May 2024

South Africa is undergoing another transformative era. A reaction by the settler classes is brewing beneath the Democratic Alliance and calls for Cape Independence. The ANC, once the undisputed hegemons of political life, are now faltering in every successive election. Clearly the state, and the ANC in particular, has not reached the golden pastures of unity Rainbowism seemingly promised. This piece will explore why this situation has arisen – namely, the inevitable cycle of coloniality that haunts post-colonial regimes. This plague maintains itself through the permanence of striated forms of life – the Fanonian Two Zones. It reinforces itself through a continuous white ontology, which maps the parameters of success in the supposedly post-colour state. This prevailing order has created new spaces of contestation, allowing a movement through the colonial dialectic beyond simply synthesising settler and native into a congealed mass. The new position of upwardly mobile black subjects, typified by students in the colonial academy, has allowed for a new contestation, a negation.  This piece will explore the occupation of Azania House in 2015 by students, workers and academics at the University Formerly Known as Rhodes – seeking to examine the discourses and praxis they undertook that sought to rock the foundational assumptions of the post-colonial South African regime.

The Two Zones in coloniality and post-coloniality

Fanon argues that the colonial world is a Manichean one, splitting native and settler into Two Zones of life.[1] This zoning creates ‘two species’[2] that are materially and psychologically distinct. Within a colonial context this creates striated spaces of ‘reciprocal exclusivity’ where each is ‘superfluous’ to the other.[3] The settler, as the dominant species, dehumanises the native, transforming them into the antithetical mirror of the settler.[4] This reality creates a comparaison,[5] a situation of ever-present equivalence by the native towards the settler-other; a constant understanding of oneself in the confines of the ‘white man’s values’.[6]

This state of affairs emerged during the colonial encounter’s construction of black as the metonymic other; crucial to concepts of Black Pain.[7] Blackness became a constantly positioned object-other, compared to the colonial subject-settler. Through this process, enrobing oneself in the settler’s cloak becomes the only communicable – or recognisable – method of succeeding in the colonial world. To be shrouded in it signifies an elevation of the black subject to a position of autonomy through a mimicry of actions and markers from an alien community – a process of desire: ‘to be, to emerge’.[8] As Fanon puts it:

‘His [the black subject] line of orientation runs through the other. It is always a question of the subject; one never thinks of the object.’

One must ask what this other is. It is an existential fear, born of historical conditions that left blackness as an ‘isolated, sterile, salient atom’.[10] To be the other is to be the black-er, the less capitalistically successful, the lesser agent, an object. The other is the point of origin, the sons of Cain ever to be cursed with the mark of Ham.

Since recognition is the manner of turning in into out, to acknowledge subject-essence that stabilises identities and provides a sense of agency, the inherent othering of blackness has affected its manners of recognition and avenues out from colonial encounters. The intrinsic tying of blackness to the object-other has made the ‘quest of absoluteness’[11] a dangerous road, where a desire for subject-status so quickly may become a drive for recognition through a replication of the white identities understood to be inherent to it. When paths of subjectification are taken upon the yellow-brick-road of white logics, the end-result for the colonised subject can be fraught. This issue of success through a ‘white mask’ is not an individualised phenomena, but rather, floats miasmically in the air of African states. Four hundred years of material domination and superstructural stunting has allowed neurosis to fester deep within colonial society.[12] This is especially present in South Africa, where the emanators of said stench penetrated far deeper onto native land, wafting it around for far longer than the “acceptable” norm. Its permanence can be witnessed in all aspects, from the neoliberal economies and labour-forms being ‘granted’ upon the colonised, to the state’s own spreading of capital[13] through the continent with Cape Town’s supermarkets now as far north as the Sahel.

The Two Zones of ‘stone and steel’ nestled between ‘crouching villages’[14] have continued into post-coloniality. In essence, the post-apartheid compromise resulted in the reformatting of the settler species into a heterogenous class of black and white. This has been achieved through the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy which has multiplied the black bourgeois tenfold,[15] subsuming them into the settler species.

