. They will not get anywhere; so, let us perpetuate their discomfort; nothing will come of it but talk. If they were, the experts told us, asking for anything at all precise in their wailing, it would be integration. Of course, there is no question of granting that; the system, which depends on over-exploitation, as you know, would be ruined. But it’s enough to hold the carrot in front of their noses, they’ll gallop all right. As to a revolt, we need not worry at all; what native in his senses would go off to massacre the fair sons of Europe simply to become European as they are? In short, we encouraged these disconsolate spirits and thought it not a bad idea for once to award the Prix Goncourt to a Negro. That was before ’39.

1961. Listen: ‘Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe. For centuries they have stifled almost the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience.’ The tone is new. Who dares to speak thus? It is an African, a man from the Third World, an ex-‘native’. He adds: ‘Europe now lives at such a mad, reckless pace that she is running headlong into the abyss; we would do well to keep away from it.’ In other words, she’s done for. A truth which is not pleasant to state but of which we are all convinced, are we not, fellow-Europeans, in the marrow of our bones?

We must however make one reservation. When a Frenchman, for example, says to other Frenchmen ‘The country is done for’ — which has happened, I should think, almost every day since 1930 — it is emotional talk; burning with love and fury, the speaker includes himself with his fellow-countrymen. And then, usually, he adds ‘Unless …’ His meaning is clear; no more mistakes must be made; if his instructions are not carried out to the letter, then and only then will the country go to pieces. In short, it is a threat followed by a piece of advice and these remarks are so much the less shocking in that they spring from a national intersubjectivity. But on the contrary when Fanon says of Europe that she is rushing to her doom, far from sounding the alarm he is merely setting out a diagnosis. This doctor neither claims that she is a hopeless case — miracles have been known to exist — nor does he give her the means to cure herself. He certifies that she is dying, on external evidence, founded on symptoms that he can observe. As to curing her, no; he has other things to think about; he does not give a damn whether she lives or dies. Because of this, his book is scandalous. And if you murmur, jokingly embarrassed, ‘He has it in for us!’ the true nature of the scandal escapes you; for Fanon has nothing in for you at all; his work — red-hot for some — in what concerns you is as cold as ice; he speaks of you often, never to you. The black Goncourts and the yellow Nobels are finished; the days of colonized laureats are over. An ex-native French-speaking, bends that language to new requirements, makes use of it, and speaks to the colonized only: ‘Natives of an under-developed countries, unite!’ What a downfall! For the fathers, we alone were the speakers; the sons no longer even consider us as valid intermediaries: we are the objects of their speeches. Of course, Fanon mentions in passing our well-known crimes: Sétif, Hanoi, Madagascar: but he does not waste his time in condemning them; he uses them. If he demonstrates the tactics of colonialism, the complex play of relations which unite and oppose the colonists to the people of the mother country, it is for his brothers; his aim is to teach them to beat us at our own game.

In short, the Third World finds itself and speaks to itself through his voice. We know that it is not a homogeneous world; we know too that enslaved peoples are still to be found there, together with some who have achieved a simulacrum of phoney independence, others who are still fighting to attain sovereignty and others again who have obtained complete freedom but who live under the constant menace of imperialist aggression. These differences are born of colonial history, in other words of oppression. Here, the mother country is satisfied to keep some feudal rulers in her pay; there, dividing and ruling she has created a native bourgeoisie, sham from beginning to end; elsewhere she has played a double game: the colony is planted with settlers and exploited at the same time. Thus Europe has multiplied divisions and opposing groups, has fashioned classes and sometimes even racial prejudices, and has endeavoured by every means to bring about and intensify the stratification of colonized societies. Fanon hides nothing: in order to fight against us the former colony must fight against itself: or, rather, the two struggles form part of a whole. In the heat of battle, all internal barriers break down; the puppet bourgeoisie of businessmen and shopkeepers, 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; for in those countries where colonialism has deliberately held up development, the peasantry, when it rises, quickly stands out as the revolutionary class. For it knows naked oppression, and suffers far more from it than the workers in the towns, and in order not to die of hunger, it demands no less than a complete demolishing of all existing structures. In order to triumph, the national revolution must be socialist; if its career is cut short, if the native bourgeoisie takes over power, the new State, in spite of its formal sovereignty, remains in the hands of the imperialists. The example of Katanga illustrates this quite well. Thus the unity of the Third World is not yet achieved. It is a work in progress, which begins by the union, in each country, after independence as before, of the whole of the colonized under the command of the peasant class. This is what Fanon explains to his brothers in Africa, Asia and Latin America: we must achieve revolutionary socialism all together everywhere, or else one by one we will be defeated by our former masters. He hides nothing, neither weaknesses, nor discords, nor mystification. Here, the movement gets off to a bad start; then, after a striking initial success it loses momentum; elsewhere it has come to a standstill, and if it is to start again, the peasants must throw their bourgeoisie overboard. The reader is sternly put on his guard against the most dangerous will o’ the wisps: the cult of the leader and of personalities, Western culture, and what is equally to be feared, the withdrawal into the twilight of past African culture. For the only true culture is that of the Revolution; that is to say, it is constantly in the making. Fanon speaks out loud; we Europeans can hear him, as the fact that you hold this book in your hand proves; is he not then afraid that the colonial powers may take advantage of his sincerity?

No; he fears nothing. Our methods are out-of-date; they can sometimes delay emancipation, but not stop it. And do not think that we can change our ways; neo-colonialism, that idle dream of mother countries, is a lot of hot air; the ‘Third Forces’ don’t exist, or if they do they are only the tin-pot bourgeoisies that colonialism has already placed in the saddle. Our Machiavellianism has little purchase on this wide-awake world that has run our falsehoods to earth one after the other. The settler has only recourse to one thing: brute force, when he can command it; the native has only one choice, between servitude or supremacy. What does Fanon care whether you read his work or not? It is to his brothers that he denounces our old tricks, and he is sure we have no more up our sleeves. It is to them he says: ‘Europe has laid her hands on our continents, and we must slash at her fingers till she lets go. It’s a good moment; nothing can happen at Bizerta, at Elizabethville or in the Algerian bled that the whole world does not hear about. The rival blocks take opposite sides, and hold each other in check; let us take advantage of this paralysis, let us burst into history, forcing it by our invasion into universality for the first time. Let us start fighting; and if we’ve no other arms, the waiting knife’s enough.’

Europeans, you must open this book and enter into it. After a few steps in the darkness you will see strangers gathered around a fire; come close, and listen, for they are talking of the destiny they will mete out to your trading-centres and to the hired soldiers who defend them. They will see you, perhaps, but they will go on talking among themselves, without even lowering their voices. This indifference strikes home: their fathers, shadowy creatures, your creatures, were but dead souls; you it was who allowed them glimpses of light, to you only did they dare speak, and you did not bother to reply to such zombies. Their sons ignore you; a fire warms them and sheds light around them, and you have not lit it. Now, at a respectful distance, it is you who will feel furtive, nightbound and perished with cold. Turn and turn about; in these shadows from whence a new dawn will break, it is you who are the zombies.

