Reconsider your ‘Reconsideration of the Decolonisation Project’: A Reply to Rafael Winkler
By Jonathan Chimakonam
Eburu ozu onye ọzọ, ọdị ka ebu ukwu nkụ. (When ‘An-Other’ man’s corpse is carried shoulder-high by ragged job men, folks who live in luxury treat it like a mere bunch of firewood) —Igbo Proverb
In his piece titled “Reconsider the decolonisation project” published in the Mail and Guardian of January 14 2020, Rafael Winkler tried to persuade us to abandon decolonial programmes. Here, I want to persuade him to reconsider his stance by not only pointing to some of the weaknesses in his arguments but by shedding light on some of the peculiar circumstances that justify and necessitate decolonial programmes.
Winkler, Thomas Nagel would enthuse, does not know what it is like to be a bat. He can, for all eternity, speculate that the South African students are merely acting on impulse from the “stories” which their “parents” and “extended family” told them about apartheid. He can imagine that the environment in which today’s South African students live in does not reflect the apartheid past. He can even conclude that the South African students are “robbed of an objective relation with their past.” Such a simplistic understanding of the condition of the Native South Africans, who have felt the sword of an ungodly history from edge to edge; such a discourteous, highbrow analysis of the economic circumstances of the South African student; such philosophical counselling to those who bore the brunt of apartheid to have an “objective relation” with it, makes one cringe away. Should anyone who paid the iron price of apartheid be asked to have an “objective relation[ship]” with it?
And because Winkler does not know what it is like to be a Native South African, he can afford to dismiss decolonisation wryly as a “remedial action,” or that it is, gleefully, something that can apply to “the orgasm” as he did. In reading Winkler’s piece, one easily understands why it is possible for a monk to visit a labour camp without seeing the suffering of those caged in it. In times like this, the words of Naom Chomsky come alive, “[R]esponsibility I believe accrues through privilege. People like you and me have an unbelievable amount of privilege, and therefore we have a huge amount of responsibility.” Philosophy is nothing without responsibility! It is not responsible (even in philosophy’s speculative standard and the use of unbridled poetic license) to suggest that because the government of South Africa is not excelling in dismantling the economic legacies of apartheid, or that the managerial class running the universities are profiting from the promotion of decolonial programmes means that decolonisation is superficial. Or, that the government policies on decolonisation of education, the universities curriculum decolonisation programmes, policies of professional bodies and associations and, indeed, every other well-meaning decolonial programme, including African philosophy is “superficial”. It simply does not follow.
I will tell Winkler what is superficial! A decolonisation programme in South Africa is not a remedial action, that is, it is not about handing chocolates to cry babies while their hardworking peers manage sweets. It is not about changing the rules of the game such that underlings would be able to post an average performance. It is not even about bringing the goalposts closer for the spoilt kid to be able to score a goal. These, my friend, are a superficial treatment of well-meaning decolonial programmes in South Africa.
Here are some of what decolonisation entails: Decolonisation is not merely a critique of coloniality; it is one done from the perspective of otherness. Decolonisation is logical, in the sense that our framework for reasoning is not the only one, so, others are free to develop new ones. It is methodological, in the sense that our approach to studying reality might not be the preference of all peoples, in all places and at all times, so, others are free to formulate new ones that work best for them. It is recognition, tolerance and accommodation of otherness because knowledge is not exhausted in our preferred episteme. It is the understanding that universality is accounted for by the particulars. It is allowing a thousand flowers to bloom. It is a sentence that makes complete sense but without a full stop.
One cannot know the relevance of decolonial programmes if he thought that the sky was always blue. That is what the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie calls “the danger of the single story”. I do not frown at Winkler’s position. I sympathise with him as a victim of the single story! He enjoins us to think of decolonisation as a programme that can aid the South African students to become “economically useful and politically obedient by having” their “behaviours shaped by the norms of reason”. But I ask Winkler, whose norms? Decolonisation is a creative struggle against the hegemony of the single story. It is obviously difficult for one to see the need for decolonial programmes if they did not see the danger of the single story. The perduring intellectual climate or the lopsided cultural statusquo which Winkler defends is not only bad for the normalised or the residualised; it is bad for the self-anointed norm, and most certainly, it is bad for the progress of human civilisation.
