INSIGHT: Can Ngugi and Mangcu be trusted with decolonisation?
To all those so-called black intellectuals who claim to be radical, radicalism is tested on the ground and it is there where contradictions will be fleshed out
What good is Ngũgĩ, revered as a literary great, if he is unable or unwilling to respond to the most basic of decolonial questions: Can the oppressor leave so that the oppressed can engage? The time for grandstanding and sloganeering about decolonization has come to an end. The time for praxis is now.
On Friday, March 3, the literary giant Ngugi wa Thiong’o was hosted by the Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) lecture series ‘Great Text/Big Questions’, where he gave a public lecture at the Baxter theatre.
The event is the first in a series and aims to centre decoloniality.
Decoloniality is the disruption of norms of colonialism and aims to reverse the colonisation process and rightfully put black people first.
The public lecture would be the litmus test for whether this series would be true to the disruption of the norms and patterns of white power, or whether this would be another liberal exercise by institutions like the University of Cape Town in managing the blacks who want change.
The series is the brain child of Professor Xolela Mangcu, who is often portrayed as a towering black mind and a radical black conscious scholar, but who, in truth, is nothing more than a liberal who holds dearly the notion of a bilateral approach, involving both black and white in dismantling a white capitalist patriarchal society.
Mangcu’s behavior finds him imitating his master and treating radical black intellectuals, in the form of student activists, as perpetual under-16s. His responses and engagements with student activists is consistent with his condescending and anti-black rhetoric.
When one peels away this pseudo-intellectualism mixed with many accolades, Mangcu remains another black who wallows in contradictions and whose liberalism is mistaken for a radical black voice. Mangcu has proven himself to be liberal not only in his rhetoric but in praxis. He continues to massage and tip toe around whiteness and ushers the same command to young, black, radical thinkers and decolonialists.
The events of last week at Baxter theatre are a clear sign of the stance taken by students activists, that decolonization will no longer remain just a rhetoric and a conversation starter, but will fulfil its soul purpose which can only be discovered through praxis. The time for grandstanding and sloganeering has come to an end. The time for praxis is now.
To all those so-called black intellectuals who claim to be radical, radicalism is tested on the ground and it is there where contradictions will be fleshed out. Black Consciousness as a liberation tool remains theory outside of praxis. Decolonization is defined as an act; without actually actively decolonizing, it will remain a conversation starter and a buzz word for pseudo-intellectuals and for ‘wokeness’.
The moment where power was tested is when Comrade Kolosa Ntombini stood up and asked a basic, but fundamental question. The question was rooted in the essence of decoloniality. Kolosa asked, “Can the oppressor and the oppressed be in the same room?”
Just before the revered, acclaimed and respected author who pens his work on decolonization, wa Thiong’o, stood up to give his address, Comrade Kolosa gave him a moment where he could take that wealth of knowledge and display it practically.
Interestingly, Mangcu then decided that despite the wealth of decolonial knowledge wa Thiong’o has, despite having walked this earth for so much longer and having engaged people many, many times across the world, he needed to intervene.
Mangcu took the mic, began to inform us of the stature of wa Thiong’o, and then began to plead that we “allow Ngugi to do what he has come for”.
What had Ngugi come for? In the introductory remarks we were told Ngugi came to give fire to the student struggle. Yet here, when a question was posed by a student, Mangcu decided that Ngugi must not entertain the question at hand.
Mangcu’s white boss was sitting front right of the stage, the black student block was sitting front left, and Mangcu was pleading with black students not to embarrass him in front of his white boss. Qha!
Ngugi could have easily used his charming humorous self to side step the question or do whatever he pleased, such is the reverence we had for him. We had no intention of shutting down an old black father who has given us the text to rebel against colonialism in practice. But this moment in truth had nothing to do with Ngugi; it had everything to do with Mangcu and his relationship to his white boss.
If a field negro is invited into the house, the house negro is more fearful of how the field negro will act in front of Maasta. Maasta doesn’t recognize a difference, Maasta sees niggers. The house negro wants the Maasta to know that they are different and that the house negro is closer to Maasta.
This was Xolela Mangcu. A house negro, embarrassed that there would be no seamless swaying of speeches in this “decolonial” space.
Field negros were not interested in sitting silently as pseudo-intellectuals performed for Maasta(s). The tension between thought and action needed to be exposed.
What good is Ngugi, revered as a literary great, if he is unable or unwilling to respond to the most basic of decolonial questions: Can the oppressor leave so that the oppressed can engage? A position that would proclaim that he cares about his position in relation to black liberation not Maasta and his house negro.
You see, Mangcu’s response was natural. He has accepted his role as a house negro or what Biko would call a “non-white”. His ambitions are white, and he continually uses the black struggle for upward mobility within academia. He has no interest in using his progression in the white academic space to dismantle power. He wants to continue to please his Maasta. His is the defeated psyche of a slave that never realised no matter how many decolonial lectures you do to secure the discourse within and for the benefit of the white liberal ivory towers of UCT, you’ll remain a kaffir to your white baas.
This generation of black rebels against white power wants praxis. We think, we do! We are not interested in wasting time making each other feel good with clicks and claps and rehearsals of eulogies.
If Ngugi is unwilling to put decolonisation as praxis and Mangcu loves Maasta more than black people, both should not be trusted with ideas around the struggle for black liberation.
The struggle for a decolonised education in a decolonised society can no longer be left in the hands of those who pretend to love black people, but who instead are committed to maintaining the status quo.
The black students under the leadership of Comrade Kolosa showed us that power belongs to the black masses of our people and now is the moment to confront those who don’t work to end it in the interest of black liberation.
Sisipho Fongoqa and Lindsay Maasdorp are student activists and members of the Black First Land First student movement (BLF-SM). This article originally appeared in Black Opinion