In this case, you will say, let’s throw away this book. Why read it if it is not written for us? For two reasons; the first is that Fanon explains you to his brothers and shows them the mechanism by which we are estranged from ourselves; take advantage of this, and get to know yourselves seen in the light of truth, objectively. Our victims know us by their scars and by their chains, and it is this that makes their evidence irrefutable. It is enough that they show us what we have made of them for us to realize what we have made of ourselves. But is it any use? Yes, for Europe is at death’s door. But, you will say, we live in the mother country, and we disapprove of her excesses. It is true, you are not settlers, but you are no better. For the pioneers belonged to you; you sent them overseas, and it was you they enriched. You warned them that if they shed too much blood you would disown them, or say you did, in something of the same way as any state maintains abroad a mob of agitators, agents provocateurs and spies whom it disowns when they are caught. You, who are so liberal and so humane, who have such an exaggerated adoration of culture that it verges on affectation, you pretend to forget that you own colonies and that in them men are massacred in your name. Fanon reveals to his comrades above all to some of them who are rather too Westernized — the solidarity of the people of the mother country and of their representatives in the colonies. Have the courage to read this book, for in the first place it will make you ashamed, and shame, as Marx said, is a revolutionary sentiment. You see, I, too, am incapable of ridding myself of subjective illusions; I, too, say to you: ‘All is lost, unless …’ As a European, I steal the enemy’s book, and out of it I fashion a remedy for Europe. Make the most of it.

And here is the second reason: if you set aside Sorel’s fascist utterances, you will find that Fanon is the first since Engels to bring the processes of history into the clear light of day. Moreover, you need not think that hot-headedness or an unhappy childhood have given him some uncommon taste for violence; he acts as the interpreter of the situation, that’s all. But this is enough to enable him to constitute, step by step, the dialectic which liberal hypocrisy hides from you and which is as much responsible for our existence as for his.

During the last century, the middle classes looked on the workers as covetous creatures, made lawless by their greedy desires; but they took care to include these great brutes in our own species, or at least they considered that they were free men — that is to say, free to sell their labour. In France, as in England, humanism claimed to be universal.

In the case of forced labour, it is quite the contrary. There is no contract; moreover, there must be intimidation and thus oppression grows. Our soldiers overseas, rejecting the universalism of the mother country, apply the ‘numerus clausus’ to the human race: since none may enslave, rob or kill his fellowman without committing a crime, they lay down the principle that the native is not one of our fellow-men. Our striking-power has been given the mission of changing this abstract certainty into reality: the order is given to reduce the inhabitants of the annexed country to the level of superior monkeys in order to justify the settler’s treatment of them as beasts of burden. Violence in the colonies does not only have for its aim the keeping of these enslaved men at arm’s length; it seeks to dehumanize them. Everything will be done to wipe out their traditions, to substitute our language for theirs and to destroy their culture without giving them ours. Sheer physical fatigue will stupefy them. Starved and ill, if they have any spirit left, fear will finish the job; guns are levelled at the peasant; civilians come to take over his land and force him by dint of flogging to till the land for them. If he shows fight, the soldiers fire and he’s a dead man; if he gives in, he degrades himself and he is no longer a man at all; shame and fear will split up his character and make his inmost self fall to pieces. The business is conducted with flying colours and by experts: the ‘psychological services’ weren’t established yesterday; nor was brain-washing. And yet, in spite of an these efforts, their ends are nowhere achieved: neither in the Congo, where Negroes’ hands were cut off, nor in Angola, where until very recently malcontents’ lips were pierced in order to shut them with padlocks. I do not say that it is impossible to change a Man into an animal I simply say that you won’t get there without weakening him considerably. Blows will never suffice; you have to push the starvation further, and that’s the trouble with slavery.

For when you domesticate a member of our own species, you reduce his output, and however little you may give him, a farmyard man finishes by costing more than he brings in. For this reason the settlers are obliged to stop the breaking-in half-way; the result, neither man nor animal, is the native. Beaten, under-nourished, ill, terrified — but only up to a certain point — he has, whether he’s black, yellow or white, always the same traits of character: he’s a sly-boots, a lazybones and a thief, who lives on nothing, and who understands only violence.

Poor settler; here is his contradiction naked, shorn of its trappings. He ought to kill those he plunders, as they say djinns do. Now, this is not possible, because he must exploit them as well. Because he can’t carry massacre on to genocide, and slavery to animal-like degradation, he loses control, the machine goes into reverse, and a relentless logic leads him on to decolonization.

But it does not happen immediately. At first the European’s reign continues. He has already lost the battle, but this is not obvious; he does not yet know that the natives are only half-native; to hear him talk, it would seem that he ill-treats them in order to destroy or to repress the evil that they have rooted in them; and after three generations their pernicious instincts will reappear no more. What instincts does he mean? The instincts that urge slaves on to massacre their master? Can he not here recognize his own cruelty turned against himself? In the savagery of these oppressed peasants, does he not find his own settler’s savagery, which they have absorbed through every pore and for which there is no cure? The reason is simple; this imperious being, crazed by his absolute power and by the fear of losing it, no longer remembers clearly that he was once a man; he takes himself for a horsewhip or a gun; he has come to believe that the domestication of the ‘inferior races’ will come about by the conditioning of their reflexes. But in this he leaves out of account the human memory and the ineffaceable marks left upon it; and then, above all there is something which perhaps he has never known: we only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us. Three generations did we say? Hardly has the second generation opened their eyes than from then on they’ve seen their fathers being flogged. In psychiatric terms, they are ‘traumatized’, for life. But these constantly renewed aggressions, far from bringing them to submission, thrust them into an unbearable contradiction which the European will pay for sooner or later. After that, when it is their turn to be broken in, when they are taught what shame and hunger and pain are, all that is stirred up in them is a volcanic fury whose force is equal to that of the pressure put upon them. You said they understand nothing but violence? Of course; first, the only violence is the settlers; but soon they will make it their own; that is to say, the same violence is thrown back upon us as when our reflection comes forward to meet us when we go towards a mirror.

Make no mistake about it; by this mad fury, by this bitterness and spleen, by their ever-present desire to kill us, by the permanent tensing of powerful muscles which are afraid to relax, they have become men: men because of the settler, who wants to make beasts of burden of them — because of him, and against him. Hatred, blind hatred which is as yet an abstraction, is their only wealth; the Master calls it forth because he seeks to reduce them to animals, but he fails to break it down because his interests stop him half-way. Thus the ‘half-natives’ are still humans, through the power and the weakness of the oppressor which is transformed within them into a stubborn refusal of the animal condition. We realize what follows; they’re lazy: of course — it’s a form of sabotage. they’re sly and thieving; just imagine! But their petty thefts mark the beginning of a resistance which is still unorganized. That is not enough; there are those among them who assert themselves by throwing themselves barehanded against the guns; these are their heroes. Others make men of themselves by murdering Europeans, and these are shot down; brigands or martyrs, their agony exalts the terrified masses.

