Anti-intellectual climate of opinion against unhu/ubuntu


By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

IN the context of the current Western domination of visual communication, the challenge which an African philosopher and intellectual must confront was put clearly by Jerry Mander in his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television

There the author wrote:

“Not being in touch (just like Narcissus), we (in the West) don’t grasp the significance of other people’s images replacing or gaining equality with our own… What makes these matters most serious is that human beings have not yet been equipped by evolution to distinguish in our minds between natural images and those which are artificially created and (unilaterally) implanted. Neither are we equipped to defend ourselves against the (unilateral and artificial) implantation.”

While the author was referring to the TV age, the process of artificial and unilateral white implantation of alien images against the African has gone on since the days of slavery.

This is to say that at the level of ideas, slavery, colonialism, and imperialism perpetrated and still continue to perpetrate intellectual violence against the values and principles of unhu.

How the African Intellect Was Constituted and Cultivated

Because of the prevalence and universal use of the daririo/dumba structure in Sub-Saharan Africa, I use the discourse of that dariro/dumba to capture the process by which the autonomous indigenous African intellect was constituted.

λ Chioniso, who is male and belongs to the Chirandu (cattle) totem sits in the circle facing North, facing Tafirenyika, who is also male and belongs to the totem Shumba (lion).

λ Chioniso’s perspective therefore includes the fact that he is male, he faces North, the direction opposite South where Tafirenyika faces.

Chioniso sees what comes from behind Tafirenyika which the latter does not see and vice-versa.

λ Garikayi, who is also male and belongs to the Nyathi (buffalo) totem also sits in the same circle facing East and facing Nunurai, who is female and belongs to the Shiri (bird) totem. Nunurai faces West and enjoys the perspective of being a female, belonging to the Shiri totem and facing this male Garikayi and therefore seeing what comes from the West which Garikayi cannot see.

λ Chenesai who is female and belongs to the Soko (monkey) totem sits in the circle facing South-West and facing Mwazika, who is also female and belongs to the Nzou (elephant) totem. Mwazika sees what comes from the North-East behind Chenesai and enjoys the perspective of being a female facing another female who belongs to a different totem and faces the opposite direction.

The bearings of all these youths can be refined and elaborated further and further, depending on how large the number of participants is. In addition to the fact that every one of the participants has a gender perspective, a geographical orientation, a totem perspective and positional/relational perspective, each one is entitled to his or her turn in the empty space in the centre of the dariro where he or she may perform or tell his/her story.

It is clear that the dariro accounts for plurality as well as diversity without losing the coherence, unity, centeredness and endlessness which the dariro implies. 

It is also clear that the creators of the dariro as a pedagogic, philosophical, moral and aesthetic structure also meant for it to enable the group, the African community (at least symbolically and metaphorically) to cover the whole globe through the multi-perspectives of the children based on gender, geographical orientation, physical position, relational position and even totem.

Deliberately and spontaneously, African youngsters in autonomous societies learned that the view and experience of the buffalo was different from that of the giraffe or zebra; the view and experience of the world of the bird was different from that of the monkey or baboon; the view and experience of the world of the cow was different from that of the elephant; and so on, and so on.

The dariro then is an arena for the constant melding of plural diverse texts.

The dariro in African life over many millennia exists at the family level, at the community level, at the education and entertainment levels, and at the state level. 

Depending on the degree of formality and authority accorded to it at the particular level the dariro becomes the dare. It has no beginning and no end as a structure.

It stands for the universe of human values, the institutional nature of relations and relationships which Africans experience only partially through the participation of those individuals who happen to be in the particular dariro at present; so that my mother may die but umai (the value of mother) is not buried with her; a particular comrade or friend may fail or betray me but he or she alone cannot destroy the value or institution or capacity of comradeship, solidarity and friendship. 

We mourn, we are saddened, by the occasional or incidental betrayal or departure of this one friend who leaves the circle, but we do not despair because of the enduring dariro, with no starting point and no dead-end, which represents our idea, our vision, of the best of human endeavour, the best human values.

When the settler state was being constructed in Rhodesia and being deployed to dismantle the ubiquitous African dariro, Michael Gelfand did research at St Ignatius College, Chishawasha Catholic Mission, focusing on the importance of performed arts and games learned in the dariro, including songs and singing.