Without denying the possibility of politicisation or even the abuse of decolonisation by some misfits in some quarters (a point made abundantly by Winkler which I agree with), there is no ‘reasonable reason’ that warrants some of the brow-scratching conclusions Winkler reached. Policies and policy-makers are not necessarily symmetrical. Winkler produced some reasons in the guises of political culture, identity politics, government irresponsibility, mercantilist university management, etc., on the bases of which he juiced down the relevance of decolonisation, but none warrants throwing baby alongside the bathwater. Bad apples abound in every system and hardly is there any programme without fault. Caricaturing decolonisation as he did by referring to it as “the so-called” points not only to Winkler’s insensitivity to the condition of the South African otherness but to a possible lack of adequate understanding of the conditions of life in a society that affords people like him a legion of goods. It is important in commenting on sensitive issues such as the need or otherwise of decolonisation in South Africa that we avoid recourse to assumption where there is a paucity of real-life experiences.
“It has often been observed”, said Gordon Hunnings, “that whereas the truths of philosophy turn out to be trivial tautologies, it is the errors of philosophy that are intrusive”. In the very first paragraph, Winkler draws attention to a special issue of a journal he edited which concerns the idea of decolonisation. A theme is chosen, according to him, to highlight the “exorbitant value” that has accrued to the concept in the “last five years.” It turns out that this bogus claim that the value of decolonisation is exorbitant wets the appetite of the reader for nothing. As Winkler makes no effort to substantiate his claim in the second paragraph. One might even think that he would come around to it at some point in the essay, but he never did, except for a few other poorly supported claims.
The second paragraph begins with a fancy statement intended to ridicule than to inform. For example, Winkler claims that advocates of decolonisation want everything to be decolonised, including orgasm. That sense of casualness, when addressing a serious issue, could be costly. The result readily manifested in the next sentence as he switched from ‘decolonisation’ to ‘transformation,’ two different concepts, discussed by the author as if they meant the same thing. Winkler’s over-confidence on the subject of decolonisation has become his hubris in that paragraph.
By the third paragraph, Winkler seems to have lost his mojo. The reader cannot tell whether he is still talking about decolonisation or his newly introduced concept of transformation. He admits that his now ‘lost’ concept features in the works of Frantz Fanon, Gayatri Spivak, Edward Said, Walter Mignolo and Enrique Dussel. He even proudly included a list of continental philosophers some of whom are notorious for their racist or misogynistic views or both. Winkler did not deem it important to highlight what those thinkers said, after all, he had declared in paragraph one that decolonisation (assuming he was still talking about it) had accrued exorbitant value down the years. What seems to bother him is that the African student is not engaging with a host of western scholars and schools of thought on the connection between “rationality and power.”
In paragraph four, Winkler makes a bold and unsupported claim that what the government of South Africa, universities and professional bodies mean by decolonisation is neither clear nor precise. He jumps into this conclusion without disclosing any apparent policy confusions and incoherencies. How? On what basis? I guess we will never know. Winkler brushes forward to provide a wild presupposition that the assumption out there is that “reflection” is not needed “but, rather, remedial action without further delay.” One wonders to whom he attributes this assumption.
In paragraph five, he claims that the intention for introducing decolonisation in the tertiary institution was to “pacify middle- and lower middle-class black students aware of their grim future owing to increasing unemployment, and who already feel alienated from society.” Let us assume for the sake of argument that Winkler is telepathic, just how decolonisation can answer to the so-called grim future and unemployment is hardly clear. He obviously wanted to criticise the wisdom behind the idea, but this was done without regard to logic. Then, as if he had hurriedly forgotten his story of grim future, unemployment and alienation, he states, “These students have heard stories about apartheid from their parents and extended family who lived through the terror. But the environment they live in does not reflect this past (emphasis mine).” But, those students can still see high electric fences, economically segregated neighbourhoods, attack dogs, shanties, matchbox houses and so forth which were some of the legacies of apartheid, needless to repeat that “grim future, unemployment and alienation” of today’s South Africa were the main features of apartheid. How can he say that the environment has changed for those students? Which South Africa is Winkler writing about?