Yes, terrified; at this fresh stage, colonial aggression turns inward in a current of terror among the natives. By this I do not only mean the fear that they experience when faced with our inexhaustible means of repression but also that which their own fury produces in them. They are cornered between our guns pointed at them and those terrifying compulsions, those desires for murder which spring from the depth of their spirits and which they do not always recognize; for at first it is not their violence, it is ours, which turns back on itself and rends them; and the first action of these oppressed creatures is to bury deep down that hidden anger which their and our moralities condemn and which is however only the last refuge of their humanity. Read Fanon: you will learn how, in the period of their helplessness, their mad impulse to murder is the expression of the natives’ collective unconscious.

If this suppressed fury fails to find an outlet, it turns in a vacuum and devastates the oppressed creatures themselves. In order to free themselves they even massacre each other. The different tribes fight between themselves since they cannot face the real enemy — and you can count on colonial policy to keep up their rivalries; the man who raises his knife against his brother thinks that he has destroyed once and for all the detested image of their common degradation, even though these expiatory victims don’t quench their thirst for blood. They can only stop themselves from marching against the machine-guns by doing our work for us; of their own accord they will speed up the dehumanisation that they reject. Under the amused eye of the settler, they will take the greatest precautions against their own kind by setting up supernatural barriers, at times reviving old and terrible myths, at others binding themselves by scrupulous rites. It is in this way that an obsessed person flees from his deepest needs — by binding himself to certain observances which require his attention at every turn. They dance; that keeps them busy; it relaxes their painfully contracted muscles; and then the dance mimes secretly, often without their knowing, the refusal they cannot utter and the murders they dare not commit. In certain districts they make use of that last resort — possession by spirits. Formerly this was a religious experience in all its simplicity, a certain communion of the faithful with sacred things; now they make of it a weapon against humiliation and despair; Mumbo-Jumbo and all the idols of the tribe come down among them, rule over their violence and waste it in trances until it in exhausted. At the same time these high-placed, personages protect them; in other words the colonized people protect themselves against colonial estrangement by going one better in religious estrangement, with the unique result that finally they add the two estrangements together and each reinforces the other. Thus in certain psychoses the hallucinated person, tired of always being insulted by his demon, one fine day starts hearing the voice of an angel who pays him compliments; but the jeers don’t stop for all that; only from then on, they alternate with congratulations. This is a defence, but it is also the end of the story; the self is disassociated, and the patient heads for madness. Let us add, for certain other carefully selected unfortunates, that other witchery of which I have already spoken: Western culture. If I were them, you may say, I’d prefer my mumbo-jumbo to their Acropolis. Very good: you’ve grasped the situation. But not altogether, because you aren’t them — or not yet. Otherwise you would know that they can’t choose; they must have both. Two worlds: that makes two bewitchings; they dance all night and at dawn they crowd into the churches to hear mass; each day the split widens. Our enemy betrays his brothers and becomes our accomplice; his brothers do the same thing. The status of ‘native’ is a nervous condition introduced and maintained by the settler among colonized people with their consent.

Laying claim to and denying the human condition at the same time: the contradiction is explosive. For that matter it does explode, you know as well as I do; and we are living at the moment when the match is put to the fuse. When the rising birthrate brings wider famine in its wake, when these newcomers have life to fear rather more than death, the torrent of violence sweeps away all barriers. In Algeria and Angola, Europeans are massacred at sight. It is the moment of the boomerang; it is the third phase of violence; it comes back on us, it strikes us, and we do not realize any more than we did the other times that it’s we that have launched it. The ‘liberals’ are stupefied; they admit that we were not polite enough to the natives, that it would have been wiser and fairer to allow them certain rights in so far as this was possible; they ask nothing better than to admit them in batches and without sponsors to that very exclusive club, our species; and now this barbarous, mad outburst doesn’t spare them any more than the bad settlers. The Left at home is embarrassed; they know the true situation of the natives, the merciless oppression they are submitted to; they do not condemn their revolt, knowing full well that we have done everything to provoke it. But, all the same, they think to themselves, there are limits; these guerrillas should be bent on showing that they are chivalrous; that would be the best way of showing they are men. Sometimes the Left scolds them … ‘you’re going too far; we won’t support you any more.’ The natives don’t give a damn about their support; for all the good it does them they might as well stuff it up their backsides. Once their war began, they saw this hard truth: that every single one of us has made his bit, has got something out of them; they don’t need to call anyone to witness; they’ll grant favoured treatment to no one.

There is one duty to be done, one end to achieve: to thrust out colonialism by every means in their power. The more far-seeing among us will be, in the last resort, ready to admit this duty and this end; but we cannot help seeing in this ordeal by force the altogether inhuman means that these less-than-men make use of to win the concession of a charter of humanity. Accord it to them at once, then, and let them endeavour by peaceful undertakings to deserve it. Our worthiest souls contain racial prejudice.

They would do well to read Fanon; for he shows clearly that this irrepressible violence is neither sound and fury, nor the resurrection of savage instincts, nor even the effect of resentment: it is man re-creating himself. I think we understood this truth at one time, but we have forgotten it — that no gentleness can efface the marks of violence; only violence itself can destroy them. The native cures himself of colonial neurosis by thrusting out the settler through force of arms. When his rage boils over, he rediscovers his lost innocence and he comes to know himself in that he himself creates his self. Far removed from his war, we consider it as a triumph of barbarism; but of its own volition it achieves, slowly but surely, the emancipation of the rebel, for bit by bit it destroys in him and around him the colonial gloom. Once begun, it is a war that gives no quarter. You may fear or be feared; that is to say, abandon yourself to the disassociations of a sham existence or conquer your birthright of unity. When the peasant takes a gun in his hands, the old myths grow dim and the prohibitions are one by one forgotten. The rebel’s weapon is the proof of his humanity. For in the first days of the revolt you must kill: to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses at the same time: there remain a dead man, and a free man; the survivor, for the first time, feels a national soil under his foot. At this moment the Nation does not shrink from him; wherever he goes, wherever he may be, she is; she follows, and is never lost to view, for she is one with his liberty. But, after the first surprise, the colonial army strikes; and then all must unite or be slaughtered. Tribal dissensions weaken and tend to disappear; in the first place because they endanger the Revolution, but for the more profound reason that they served no other purpose before than to divert violence against false foes. When they remain — as in the Congo — it’s because they are kept up by the agents of colonialism. The Nation marches forward; for each of her children she is to be found wherever his brothers are fighting. Their feeling for each other is the reverse of the hatred they feel for you; they are brothers inasmuch as each of them has killed and may at any moment have to kill again. Fanon shows his readers the limits of ‘spontaneity’ and the need for and dangers of ‘organization’. But however great may be the task at each turning of the way the revolutionary consciousness deepens. The last complexes flee away; no one need come to us talking of the ‘dependency’ complex of an A.L.N. soldier.

