“I did not feel sorry, when my brother Nhamo died.” So begins Nervous Conditions, an insightful novel by theZimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga that offers a critique of the complexity of the black question/condition.
Perhaps one of the most powerful aspects to emerge from apartheid was the restless spirit of blackness and its future. In those days, the debate was clear, the questions knife-sharp and the conversations never-ending.
Growing up in the pot-bellied streets of Pimville, I remember very well the spirited encounters on street corners, the impromptu fires of words, as comrades battled it out.
Our victory would not be led by soldiers who did not know their Marx from their Lenin, or even their Dostoyevsky from their Kant, their Achebe from their Armah.
The comrades who would deliver our freedom would be versed in the power of the bullet, but would equally swap the rifle for the power of the word. These sentiments were expressed clearly by the likes of Chippa, Bodilla, Stots and Kgaka.
They were not eminent comrades in the movement, but as ordinary supporters they knew what they expected of their leaders. I remember Chippa, perhaps the most boisterous of the lot, with an ox baritone to match, declaring after what seemed like a marathon of ideas that, when the ANC came to power, comrades must resist the urge to feed their second stomachs.
Some of us did not quite make the connection. How could comrades have a second stomach? Chippa’s message only got clearer as he continued. “Comrades, our land must not bask in the false glow of Lagos, or the disorder of Kinshasa, or the collapse of governance in Luanda. Our land, comrades, must resist the curse of the African continent.”
In those days, ordinary members of the movement had a strong appetite for self-reflexivity. But, if blackness is truly invested in the future of South Africa, it would have to ask itself the provocative question: What does the future of South Africa hold?
It feels as though blackness is entangled in the romantic memory of the past and unable to imagine a future in which the past victories will not sweeten the restlessness of the majority any more.
The noise around the impotent The Spear points to this. Instead of using the opportunity to gaze inward, the ruling party used the occasion to generate sentiment for a failing president, whose only contribution to the legacy of black leadership was to set a bad precedent.
A day before we remember the fire and zeal of the 1976 generation, should we not regenerate the spirit we mustered to dismantle the dromedaries of oppression to start a conversation about how blackness can save itself from the ANC?
Is it not time to declare that, unless we are willing to be the laughing stock of whiteness, we cannot continue to invest in a party that is falling apart on the watch of the future.
Like an addict who knows no other recourse except addiction, we may be the cause of our own demise.