I could go on to dissect Winkler’s essay further, but it seems better to spend my last few words urging Winkler to reconsider his reconsideration of the decolonisation project. That we have a pair of strong wings to fly does not mean everyone has them in their garage. Privilege should teach us some humility. That we have two strong legs to run does not mean that those who need some help are unfair burdens. Ability should teach us some responsibility. Perhaps, in the euphoria of our accomplishments, we should all take a step back and ask most sincerely, all things considered, whether we would be standing so close to the sun if we weren’t in the east.
Winkler claims that today’s South African environment does not reflect the apartheid past. In his words, “Apart from the Apartheid Museum, there are precious few things in Johannesburg that reflect these stories (other cities have even fewer tokens of remembrance).” Really! If Winkler sincerely wishes to see, he could drive down to Soweto. He should drive through its streets to view the matchbox houses. He should drive around the country, through its suburbs and villages to view the shanties. He should step out of his car to meet the occupants of the matchbox houses and residents of the shanty settlements. He should drive through almost every city in South Africa today to see that even though the formerly segregated areas are shrinking, they are still there nonetheless. He should check the poverty, disease and the life expectancy statistics and the vast percentage discrepancy of different races in the same country. He should open his eyes to see that the legacies of apartheid are dying hard everywhere. Or perhaps, Winkler should visit Orania in the Northern Cape, an Afrikaner-only town where native South Africans are not allowed in. What about the high electric fences and the attack dogs one finds at Melville in Johannesburg or Arcadia in Pretoria? Etc., Should I go on?
Winkler seems embittered that some African students nowadays want to study African philosophy; the question for him is, so what? Without supporting the racialisation of philosophy, one must understand the sort of intellectual climate that necessitated the thinking that an African should not study Nietzsche. That thinking and Winkler would agree with me, was created by an academic culture that residualises Africa intellectual history. Guess what? That culture that marginalises and subjugates Africa has now created a new consciousness in the marginalised peoples of Africa to find meaning and value in their own intellectual accumulations. What is wrong with Africans studying African philosophers where Europeans would rather avoid including them in the curriculum? So, for Winkler, only knowing Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Foucault, or the ideas of the Frankfurt school is knowing the one true philosophy. Knowing Wiredu, Asouzu, Momoh, Ramose, Oruka, Gyekye, or the ideas of the Calabar school does not count. It is precisely this type of mindset popular amongst some teachers in South African institutions that is the cause of the “MustFall” movements and constitutes part of the ground for not only justifying but necessitating decolonisation of the nation’s system of education and schools’ curricula. The anonymous Igbo philosophers of the complementary system of thought were clearly correct in their rumination that “When ‘An-Other’ man’s corpse is carried shoulder-high by ragged job men, folks who live in luxury treat it like a mere bunch of firewood!” Those whose kernels were cracked for them by benevolent spirits, the Igbo say, ought to learn the virtue of being considerate to others.
—– Jonathan O Chimakonam is a senior lecturer in the philosophy department at the University of Pretoria.
The Anti-Racists Purge Must Begin From Within
By Ben, Patrick Effiong
Racism is utterly bad at all levels of moral theorizing. But, do you know what’s worse than racism itself? It is when those who are at the receiving end of racial discrimination fight against it on one hand, whilst at the same time working to sustain racism by pandering to social practices that affirm racial inequality, thereby strengthening the argument for racial hierarchy. This is what most victims of racial discrimination do today, and it is this problem that I seek to address in this blog article.
Anti-racists movements and protests in recent times have taken the center stage of public discourse – and justifiably so – almost eclipsing the rampaging Coronavirus pandemic, spurred by the despicable murder of George Floyd by a Euro-American police officer in the United States of America. Racism as we know it, involves the discrimination against people on the basis of their skin color/pigmentation, ethnicity, historical origin and other peripheral differences. Fueled by both the fear of aliens within one’s society and the chauvinistic belief in human hierarchy, racism has earned the highest medal for popularity in our social space today second only to perhaps, terrorism. With its cheap accessibility by almost every human society, political and religious leaders and other transactional social groups today conveniently exploit the fragility of racial differences to stir up discord amongst peoples to achieve their negative ends.