With his blinkers off, the peasant takes account of his real needs; before they were enough to kill him, but he tried to ignore them; now he sees them as infinitely great requirements. In this violence which springs from the people, which enables them to hold out for five years — for eight years as the Algerians have done — the military, political and social necessities cannot be separated. The war, by merely setting the question of command and responsibility, institutes new structures which will become the first institutions of peace. Here, then, is man even now established in new traditions, the future children of a horrible present; here then we see him legitimized by a law which will be born or is born each day under fire: once the last settler is killed, shipped home or assimilated, the minority breed disappears, to be replaced by socialism. And that’s not enough; the rebel does not stop there; for you can be quite sure that he is not risking his skin to find himself at the level of a former inhabitant of the old mother country. Look how patient he is! Perhaps he dreams of another Dien Bien Phu, but don’t think he’s really counting on it; he’s a beggar fighting, in his poverty, against rich men powerfully armed. While he is waiting for decisive victories, or even without expecting them at all, he tires out his adversaries until they are sick of him.

It will not be without fearful losses; the colonial army becomes ferocious; the country is marked out, there are mopping-up operations, transfers of population, reprisal expeditions, and they massacre women and children. He knows this; this new man begins his life as a man at the end of it; he considers himself as a potential corpse. He will be killed; not only does he accept this risk, he’s sure of it. This potential dead man has lost his wife and his children; he has seen so many dying men that he prefers victory to survival; others, not he, will have the fruits of victory; he is too weary of it all. But this weariness of the heart is the root of an unbelievable courage. We find our humanity on this side of death and despair; he finds it beyond torture and death. We have sown the wind; he is the whirlwind. The child of violence, at every moment he draws from it his humanity. We were men at his expense, he makes himself man at ours: a different man; of higher quality.

Here Fanon stops. He has shown the way forward: he is the spokesman of those who are fighting and he has called for union, that is to say the unity of the African continent against all dissensions and all particularisms. He has gained his end. If he had wished to describe in all its details the historical phenomenon of decolonization he would have to have spoken of us; this is not at all his intention. But, when we have closed the book, the argument continues within us, in spite of its author; for we feel the strength of the peoples in revolt and we answer by force. Thus there is a fresh moment of violence; and this time we ourselves are involved, for by its nature this violence is changing us, accordingly as the ‘half-native’ is changed. Everyone of us must think for himself — always provided that he thinks at all; for in Europe today, stunned as she is by the blows received by France, Belgium or England, even to allow your mind to be diverted, however slightly, is as good as being the accomplice in crime of colonialism. This book has not the slightest need of a preface, all the less because it is not addressed to us. Yet I have written one, in order to bring the argument to its conclusion; for we in Europe too are being decolonized: that is to say that the settler which is in every one of us is being savagely rooted out. Let us look at ourselves, if we can bear to, and see what is becoming of us. First, we must face that unexpected revelation, the strip-tease of our humanism. There you can see it, quite naked, and it’s not a pretty sight. It was nothing but an ideology of lies, a perfect justification for pillage; its honeyed words, its affectation of sensibility were only alibis for our aggressions. A fine sight they are too, the believers in non-violence, saying that they are neither executioners nor victims. Very well then; if you’re not victims when the government which you’ve voted for, when the army in which your younger brothers are serving without hesitation or remorse have undertaken race murder, you are, without a shadow of doubt, executioners. And if you chose to be victims and to risk being put in prison for a day or two, you are simply choosing to pull your irons out of the fire. But you will not be able to pull them out; they’ll have to stay there till the end. Try to understand this at any rate: if violence began this very evening and if exploitation and oppression had never existed on the earth, perhaps the slogans of non-violence might end the quarrel. But if the whole regime, even your non-violent ideas, are conditioned by a thousand-year-old oppression, your passivity serves only to place you in the ranks of the oppressors.

You know well enough that we are exploiters. You know too that we have laid hands on first the gold and metals, then the petroleum of the ‘new continents’, and that we have brought them back to the old countries. This was not without excellent results, as witness our palaces, our cathedrals and our great industrial cities; and then when there was the threat of a slump, the colonial markets were there to soften the blow or to divert it. Crammed with riches, Europe accorded the human status de jure to its inhabitants. With us, to be a man is to be an accomplice of colonialism, since all of us without exception have profited by colonial exploitation. This fat, pale continent ends by falling into what Fanon rightly calls narcissism. Cocteau became irritated with Paris — ‘that city which talks about itself the whole time’. Is Europe any different? And that super-European monstrosity, North America? Chatter, chatter: liberty, equality, fraternity, love, honour, patriotism and what have you. All this did not prevent us from making anti-racial speeches about dirty niggers, dirty Jews and dirty Arabs. High-minded people, liberal or just soft-hearted, protest that they were shocked by such inconsistency; but they were either mistaken or dishonest, for with us there is nothing more consistent than a racist humanism since the European has only been able to become a man through creating slaves and monsters. While there was a native population somewhere this imposture was not shown up; in the notion of the human race we found an abstract assumption of universality which served as cover for the most realistic practices. On the other side of the ocean there was a race of less-than-humans who, thanks to us, might reach our status a thousand years hence, perhaps; in short, we mistook the elite for the genus. Today, the native populations reveal their true nature, and at the same time our exclusive ‘club’ reveals its weakness — that it’s neither more nor less than a minority. Worse than that: since the others become men in name against us, it seems that we are the enemies of mankind; the élite shows itself in its true colours — it is nothing more than a gang. Our precious sets of values begin to moult; on closer scrutiny you won’t see one that isn’t stained with blood. If you are looking for an example, remember these fine words: ‘How generous France is!’ Us, generous? What about Sétif, then? And those eight years of ferocious war which have cost the lives of over a million Algerians? And the tortures?

But let it be understood that nobody reproaches us with having been false to such-and-such a mission — for the very good reason that we had no mission at all. It is generosity itself that’s in question; this fine melodious word has only one meaning: the granting of a statutory charter. For the folk across the water, new men, freed men, no one has the power nor the right to give anything to anybody; for each of them has every right, and the right to everything. And when one day our human kind becomes full-grown, it will not define itself as the sum total of the whole world’s inhabitants, but as the infinite unity of their mutual needs. Here I stop; you will have no trouble in finishing the job; all you have to do is to look our aristocratic virtues straight in the face, for the first and last time. They are cracking up; how could they survive the aristocracy of underlings who brought them into being? A few years ago, a bourgeois colonialist commentator found only this to say in defence of the West: ‘We aren’t angels. But we, at least, feel some remorse.’ What a confession! Formerly our continent was buoyed up by other means: the Parthenon, Chartres, the Rights of Man or the swastika. Now we know what these are worth; and the only chance of our being saved from, shipwreck is the very Christian sentiment of guilt. You can see it’s the end; Europe is springing leaks everywhere. What then has happened? It simply is that in the past we made history and now it is being made of us. The ratio of forces has been inverted; decolonization has begun; all that our hired soldiers can do is to delay its completion.