The BEE emerged in the 1997 Green Paper on Public Procurement Reform, with a vision to unify state, private sector, and civil society under a common aim to ‘generate economic wealth’.[16] This early formation of the policy stressed ‘reconstruction’ and ‘integration’[17] as the two pillars by which apartheid could be negated. The application of the BEE has been heavily inspired by ‘industry charters’[18] that sought to increase black share-hold of key industries. One such case is the petroleum industry charter, introduced in 2000, that implemented a ten year plan for achieving 25% black ownership of the industry.[19]

At face-Fanonian-value, the BEE is easily dismissed as an explicit example of comparaison in its replication of white avenues to success. However, more pointedly, the policy has some direct historical precedence within the settler politics of the apartheid colonial state. Namely, the BEE shares an ontological likeness to the National Party’s  Volkskapitalisme project. This policy emerged to provide a middle-passage for the poor settlers in South Africa between ‘Jewish bosses’ and trade unionism.[20] Its aim was to ‘foster an Afrikaner capitalist class’[21] through loans, economic empowerment and access to capital. As with the BEE, it focused on granting its chosen community greater share over key industries, like mining, which rose from 1% ownership by Afrikaners in 1949 to 22% by 1960.[22]

Comparing these policies, we find a key commonality: they are both governmental policies focused on reform, of control through wealth. The policies effectively share an ontology, both seeking to provide the ascendant upper-strata of the rupturing caste a tangible stake in national capital – as means to bind their interests to the propagation of the national status-quo. The BEE’s implementation reveals the underlying problems of compromise that bubble upwards during post-colonial transitions: their core concern became stabilising a new modus vivendi.[23] The “serious” concerns of economic prosperity  – maintainable through concessions to domestic settlers and supra-national finance-capital – became their all-encompassing focus.  The latter followed much the same governmental concern, introduced in the 1930s in the wake of the 1914 Boer Revolt and the economic catastrophe of 1929. These ruptures had upset settler unity, widening cracks between the Dutch and Germanic Boers and Anglo-Saxon colonial governance. Both policies emerged from ruptures with the aim of granting the rupturing group a tangible stake in the mechanics of capitalist extraction. In essence, they aimed at bourgeoisificating sections of either group – be they Boer farmsteaders or a professional worker trapped in the townships.

Fanonian critiques of such policy turns stem from their reappropriation of white epistemological solutions to black decolonial issues. They reify exogenous settler “truths” and dismiss the native subject’s domestically generated “truths” – the affirmation in the native of the ‘supremacy of the white man’s values’.[24] As such, the BEE re-entrenches the Two Zones of coloniality by constraining itself solely within the settler thesis – ignoring the antithetical native. The policy does not transcend the colonial dialectic, but rather, moves back through it.[25] As such, rather than an escape from coloniality, the BEE reinforces it by subsuming the upper-strata of the native population into the settler population through capital accumulation, enacting a process whereby the native’s success is tenuously upheld via the repetition of the conditioned norms of the settler. In essence, the BEE holds a mirror up to the native that shows him resplendent in all the material and spiritual finery of the settler and claims this image sets him free.[26]
The BEE has failed to psychologically liberate[27] the black middle-classes because it tied success to the replication of whiteness - a comparaison.  Due to this, many of the ‘born frees’ feel disenfranchised as their only root to “success” is one that negates their identity. One area in which the BEE has proven most ineffective is the symbolic core of social-mobility, the University, with only 15% of undergrads completing their degrees.[28] This stems in large part from the post-racial mythologising within the institution. An example of this is the 2014 statement released by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT) in response to two separate racist attacks by white students of the university against black workers. Price responded to the ‘allegations’ – as he is quick to call them – by stressing the need to act ‘fairly’ and not in ‘haste’ lest the student-cum-settler be “unfairly” castigated.[29] The piece is loaded with allusions to the progressive politics of BEE-conditioned rainbow politics, yet, refuses to wrestle with the notion that this institution may play any part in the conditioning of the settler values underlying the racist attack.[30] This racist settler logic places the settler-subject above the bodies of black labourers, a group that is universally castigated as other due to both economic and socio-racial positions – especially in higher education, where an inherent institutional elitism castigates such groups as “lesser-than”. For such a settler to hold said position and use it to protect the perpetrators is telling. Price’s pleading and focus on the criminal’s humanity and right to a ‘fair’ trial reveals this reality, because Price’s job is to protect his institution; as such his defence of white students above black staff shows for whom the institution is constructed and for whom it is not.

The statement is almost a farcical caricature of Fanon’s notion of the pervasively haunting nature of white epistemology. Throughout the piece there are frequent squeals about the importance of the ‘proper judicial process’[31] being enacted.  To Price, there is a solution, one which follows the logics set-out by the settler state – the legalised codas built by the other – originating within the colonial encounter.