William Julius Wilson, a sociology scholar in his 1999 book The Bridge Over the Racial Divide, argued that at the fundamental level, racism is “an ideology of racial domination”. This ideology of racial superiority socially built on external phenotypic foundations has been used to justify many atrocities against racialized groups, or the “racialized other”, throughout history. In recent times, specifically from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries according to Matthew Clair a Harvard University scholar, and Jeffrey S. Denis of McMaster University, the Europeans employed this notion of racial superiority to “justify and prescribe exploitation, domination, and violence against peoples racialized as nonwhite”, for the expansion of slavery and their colonial empires. The Nazi Holocaust which marked the peak of the barbarity of what the belief in a racial hierarchy can lead to remains arguably the most crystal reminder of the dangers of peddling the idea of one race’s superiority over another.
Two brilliant African philosophers have also problematized the origin of racial discrimination based on skin pigmentation. Kwesi Tsri in his 2016 paper, Africans Are Not Black and Jonathan Chimakonam in his 2019 paper, Why the Racial Politic of Colour-branding should be Discontinued, respectively exposed the sinister origins and unwholesome symbolic representations of racial discrimination based on physical appearance, as having its roots in ancient Greece in the works of Homer, Aristotle, Ptolemy and other early Greek writers down to Kant and Hegel in the 18th/19th century, where the skin pigmentation of the Africans was equated with having a “burnt face”. Chimakonam further argues that the reason why we categorize humans according to their skin coloration is to foster – “politics of division, discrimination and subjugation”. The truth of this abounds in our observation of the end goal(s) of the hierarchical racial divide as employed by religious and political leaders from Northern Ireland to Northern Nigeria, and from Hitler’s Germany of racist memory to the present-day Gaza Strip of bloody reality. However, little attention has been paid to the role of the victims of racial discrimination – or the “racialized other” – in sustaining the ideology and institution of racism. How is this done?
Across many religions we find images of God(s) represented as “light-skinned” and the devil depicted as “dark-skinned” being endorsed by dark-skinned peoples themselves; in TV commercials, the standard of civilization is measured by how Westernized an individual is; in the beauty industries, we have many products touting the “light-skinned” as the standard of beauty that every dark-skinned person should aspire to, this is evident in the massive “skin brightening/lightening” creams aimed at reducing the level of melanin in the dark skin for the attainment of the status of humanity; those who are not light-skinned and those who do not have long hairs are wearing wigs cut from and/or artificially made to model the hairs of those who are light-skinned and fixing artificial European eyes. These practices of trying to mould oneself in the image of the racists – or the socially constructed central race – without a doubt, entrenches the notion of a “standard, better and superior race” and defeats the logic of uniqueness of individual humans being fundamentally equal and worthy of respect amidst their differences.
One question that begs to be answered, which those in the “other” categories of the racial divide have been avoiding is this: can racism – say European-orchestrated racism – ever be defeated in a world where they use the category of European phenotype as the standard by which “other” racial categories should measure themselves against or aspire to as the quintessence of humanity? Can the line of hierarchical racial categorization ever be blurred in a world where the hoax claim to “Whiteness” is placed at the center of racial significance, while “others” constitute the fringes moving towards that center for the purpose of attaining relevance? The answer is a resounding NO!
Self-affirmation of racial inferiority implied and applied through a preference for the European imagery politicized as ‘white’, and anything but that which is associated with the culture/image of the victim of racial discrimination is the biggest stumbling block to the actualization of racial equality. And this is sadly entrenched by the racialized victims of racism themselves in the context of European/Euro-American racism, through their everyday practices that projects a fruitless aspiration to the false idea of “Whiteness” rather than self-awareness and respect. Racism cannot and will never end, so long as no Westerner, for example, takes pride in giving their children African names despite spending centuries in Africa and forcefully reaping the rewards of the continent’s great cultural heritage, yet many Africans take pride in taking on Western names and cultural practices, and projecting same as the standard for civilization that all should aspire to; so long as Africans keep worshipping European God(s), ignoring the cultural manifestation of God(s) in all societies, while no Westerner have regard for or thinks the African God(s) worthy of worship or respect; so long as Africans keep doing European weddings – the traditional marriage practice of the race they think into superiority by giving it utmost preference while relegating to second-class status their traditional organization of marriage.