The old ‘mother countries’ have still to go the whole hog, still have to engage their entire forces in a battle which is lost before it has begun. At the end of the adventure we again find that colonial brutality which was Bugeaud’s doubtful but though it has been multiplied ten-fold, it’s still not enough. The national service units are sent to Algeria, and they remain there seven years with no result. Violence has changed its direction. When we were victorious we practised it without its seeming to alter us; it broke down the others, but for us men our humanism remained intact. United by their profits, the peoples of the mother countries baptized their commonwealth of crimes, calling them fraternity and love; today violence, blocked everywhere, comes back on us through our soldiers, comes inside and takes possession of us. Involution starts; the native re-creates himself, and we, settlers and Europeans, ultras and liberals we break up. Rage and fear are already blatant; they show themselves openly in the nigger-hunts in Algeria. Now, which side are the savages on? Where is barbarism? Nothing is missing, not even the tom-toms; the motor-horns beat out ‘Al-gér-ie fran-çaise’ while the Europeans burn Moslems alive. Fanon reminds us that not so very long ago, a congress of psychiatrists was distressed by the criminal propensities of the native population. ‘Those people kill each other,’ they said, ‘that isn’t normal. The Algerian’s cortex must be under-developed.’ In central Africa, others have established that ‘the African makes very little use of his frontal lobes’. These learned men would do well today to follow up their investigations in Europe, and particularly with regard to the French. For we, too, during the last few years, must be victims of ‘frontal sluggishness’ since our patriots do quite a bit of assassinating of their fellow-countrymen and if they’re not at home, they blow up their house and their concierge. This is only a beginning; civil war is forecast for the autumn, or for the spring of next year. Yet our lobes seem to be in perfect condition; is it not rather the case that, since we cannot crush the natives, violence comes back on its tracks, accumulates in the very depths of our nature and seeks a way out? The union of the Algerian people causes the disunion of the French people; throughout the whole territory of the ex-mother-country, the tribes are dancing their war-dances. The terror has left Africa, and is settling here; for quite obviously there are certain furious beings who want to make us Pay with our own blood for the shame of having been beaten by the native. Then too, there are the others, all the others who are equally guilty (for after Bizerta, after the lynchings of September, who among them came out into the streets to shout ‘We’ve had enough’?) but less spectacular — the liberals, and the toughs of the tender Left.

The fever is mounting amongst them too, and resentment at the same time. And they certainly have the wind up! They hide their rage in myths and complicated rites; in order to stave off the day of reckoning and the need for decision they have put at the head of our affairs a Grand Magician whose business it is to keep us all in the dark at all costs. Nothing is being done; violence, proclaimed by some, disowned by others, turns in a vacuum; one day it bursts out at Metz, the next at Bordeaux; it’s here, there and everywhere, like in a game of hunt the slipper. It’s our turn to tread the path, step by step, which leads down to native level. But to become natives altogether, our soil must be occupied by a formerly colonized people and we must starve of hunger. This won’t happen; for it’s a discredited colonialism which is taking hold on us; this is the senile, arrogant master who will straddle us; here he comes, our mumbo-jumbo.

And when you have read Fanon’s last chapter, you will be convinced that it would be better for you to be a native at the uttermost depths of his misery than to be a former settler. It is not right for a police official to be obliged to torture for ten hours a day; at that rate, his nerves will fall to bits, unless the torturers are forbidden in their own interests to work overtime. When it is desirable that the morality of the Nation and the Army should be protected by the rigours of the law, it is not right that the former should systematically demoralize the latter, nor that a country with a Republican tradition should confide hundreds and thousands of its young folk to the care of putschist officers. It is not right, my fellow-countrymen, you who know very well all the crimes committed in our name, it’s not at all right that you do not breathe a word about them to anyone, not even to your own soul, for fear of having to stand in judgement on yourself. I am willing to believe that at the beginning you did not realize what was happening; later, you doubted whether such things could be true; but now you know, and still you hold your tongues. Eight years of silence; what degradation! And your silence is all of no avail; today, the blinding sun of torture is at its zenith; it lights up the whole country. Under that merciless glare, there is not a laugh that does not ring false, not a face that is not painted to hide fear or anger, not a single action that does hot betray our disgust, and our complicity. It is enough today for two French people to meet together for there to be a dead man between them. One dead man did I say? In other days France was the name of a country. We should take care that in 1961 it does not become the name of a nervous disease.

Will we recover? Yes. For violence, like Achilles’ lance, can heal the wounds that it has inflicted. Today, we are bound hand and foot, humiliated and sick with fear; we cannot fall lower. Happily this is not yet enough for the colonialist aristocracy; it cannot complete its delaying mission in Algeria until it has first finished colonizing the French. Every day we retreat in front of the battle, but you may be sure that we will not avoid it; the killers need it; they’ll go for us and hit out blindly to left and right.

Thus the day of magicians and fetishes will end; you will have to fight, or rot in concentration camps. This is the end of the dialectic; you condemn this war but do not yet dare to declare yourselves to be on the side of the Algerian fighters; never fear, you can count on the settlers and the hired soldiers; they’ll make you take the plunge. Then, perhaps, when your back is to the wall, you will let loose at last that new violence which is raised up in you by old, oft-repeated crimes. But, as they say, that’s another story: the history of mankind. The time is drawing near, I am sure, when we will join the ranks of those who make it.

Jean-Paul Sartre

Wretched of the earth (conclusion) – Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon, 1961

The Wretched of the Earth
Chapter 6. Conclusion

Source: Les damnés de la terre by François Maspéro éditeur in 1961;
First published: in Great Britain by Macgibbon and Kee in 1965;
Transcribed: by Dominic Tweedie.

Come, then, comrades; it would be as well to decide at once to change our ways. We must shake off the heavy darkness in which we were plunged, and leave it behind. The new day which is already at hand must find us firm, prudent and resolute.

We must leave our dreams and abandon our old beliefs and friendships of the time before life began. Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe. For centuries they have stifled almost the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience. Look at them today swaying between atomic and spiritual disintegration.

And yet it may be said that Europe has been successful in as much as everything that she has attempted has succeeded.

Europe undertook the leadership of the world with ardour, cynicism and violence. Look at how the shadow of her palaces stretches out ever farther! Every one of her movements has burst the bounds of space and thought. Europe has declined all humility and all modesty; but she has also set her face against all solicitude and all tenderness.

She has only shown herself parsimonious and niggardly where men are concerned; it is only men that she has killed and devoured.

So, my brothers, how is it that we do not understand that we have better things to do than to follow that same Europe?

That same Europe where they were never done talking of Man, and where they never stopped proclaiming that they were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today we know with what sufferings humanity has paid for every one of their triumphs of the mind.

Come, then, comrades, the European game has finally ended; we must find something different. We today can do everything, so long as we do not imitate Europe, so long as we are not obsessed by the desire to catch up with Europe.

Europe now lives at such a mad, reckless pace that she has shaken off all guidance and all reason, and she is running headlong into the abyss; we would do well to avoid it with all possible speed.