The value of the dariro could be demonstrated by asking African boys and girls who it was who taught them songs and singing: Out of 36 boys between 13 and 14 years old: 15 credited their sisters; 13 credited their brothers; seven credited their fathers; and five credited their grandfathers. 

Out of 24 girls between 15 and 17 years old: 12 credited their grandmothers; seven credited their mothers; four credited their grandfathers; three credited their fathers; four credited their older sisters; two credited their older brothers; and 16 credited other relatives in the family and community.

These statistics tally with experience from other areas of Zimbabwe and demonstrate the central role of dariro and how it naturally merges with dare.

Dariro is associated with play, entertainment and informal family communication and instruction; dare is the dariro elevated to an arena of authority either as educational authority or as adjudicating or law-giving authority.

For all these siblings, mentors, elders and neighbours to be available to teach the youngsters who ended up at St Ignatius; they had to have been regular participants in the circles (madariro) where the children were taught.

No singular gender, no single age group and no single person monopolised the teaching and upbringing of the children. That universal spread is the essence of dariro.

This is why the dariro is so elastic. When there are more participants, it is widened; when there are fewer, the dariro is reduced and ranks are closed.

Each friend, relative, neighbour or sibling is only a bearer of certain unique features of the universal value of friendship, kinship, neighbourliness and comradeship. 

When one kinsman or kinswoman dies or leaves, the circle representing ukama (kinship) remains and continues to nurture the continuing and continuous values of kinship, even reproducing new relations and relatives.

In this sense, love is always far bigger than a two-some. It cannot be contained in a two-some. It will not be destroyed by a failed two-some. We are only partakers of the on-going value, the on-going institution.

It contains us in its elastic nature and manner like the dariro which always allows individual partakers to come or to go without exhausting it.

At the denotative level, dariro means the place or the group arrangement in which people choose to sit facing one another and being able to see one another, everybody.

But at connotative level, the meaning of dariro becomes densely rich. 

It is hope organised; the place of considering one another and one another’s contributions, ideas, needs, aspirations and concerns; the place of looking forward together; the place of collective morale, mutual confidence building, faith and optimism built on consensus, trust and reconciliation of otherwise, initially, diverse views moulded into one position 

through the process of kushaura and kutinhira (call and response).

One of the Shona proverbs expressing this all-round optimism and faith in the dariro says: Iri mudare iri murwaenga; ichaibva. This means any issue, any matter, which has properly been brought to the collective dare is like hard pop-corn or peanuts put in a roasting pan. It will be resolved and the dare and community will live to value, to enjoy the result.

The process of turning the pop-corn or peanuts over and over in the roasting pan is a metaphor for consensus seeking through the dare or dariro.

The Anti-Intellectual Eurocentric Climate: Colonial and Neo-Colonial

By saying that the climate of ideas prevailing under colonialism and neo-colonialism was/is essentially anti-intellectual I mean that it was/is a climate in which African ideas were and continue to be denied space and resources to develop. Many current observers of world affairs consider it a paradox that the sitting President of the United States of America, Donald J Trump, is anti-intellectual, anti-science, racist and narcissistic. But this situation may not be as paradoxical as they make it look.

A sitting president of such a ‘super-power’ can afford to be so anti-intellectual, anti-science, racist and narcissistic in a hegemonic climate which seeks to prevent different others from developing their intellect, their science and their identities to their fullest.

Donald Trump aside, the climate of opinion prevailing under slavery, colonialism, apartheid and neo-colonialism can be described as fundamentally anti- intellectual by examining its major agents for influencing and controlling the thinking of what Professor Bernard Magubane called ‘the dispensable other’ in his book Race and the Construction of the Dispensable Other.

Indeed, if the other has been treated in Eurocentric civilization as dispensable, so has his/her ideas, his/her intellect.

The first agent of note for this civilisation was the crusading missionary. The disposition of such an agent can only be anti-intellectual since he is on a singular mission to convert that other to his religion and his ideas. As Thomas Szasz has argued in Ideology and Insanity, converting the other succeeds only when that other is made first to reject who he or she is. This is the exact opposite of the relational approach of unhu and the dariro which I have outlined in the preceding pages.