The above are overt sociocultural affirmations of racial inferiority, one that projects the European/Euro-American race as the quintessence of what a human being should be, thus, reducing the human worth of the aspirants for this image to the category of a “racial other” – an inferior stock and imperfect representation of what a human being shouldn’t be. This self-affirmation of inferiority should be fought against at all levels as it emboldens the racist. Racism itself feeds off of its victim’s acceptance of inferiority to survive. Consequently, to fight it, one must not act in ways that affirm or feed the hierarchical narrative.
Inasmuch as the racist has a great task of unlearning negative social perceptions of peoples that informs the notion of racial superiority, a far greater task lies with the individual who’s racially discriminated against, to dispel this groundless ideology by desisting from affirming the existence of racial hierarchy, through self-negating practices that directly/indirectly aspires to the image of the racist. Without first purging the self of this fundamental racism towards oneself which is common among racialized groups, the fight for racial equality – which sadly, first acknowledges the existence of racial inequality – will become an exercise in futility.
The anti-racists purge must therefore begin from within!
A CONFERENCE ON “WITCHCRAFT PRACTICES” IS NOT A “WITCHES AND WIZARDS CONFERENCE”: A MEMOIR FROM MY U.N.N. EXPERIENCE (1)
By Emmanuel Ofuasia csp (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Towards the end of November 2019, there was, what seemed to me, a needless hullabaloo, in the town of Nsukka, which houses the University of Nigeria (U.N.N). The reason is not unconnected to the “Conference on Witchcraft Practices,” an event initiated by the B.I.C. Ijiomah Center for Policy Studies and Research within the same University. An arm of the University community, however, seemed to be against the Conference as they made effort to frustrate the efforts of the convener (Professor Egodi Uchendu) and the pivot of the Local Organising Committee (Dr. Elizabeth Onogwu). These women deserve more accolades than a blog post as they seem to recognise how the history and concept of witchcraft presents itself to peoples, essentially as a feminine affair. They stood their ground in spite of the withdrawal of the proposed keynote speaker, Professor David I. Ker.
A “Conference on Witchcraft Practices” soon metamorphosed through the media into “Witchcraft Conference” with the underlying presumption that witches and wizards have chosen the University of Nigeria Nsukka for their “gathering”. This was followed by various banners and posters within the institution signaling: “Witches and Wizard, UNN belongs to Jesus so no way for you!” The media made matters worse, so much so that nearly all radio stations were questioning why an institution of the caliber of UNN will allow such a backward and diabolic conference, in the first place. After much hullabaloo, the LOC made a slight turn regarding theme but the Conference took place.
As a doctoral student of philosophy at Lagos State University, the journey from Lagos to Nsukka for the ‘demonic’ Conference could not be communicated to family members until I arrived safely to present the paper – “Process Ontology and Witchcraft as Illustrated in the Ifá Literary Corpus,” – whose abstract had been accepted months hitherto. And it was during this presentation that I disclosed how the amorphous notion of witchcraft by the Church and the consequent witch-hunt served to relegate the woman as a Satanic agent only for gendercide – a calculated exertion toward the extermination of thousands of women, to escalate. It is this subtle but dangerous understanding that diffuses into contemporary Nigeria where the woman is the one that is usually perceived as the ‘winch’ (Nigerian pidgin English term for witch). Unless the origin of this erroneous ascription is dealt with, methinks, the “Conference on Witchcraft Practices” would not have attained its goal.
So, I started by disclosing how, sometime ago in European history, it was admitted that only women can practice witchcraft. Even when men may muster the capacity to do what these women do, they are usually gleaned as righteous and divinely inspired or magicians. Incidentally, the term ‘wizard,’ which seems to be the equivalent masculine semantic of witchcraft, is, however, not gender-specific. I employed two English lexicographers to make my point.