Yet it is very true that we need a model, and that we want blueprints and examples. For many among us the European model is the most inspiring. We have therefore seen in the preceding pages to what mortifying set-backs such an imitation has led us. European achievements, European techniques and the European style ought no longer to tempt us and to throw us off our balance.

When I search for Man in the technique and the style of Europe, I see only a succession of negations of man, and an avalanche of murders.

The human condition, plans for mankind and collaboration between men in those tasks which increase the sum total of humanity are new problems, which demand true inventions.

Let us decide not to imitate Europe; let us combine our muscles and our brains in a new direction. Let us try to create the whole man, whom Europe has been incapable of bringing to triumphant birth.

Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.

Comrades, have we not other work to do than to create a third Europe? The West saw itself as a spiritual adventure. It is in the name of the spirit, in the name of the spirit of Europe, that Europe has made her encroachments, that she has justified her crimes and legitimized the slavery in which she holds four-fifths of humanity.

Yes, the European spirit has strange roots. All European thought has unfolded in places which were increasingly more deserted and more encircled by precipices; and thus it was that the custom grew up in those places of very seldom meeting man.

A permanent dialogue with oneself and an increasingly obscene narcissism never ceased to prepare the way for a half delirious state, where intellectual work became suffering and the reality was not at all that of a living man, working and creating himself, but rather words, different combinations of words, and the tensions springing from the meanings contained in words. Yet some Europeans were found to urge the European workers to shatter this narcissism and to break with this un-reality.

But in general the workers of Europe have not replied to these calls; for the workers believe, too, that they are part of the prodigious adventure of the European spirit.

All the elements of a solution to the great problems of humanity have, at different times, existed in European thought. But Europeans have not carried out in practice the mission which fell to them, which consisted of bringing their whole weight to bear violently upon these elements, of modifying their arrangement and their nature, of changing them and, finally, of bringing the problem of mankind to an infinitely higher plane.

Today, we are present at the stasis of Europe. Comrades, let us flee from this motionless movement where gradually dialectic is changing into the logic of equilibrium. Let us reconsider the question of mankind. Let us reconsider the question of cerebral reality and of the cerebral mass of all humanity, whose connexions must be increased, whose channels must be diversified and whose messages must be re-humanized.

Come, brothers, we have far too much work to do for us to play the game of rear-guard. Europe has done what she set out to do and on the whole she has done it well; let us stop blaming her, but let us say to her firmly that she should not make such a song and dance about it. We have no more to fear; so let us stop envying her.

The Third World today faces Europe like a colossal mass whose aim should be to try to resolve the problems to which Europe has not been able to find the answers.

But let us be clear: what matters is to stop talking about output, and intensification, and the rhythm of work.

No, there is no question of a return to Nature. It is simply a very concrete question of not dragging men towards mutilation, of not imposing upon the brain rhythms which very quickly obliterate it and wreck it. The pretext of catching up must not be used to push man around, to tear him away from himself or from his privacy, to break and kill him.

No, we do not want to catch up with anyone. What we want to do is to go forward all the time, night and day, in the company of Man, in the company of all men. The caravan should not be stretched out, for in that case each line will hardly see those who precede it; and men who no longer recognize each other meet less and less together, and talk to each other less and less.

It is a question of the Third World starting a new history of Man, a history which will have regard to the sometimes prodigious theses which Europe has put forward, but which will also not forget Europe’s crimes, of which the most horrible was committed in the heart of man, and consisted of the pathological tearing apart of his functions and the crumbling away of his unity. And in the framework of the collectivity there were the differentiations, the stratification and the bloodthirsty tensions fed by classes; and finally, on the immense scale of humanity, there were racial hatreds, slavery, exploitation and above all the bloodless genocide which consisted in the setting aside of fifteen thousand millions of men.

So, comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her.

Humanity is waiting for something other from us than such an imitation, which would be almost an obscene caricature.

If we want to turn Africa into a new Europe, and America into a new Europe, then let us leave the destiny of our countries to Europeans. They will know how to do it better than the most gifted among us.

But if we want humanity to advance a step farther, if we want to bring it up to a different level than that which Europe has shown it, then we must invent and we must make discoveries.

If we wish to live up to our peoples’ expectations, we must seek the response elsewhere than in Europe.

Moreover, if we wish to reply to the expectations of the people of Europe, it is no good sending them back a reflection, even an ideal reflection, of their society and their thought with which from time to time they feel immeasurably sickened.

For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.

Is Black Consciousness Still Relevant ? [The continued presence of the neo-colony]


We write this in part as a response to the unwelcoming reaction aroused my Black Consciousness(hereafter BC) status updates but mostly we write this in response to the disease which this hostile and suspicious reaction is a mere symptom of. The disease of which we speak of course is ‘Black Unconsciousness’, and its symptom – the suspicion , can be seen as an expression of a broadly held view in so-called post-apartheid South Africa which holds that Black Consciousness is no longer relevant. In our opinion this disease is the cause of both the failure and simultaneous success of the ruling party’s ‘Rainbowist’ approach to the question of race. (success because this is the approach which has triumphed and failure because this approach is both inadequate and perverse.)

In the following piece then, we will argue that BC continues not only to be relevant but necessary as well. We will argue by first critiquing the Rainbowist approach and its effects before rather briefly discussing the necessary changes of form which the BC has to undergo in view of the slight changes in the nature of the struggle.

We will proceed firstly by quoting Bantu Biko from his essay BC and white racism and use this quote as a station from which to carry out a critique of the effects of the Rainbowist approach and its consequences in the so-called post-apartheid South Africa.

“The problem is white racism and rests squarely upon the laps of the white society. The sooner the liberals realise this, the better for us blacks. Their presence amongst us is irksome and of nuisance value. It removes the focus of attention from essentials and shifts it to ill-defined philosophical concepts that are both irrelevant to the black man and merely a red-herring across the track White liberals must leave us blacks to take care of our own business while they concern themselves with the real problem – white racism.”

The ANC and its Rainbow

The ANC for problematic historical and strategic reasons which it is not the task of this essay to discuss, approached the question of race through the Rainbowist perspective. It is difficult to say whether or not BC would retain its relevance were it not for the currency of the dubious and ill-defined racial philosophy that is Rainbowism, what is clear is that it continues to retain its relevance if not entirely then certainly in part because of this currency.

The inclusion of white liberals in the struggle for liberation is suspect for both historical and philosophical (logical) reasons. We assume that everyone has a basic idea of what Rainbowism entails; instead of a theoretic discussion of its contents we will quote a widely familiar slogan from the Freedom Charter which captures with exceptional clarity the central tenets of this approach before finally exposing its implications.

“South Africa belongs to all who live in it” ????

The implications of the slogan:.

• At least with view to rights over South Africa, no distinction is to be made between the autochthon of the country and the settlers. In short the presence of the white man in South Africa is unproblematic.