The second agent of note for Eurocentric civilisation as slavery, colonialism, apartheid and neo-colonialism was the sponsored anthropologist.

The development of an increasingly secular society in the west made if necessary to move from the sole reliance on the missionary’s Biblical heresy of apartheid to a new additional reliance upon the pseudo-science of racial anthropology in order to continue to justify white supremacy. The anti-intellectual nature of this pseudo-science was clear, since it was designed at first solely as a science for studying ‘uncivilised’ peoples out there who had no real ideas of their own.

It was thought that by using this pseudo-science the anthropologist could place white supremacy on a permanent footing.

But with the growth of the printing press, the book industry, the magazine and newspaper industry the sponsored anthropologist and the missionary became rather limited, slow, and inadequate.

The Western sponsored journalist was therefore added to the team of agents.

He/she was also essentially anti-intellectual against organic African ideas mainly because of his/her taking attribution for truth. As long as certain claims and stories could be attributed especially to some white authority as source, they were peddled and repeated as truths.

But with the moral horrors of western civilisation such as those exposed through the Hitler wars in Europe, the journalist soon needed a new reinforcement in the form of the humanitarian activist and his/her sponsored NGO. This latest agent signalled the full development of the linear Eurocentric doctrine of human rights with enormous implications for defining who is human and who is not. At the turn of this century, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was dusted up and presented almost as equivalent if

not superior to the UN Charter itself. For African intellectuals this dusting up and elevation of the UDHR was shocking though not surprising. It was shocking because of the significance of 1948, the year of the promulgation of full-fledged apartheid as a doctrine of white supremacy and as the national policy of the apartheid state on African soil. The UDHR did not make any difference in the fate of Africans in South Africa and Palestinians under Israeli occupation (which also took root in the same year of the promulgation of the UDHR (1948!)

Continuing Anti-Intellectual Climate Now Polarizing Africans

There is an expanding structure of discourse which continues to generate strange and unquestioned concepts, labels, slogans and sound-bites which end up polluting our language and compromising our own abilities as a people to speak with one another and understand one another. This growing structure includes the following features:

The growth of the intolerant assumption that autonomous, independent and self-reliant peoples and communities should no longer be allowed to speak their own language, define their own needs and devise their own ways of meeting those needs. As a result Zimbabwean journalists report on the so-called United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as if Zimbabwe never had its own “Health for All by 2000,” “Education for All by 2000,” African land reclamation and reform which the Anglo-

Saxon powers have tried to destroy through illegal sanctions about which the same UN has done nothing. So how can the UN’s MDGs be meaningful if the UN does nothing about illegal sanctions imposed on an innocent little country?

The growth of an army of sponsored “stakeholders’ sects” or orders, now called NGOs, who become intolerant, overzealous and expansive in assisting the empire to identify, target, demonize, harass and isolate those who refuse to be swept along by the latest crusades.

The predominant role of lawyers and “experts” as purchased “stakeholders” serving the empire in its campaign of repression and counter-revolution.

The growth of new media, new means of communication, which the stakeholder sects or orders of “experts” now employ to identify, target, demonize, harass and isolate their “clients” or victims.

The growth of new jargon, a new language, to suppress the independent thought of autonomous communities and movements by depriving them of their own language and their right to name their own reality and learn their own history.

The growth of a cult or mystique of the human rights expert, activist, specialist or consultant paid or sponsored by the empire. In South Africa we hear a white NGO called Africom has declared African liberation songs part of “hate speech.”

Let us go back to the historical origins of this doctrine and relate it to the specific political strategy it served at different times.

During slavery, elements of the emerging doctrine of human rights were meant to deny white evil and barbarism by showing that the white slave catchers and slave masters were nevertheless a superior species compared to African “savages.” In this way slavery itself and the holocaust it unleashed in Africa could still be described in white literature as a blessing for those Africans who survived the Middle Passage and came to live in North America.