In his Encyclopaedia World Dictionary, Peter Hanks defines a witch as “a person, especially a woman, who professes or is supposed to practice magic, especially black magic or black art.” The implication is that the ‘craft’ could only have the woman as competent. Wizard, a term which is usually employed for the man, Hanks defines thus: “One who professes to practice magic; a magician or sorcerer.” It is clear that whereas witchcraft is gender-specific, the definition ascribed to wizardry is not. The inference is that it is not possible for a man to be a witch. The second lexicographer, Bernard S. Cayne in the 1992 version of The New Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, passes a witch as “a woman practicing sorcery usually with the aid, or through the medium of an evil spirit.” He defines a wizard as “a person who seems to perform magic.” Clearly magic is not witchcraft or perhaps it is not a deadly art as witchcraft, it may be argued. I pointed out during my presentation that the lexicographers have failed the woman! This failure however is influenced by the Roman Catholic Inquisition. As a result, I relayed to my listeners, the fit between the English lexicographers and the Catholic Inquisition concerning the necessary feminine character of witchcraft.
In the Bible, a clear depiction of a witch is Jezebel but there is no explicit mention of a wizard throughout the scripture. Jezebel is portrayed as wicked, malicious, plotted the death of a subject, and was prophesied to die a horrible death. Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I were worse, yet no one in history has passed these as witches. This is made more problematic, I reflected during my presentation, by the fact that the Bible’s idea of witchcraft/witch is nebulous if not tenuous. Even as it seeks justification from other concepts such as necromancy or medium, sorcery, magic, it is not evident enough that the Bible endorses witchcraft as a feminine enterprise. For those who may want to be sure, I disclosed that the concepts: “witch”, “witches” and “witchcraft” appear nine times [(Ex. 22: 18); (Dt. 19: 10); (1 Sam. 15: 23); (2 Ch. 33: 6); (Gal. 5: 20); (2 Kings 9: 22); (Mic. 5: 12); (Nahum 3: 4); and (Nahum; 3: 4)] in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. On the other hand, the concept, “wizard(s)” appears eleven times: [(Lev. 19: 31); (Lev. 20: 6); Lev. 20: 27); (Deut. 18: 11); (1 Sam. 28: 3); (1 Sam. 28: 9); (2 Kings 21: 6); (2 Kings 23: 24); (2 Ch. 33: 6); (Isa. 8: 19); and (Isa. 19: 3)]. A meticulous reader will find that the Bible, save for Jezebel, is not gender-specific both on witchcraft and wizardry. How did the gender ascription and the consequent gendercide enter the fray? I turned to the Medievals and the Catholic Inquisition for justification.
An outspoken declaration of witchcraft which endorses my gendercide conviction is clear in the publication of the Malleus maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), emanating from the Catholic Inquisition authorities in 1485-6. In that document, the following is proclaimed:
All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman…What else is a woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic anger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with fair colours…Women are by nature instruments of Satan – they are by nature carnal, a structural defect rooted in the original creation.
There is no single verse from the entire 66 books of the Christian bible that ratifies the above, yet it has served as the injunction for the moral backing for a horrible, endless march of suffering, torture and human disgrace inflicted on thousands of women in Europe and then Africa, especially. In the 17th and 18th centuries, irrational tales of forced witchcraft confessions, leading to scores of death on women were recorded in Europe.
My presentation relayed the case of 1645 Suffolk England as an instance, where 124 individuals were accused of the craft. Of the 124 accused in that year in Suffolk, 68 of them were executed and 80 percent of them, women. Confessions (which are usually induced and never voluntary) bother on the perceived failures of these women as wives, mothers and the possession of quasi-physical imps. It is also important to understand that of the remaining 20 percent that were executed, it is not easy to indicate if they were not women since only the surname appears. In other words, the total number of women executed in Suffolk could have well been over the 80 percent mark. These figures not only indicate but validate the thesis of my presentation that those accused of witchcraft are usually women even when a properly defined and conceived notion of ‘witches’ and ‘witchcraft’ remains amoebic.
Unfortunately, contemporary Africa seems to have tapped into the notion that a witch is necessarily a woman even when their traditional institutions, tender otherwise. The need to correct this uncharitable misrepresentation from an African traditional religion will be the focus of the part 2 of this blog post.