• The manner in which the white man attained his citizenship (along with its relative rights) is not at all questionable, either morally or legally. That includes his forceful influence and domination of the cultural, spiritual and intellectual institutions of the country, his capacity to exact such an influence is not in question. His claim to the historic titles, the minerals and other resources is not of any importance.

• His legal system, politics, economics, religion, culture and education are in themselves not a problem, all that is to be achieved by the struggle is that these institutions and rights be extended to include the previously and mistakenly excluded natives.

We of course without reservation reject this position in its entirety, on the following grounds:


– The violent, savage and brutal manner in which the white man arrived upon the continent is both immoral and unjust both by the order of the natives’ morality and law as well as that of the white man himself. The confrontation only happened in the way it did because of a dubious philosophic racism espoused by the white man which held that the native (blacks) possessed and inferior humanity to the white man and so were automatically excluded from the domain of human morality.

– He (the white man) was not invited and given rights to land and its resources but instead used excessively brutal force to remove the native in order to claim that which belonged to the native as his own.

2. As a result of the first reason then to suggest that the land belongs to all those who live in it is to condone the injustice of the conquest and its premise that the humanity of the African is qualitatively inferior to that of the European .It’s to deem the colonial project, together with its resultant white ownership of South-Africa and its identity legitimate.

3. We hold the position instead that the land belongs to only to its natives. In terms of the laws of the conqueror, the forceful seizure of property from a human being is theft. The remedy for theft (in private law) is firstly a compensation of the aggrieved, not only for the value of the property itself but also all the value which its owner should’ve derived from it while it was in the wrongful possession of its thief or mala-fide possessor .In terms of public (specifically criminal) law, theft is a crime and as such the thief should be punished.

• For a detailed discussion of the philosophic, legal and moral demands of justice see Mogobe Ramose’s paper- An African Perspective on Justice and Race published under my notes as well as the http://them.polylog.org/3/frm-en.htm for inter-cultural philosophy.

It is not difficult to see why the authors of the charter reached their dubious conclusion- ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it’. The moral and legally justifiable conclusion: namely that it belongs to the natives who were without justification removed from it would’ve meant assuming and enduring the full burden of being the posterity of the conqueror as well as a beneficiary of injustice. It would’ve meant possibly giving up these benefits (wealth and land amongst them) and putting themselves at the mercy of those whom they had hitherto benefited from the suffering of.

By the logic of self-interest and survival which governs all living things it is rather difficult not to see why this conclusion (the just and moral one) is not the one which they reached. It would mean not just fighting for blacks (as was so often the claim) but absolutely fighting against white interests (themselves included), and threatening their very own livelihood and safety. Can it be a wonder why then the prophet Bantu was suspicious of the participation of the liberal?

A Prophecy Fulfilled: The Symptoms of the Rainbow

As you may know, the Rainbowist approach was indeed successful (as it was the selected approach amongst competing racial philosophies) and has our current society as its consequence. Here I will begin with a brief discussion of the formal problems of ‘the Rainbow’ before a critical discussion of the actual concrete conditions these problems have created.

The old-timers of the Black Consciousness Movement could in the early days of our democracy be heard warning firstly that ‘there is no colour- black in the rainbow’ and secondly that ‘when you mix it all up, the rainbows colours make white’- this of course to reflect the fact that the colours in the rainbow are reflective of white light’s refraction through a prism. While this metaphor may seem silly to some, the warning continues to prove itself pertinent. It captures well the paradox of our society that although it is apparently designed with the black man in mind, that is in order to liberate him, it turns out increasingly that there is little if any place for him in it.

Now to deal with concrete problems of the rainbow :

(a) The Land(property) Problem

As I already pointed out please see Mogobe Ramose’s Detailed discussion of this subject in ‘An African Perspective On Race and Justice’. In Short however the land problem can be summarised briefly in the following enquiry: How can a man be expected to pay for that which was stolen from him? This is the expectation the constitution of our country places upon the displaced black folks who make up the majority of the population. See s25 of act 108 of 1996. The black people who were removed from their land are supposed to buy it back from master.
This has an underlying suggestion that master’s occupation of the land is legitimate and with it that the native’s removal from the land was justifiable.

The violent theft of course applies not only with regards to land but its accompanying resources which in this country unchallengedly continue to remain in the private hands of those who appropriated them in dubious circumstances.

I’ve already discussed the philosophical implications of this problem concerning the humanity of blacks. Under the auspices of the Rainbow the humanity of the black continues to be called into question.

As a result of the land/property problem many black people continue to be unjustifiably without a source of livelihood and at the cruel and strangling hands of poverty. To date for example only 4% of the agricultural land belongs to blacks. The land/property question is arguably at the centre of all the disruption in social life, it contributes a great deal to the so-called crime problem also which is unlikely to be solved independently of the land problem.

(b) The Cultural Problem.

(i) Language

In terms of our philosophical-anthropology, the human being (Homo Rationalis: The Rational Animal) is such because he is contemporaneously Homo Eloquens : The speaking animal and as a result Homo Socialis – The Social Animal. Language is at the centre of humanity and is the most primary source in which a people embed their worldview. The language of a people develops together with their understanding of their environment and its accompanying experiences and carries the clues which can assist one to tap into the reservoir of culturally-idiosyncratic instruments upon which they rely to deal with the problems of existence. Language is vital to the possibility of social being and community and is responsible for the meaning, shaping and articulation of ethics, law, politics and all that which might be considered peculiarly human.

In order to destroy a community of human beings, and disrupt the continuity of their history then rather than physical annihilation , all that is necessary really is a targeting on their language and by so doing their culture along with its relative religion, ethics, politics and law as well.

The official linguistic-identity of South Africa’s official institutions is well known. Any kid who has grown up in a township is well aware of the equation which black South Africans typically make between English (the language of the conqueror) and Education, learning and progress. Since the early days of the colony and not much differently today: those who can speak English in a manner which resembles the ‘master’s’ as closely as possible are generally considered to be in a superior position of wisdom to even the elders of the community who carry its oldest secrets and knowledge.

Although the constitution suggests that there are 11 official languages, any sane and experienced South African is likely aware that there are only two such languages which have this privilege and they are of course: English and Afrikaans- the languages of the conqueror. National Matriculation and university exams are administered exclusively in these languages and although the formal rules stipulate otherwise the actual practice in the country is that official documents also are available only in these two languages. Popular music, literature, theatre, scientific research and publication…. all continue to be produced almost exclusively in these languages. It is in effect almost impossible to survive modern life in this country unless one has command of either of the two.

The effect of these practices (of language) is of course the demise of the native languages, culture and identity. At the present moment none of the native languages of the country have much use outside of the personal lives of people and even in such lives these languages together with that which they carry are falling into fashionable disuse.