During the Abolitionist period and later imperialism, white society designed a massive campaign and immense literature to show that white imperialists were superior to African rulers. The careers of Henry Morton Stanley, Robert Moffat and David Livingstone were dedicated to the creation and propagation of that image. Colonialism, settlerism and white supremacy in the colonies were based on proving that colonised societies were superior to self-governing and autonomous African societies.

Once the Africans themselves started fighting against settlerism, apartheid, UDI and Portuguese fascism, a new phase had been reached. The imperialist human rights doctrine had to teach Africans that white metropolitan society was far superior to backward white settler societies. So the Africans should not reject imperialism together with settler oppression. They should appeal to the ‘mother country’ against backward and uneducated white settlers. A lot of literature, thousands of foreign scholarships for African students, thousands of pamphlets, newspapers and books were dedicated to that purpose.

But after the Hitler wars in the 1940s, colonial resistance became linked to communism and socialism. So the specific political strategy became larger than merely covering up the evils of white society and imperialism. The purpose was now to promote capitalism and democracy as if they were the same thing and to show that white western capitalist society was superior to communism. This had nothing to do with how real human beings everywhere lived from day-to-day at the time. It had to do with a political strategy for a new form of white supremacy which foregrounded human rights as belonging to everyone everywhere on paper and in the media but not in real life.

The other challenge was the demon and ghost of Hitler himself within wWestern white society. It had to be exorcised because in reality the US and UK were not morally much better than Hitler’s Germany. After all, the roots of Hitlerism were western and white. Hitler had borrowed much from philosophies of white supremacy in the UK and US, including the science of eugenics and the movements to popularise it.

So, the 1948 San Francisco conference which adopted the grossly misnamed Universal Declaration of Human Rights needed first and foremost to prove that the Allies who defeated Hitler were also morally superior to Hitler. This was the specific purpose of the Nuremberg trials as show-trials. But for the white west there was also the need to prove that capitalist society was democratic society and superior to communism. This was not stated at San Francisco in 1948 but it had already become clear in US President Harry S Truman’s foreign policy.

When the continent of Africa and its Asian and Latin American allies mobilised against apartheid and exposed the roles of Europe and North America in arming the apartheid regime and investing in the expansion of western capital in South Africa and beyond another special stage was reached.

The US Congress was forced to pass the US Anti-Apartheid Bill of 1986 in order to distance capitalist democracy from apartheid. As the US bill was being debated in 1985, President P W Botha of South Africa complained, clearly showing that he understood the cynicism and the political specificity of the human rights doctrine: Botha said:“Were they Afrikaners who tried to eliminate the Australian Aborigines?

Are they Afrikaners who discriminate against Blacks and call them Niggers in the [United] States? Were they Afrikaners who started the slave trade?… England discriminates against its Blacks and the SUS law is out to discipline Blacks… Why in the hell then is so much (human rights) noise made about us?… Nevertheless, it is comforting to know that

behind the scenes, Europe, America, Canada, Australia, and all others, are behind us in spite of what they say…does anyone of you know a white country without an investment or interest in [apartheid] South Africa?

Who buys our gold? Who buys our diamonds? Who trades with us?”

Botha proved that the human rights doctrine was used by Europe and North America in the 1980s to achieve a specific political strategy: that of insuring that the huge benefits which the white west had reaped from 300 years of brutal and oppressive white supremacy in South Africa would not be lost or destroyed with the apartheid administration of the Boers. In the US Anti-Apartheid Bill, human rights served as an alibi for western imperialism in South Africa.

But the pattern does not end there. Soon after passage of the token US Anti-Apartheid Bill in 1986, the former Soviet Union began to unravel. In order to ensure that the break-away republics would not find their own models of governance, a huge package was jointly launched by the US and the EU, employing both NATO and ‘human rights’.

A written sample of this massive deployment of human rights for political purpose is Frederick Quinn’s 252-page book called Human Rights and You: A Guide for the States of the Former Soviet Union and Central Europe. The specific strategic purpose of this massive deployment of human rights was to prove that neoliberal capitalism was superior to all other systems, as Francis Fukuyana also tried to show through his book The End of History and the Last Man.

The organic African approach to matters of intellect and human development is required more than ever in order to cut through this Eurocentric posturing.

History has not ended. It is the US empire whose end is in sight.


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