Religion is of course another central tenet of the destructive project. I do not intend to discuss it exhaustively but Indigenous African Religion was one of the main casualties of the colonial project. The object by the more sympathetic colonialists was to civilise the savage since it had long been declared in the Papal Bull- Sublimis Deus that the African was capable of Christianisation. Central to the exercise of civilisation was of course the ‘freeing’ of the savage from his terribly irrational beliefs and the replacement of them with the rationally superior Christianity. Together with this conversion also came violence against the culture of the native which was intertwined with his religion, his way of dress, his mannerisms, his ethics and his language.

Anyone who owns a decent dictionary or a bible even is by now well-aware that this claim of Christianity to superior rationality is nonsense. Faith is characteristically irrational and has as one of its central features the demand that believers be willing to commit without the provision of evidence. Whether it be Islam, Hinduism or Traditional African Religion, in the area of faith no rationally hierarchy may be spoken of and yet it is not uncommon to come across this stubborn prejudice amongst Black Africans themselves against The Indigenous Faith. Many of the so-called educated natives are quite willing and ready to accept the beauty of Islam or Christ’s Salvation without rational being able to provide a rational defence but when it comes to the faith of their grandfathers the story changes, suddenly reason becomes a necessity.

I recently heard a Black African Christian in reference to ‘African Christianity’, say ‘I don’t mind it when they do their things’ or ‘if they become proper Christians’ but when they mix their things with our faith then that seriously offends me. Anyone who has ever studied the period in European History known as the reformation is well aware that amongst other things the reformation was a cultural revolution which consisted in the people of different nations modifying the practice of Christianity, re-contextualising it for local understanding. It had stopped making sense why the faith should be understtod through a foreign theology and practiced in a foreign language, with foreign and unfamiliar symbols, music and so forth and so rather than being them-selves subjected to the foreign culture which accompanied the faith, they instead subjected the faith to a more local understanding.

It is a wonder then why in Africa the commitment to these admitted cultural-interpretations continues unchallenged. There are few of us who seem to be amused by Black-African Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Dutch reformed members.
Worse than the rarity of our amusement however to me is the insistence by the members of these churches that those who ‘mix Christianity’ with local practices or subject it to a local understanding are disrupting the ‘purity’ of the faith.

The argument appears to be that a local understanding of Christianity is questionable on the grounds of authenticity, this objection is raised by those who prefer instead a Christianity which is void of their own historical identity and understanding. If this is not absurd I don’t what is, it appears to me that underlying this objection is the continuation of the colonised mind, which is at pains to repeat its familiar tune ‘Master Knows Best’.


In Law as well we are faced with a similar problem of symbolic recognition. African indigenous Law is recognised in terms of the constitution but the reality is that it suffers a fate similar to that of the languages. It is impliedly considered inferior to Western Law and so as a result African custom is consulted secondarily and the traditional courts function only in matters of the least importance. Also traditional law is practically only binding to those who chose to be bound by it (an odd feature for any law) and the decisions of traditional courts may be overturned by Superior (western-like) courts. The effect then of course is that African Law does not in fact exist in-itself in South Africa but continues to be subjected to Roman-Dutch and English Law. ( this together with the South African who does not exist in South Africa but continues to be subjected to the conqueror).

This phenomenon , of simultaneous existence and non-existence is also responsible for the painful contradictions within that sham of a constitution. One which calls the country a republic , where all are equal before the law but also provides for several tax-payer funded monarchies .One which suggests an equality of sexes while providing for example the possibility of exclusively-male polygamous practice. It’s a war of Jurisprudences between the present and actual Western and the absent and phantom-like African which is provided for theoretically but never quite comes to birth in actuality. This confusion manifests itself in several areas of South African life and has underlying it as well that familiar tune ‘Master Knows Best’. Because this is Africa after all the ways of the African must be ‘recognised’ but because of master’s superior humanity and its accompanying rationality : it is only masters which must find use.

(iv) Politics

Just watch a session of parliament. And try to establish what relationship it has with native African political theory. Save for the grey wigs (which I am grateful are absent), our sessions are wholly European. Imbizos and Lekotlas do ofcourse theoretically exist as do the kings but in practice the body politic has no relationship with the space, its identity or experiences…

(v) Education

The school and university in the South African colony was founded by the settler. It was at a time when he wished to remain connected to ‘the source’ and as such the curriculum and approach to teaching was as consistent with the trends at home as much as possible. The object was to ensure that the graduate of the university in the colony received as similar an education as his counterpart in the kingdom. As such the university had an unnatural existence of being deliberately ignorant of the space and experiences within the place which it existed. This is of course a terribly unnatural state of affairs as far as universities go.

Post-’94 very little has changed in the identity of the university save for its admission policy which now allows for the inclusion of blacks. The identity and project of the university however remains surprisingly unchanged. Consistently with the premise of the conquest, that Africans were of inferior humanity and incapable of producing either knowledge or history the university and schools would have nothing to gain from acknowledging the space within which it was constructed. All the intellectual movements on the continent, the depth of culture, philosophy, science and other indigenous knowledge systems were not worthy of it and as such rather than having an African School or University, in South Africa what we had and continue to have are Universities and schools in Africa.

Much of the curriculum still has underlying it the cultural chauvinism of the Enlightenment European, who knew best and was the measure of all things. The perspective is terribly Eurocentric and has an especial bias towards the natively African and non-European. The scholars who are consulted are usually Western with Western interests. After pre-viewing a south African curriculum It would not be irrational to assume that an African Perspective did not exist, that there were not well-renowned African scholars with different views from the dominant ideology who have repeatedly expressed scepticism at its currency, it would not be irrational to assume that the white man had a monopoly on education and is the originator of politics, literature, philosophy, mathematics and all things human not at all. After a thorough South African education it would be irrational not to assume the above.

The effects of this education are of course far reaching. Because of the continued insistence on ignoring the South African situation and knowledge and instead aligning itself with foreign trends, the university produces graduates without an understanding or sympathy for the reality of the country. Their also terribly unsympathetic to the plight of many of their compatriots often see themselves as different and superior (more closely resembling master ).The solutions to Africa’s problems according to this education is for it to become more Western-like.

The African is trained over the course of the years to look at himself through the eyes of the other according to which his countrymen are backward, barbaric , simple-minded, stubborn and suicidal. The task of the young graduate is to assist his fellow man by firstly making aware how awful his condition is and showing him how to better himself- this often involves little more than monkey-ing the master. According to the young graduate nothing can be learnt from his community, its history and ideas after all undoubtedly inferior to those of the master. The graduate either pities or despises ‘uneducated blacks’, what stands in the way of their progress is the superior knowledge which he is in possession of.

The graduate is everywhere in South Africa: in business, the academy, the courts, the media, art and politics attempting to continue the inter-generational ambition started by the conqueror those many years ago- that of civilising/destroying the African!!!

Part two will deal with the possibility of a post-colony and the necessity of black consciousness to that project. It will deal also with the fact that in view of the past 20 years ours is a cultural rather than a racial project. Referencing is dodgy here where present but i’ll leave a list of texts to consult on each of the topics touched on at the end of part two.

Happy Youth Day Brothers.
Izwe ‘lethu (the land is ours)

{First published on Facebook on June 16th 2009}


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