This is clearly not effective, as proven by the arrest of a copper attempting to stop the second crime being prosecuted. It serves as a cartoonish example of the paternalistic rhetoric undergirding settler assumptions of the correct path. Most disgustingly, Price states that it would be ‘unfair’ to paint the whole university institution as racist because it may paint all white students with ‘the same brush’ which he supposes is ‘in itself a form of racism’.[32] In taking this position, Price affirms the insipidity of the settler in post-coloniality, which constantly atomises examples of coloniality’s persistence by focusing upon an individualised subject. As such, he represents the broad trend within South African higher education towards a mythologised present divorced from South Africa’s colonial history.[33]

As shown, Fanon’s theory of the Two Zones still resonates within post-colonial South Africa. The post-apartheid compromise has reformatted the zones instead of removing them. ANC policies such as the BEE have enacted a material comparaison of blackness into whiteness. This has resulted in the integration of natives into the settler zone, reinforcing the colonial separations of the state.[34]

As such, whilst legal “equality” may have been achieved, the institutions, norms and psychology of South Africa remains a reflection of the ‘white-values’[35] of the pre-1994 state, leaving most natives still peering over the fence into the colonial zones of life.

This situation has given rise to new questions for the post-apartheid ‘born frees’:

  • Is South Africa’s Black community still the native other?
  • How can you construct black consciousness if blackness exists inside of whiteness?
  • ‘What does it mean to decolonise our minds?’[36]

Black Consciousness and Fanon

Black Consciousness rose to prominence within the apartheid state during the 1960s, spearheaded by its most prominent intellectual leader, Steve Biko. To Biko, the creation of a black identity was not ‘a matter of pigmentation […] [it] is a reflection of a mental attitude’.[37] As such, to proclaim oneself as black during coloniality is to start upon ‘a road towards emancipation’: the first, crucial step in decolonial liberation.[38]

One crucial discussion that was important to Biko was identifying what the origin of blackness was – in essence, asking: Why is black? Like Fanon, Biko identified the racial division of coloniality as emanating from a positioning of whiteness atop black, creating within them an identity – both material and psychological – as ‘have-nots’.[39] This stemmed from the racial zoning of coloniality that synthesised the economic substructure into the socio-racial superstructure, turning cause into consequence: ‘You are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.’[40]

Fanon’s critique of a vulgar Hegelian dialectic[41] results from the issue of non-recognition. The system of contestation present in the colonial world is beyond just a transplanted European model, but rather an aberration of these capitalistic processes. Capitalism, in its ideal form,[42] acts as a sort of closed-system. The proletarian creates the wealth, the bourgeois manages and maintains it. In this system, both parties are insiders to its function. Both parties must be co-recognised and treated with as subjects, as bearing subject-ivity.[43] In comparison, the colonial encounter is not one of subject (mover) against subject, but of mover against moved. This logic formed within the earliest colonial encounters, seen in the overarching assumption of the newly conquered land to be Terra Nullius.[44] As such, a dialectic does not exist. Rather, blackness exists as an anvil, constructed as the surface upon which the white-hammer may constantly crash upon. Therefore, for Fanon, working with a concept of co-recognition was absurd, as the colonial thesis would never, and could never, recognise its anti-thesis. Overcoming this situation was not possible through some idealised “synthesis” but rather Black becoming an absolute, for blackness to hammer its way into the ‘forbidden quarters’.[45]

Biko, as student of Fanon, affirmed this position of non-recognition, specifically criticising contemporary white allies that were epistemologically blind to this reality.  These settler factions misunderstood the colonial reality, viewing black oppression to be ‘an eyesore spoiling an otherwise beautiful view’.[46] In essence, whiteness viewed black humanity not as an emanatory, recognised agentic-force, but constrained to existing within a colonial logos. Black humanity was to expand from white subject-ivity, objects to be granted the features of humanity, a recognition by whiteness without an endogenous dignity.

The rectification of the colonial situation was possible to Biko solely by the creation of a new ‘modus vivendi’ that would emerge through the eventual conflict in which ‘somewhere along the line someone will be forced [to change]’.[47] However, this could not emerge through a rainbow of integration as this would solely create a ‘response to a conscious manoeuvre rather than to the dictates of the inner soul’.[48] Rather, the black decolonial imperative must be a process of assertion, whereby the group imposes itself to the point ‘that mutual respect must be shown’.[49] Without this, the native would be ‘useless as co-architect[s] of a normal society’.[50] Fundamentally, Biko saw that the decolonial imperative must be led by, and directed towards the aim of, proposing blackness as an absolute, endogenous subject.

Due to the synthesis of a sub-superstructure in coloniality, the ‘statutory difference’[51] emerges not from holding the mechanisms of extractive labour, but being a foreign other. Whiteness legitimised itself in the colonial encounter through defining itself as not black, and tying markers of success intrinsically to this outsider status. As such, Fanon – and Biko – saw the construction of a black identity to be an imperative anticolonial task that would produce a ‘mental picture of action’.[52] This was the first step of the anticolonial struggle in which the native became an ‘original idea propounded as an absolute’.[53] Put simply, constructing black identity was paramount and only possible through negating its relationship to whiteness.

Post-colonial South Africa’s mystification of the Two Zones through policies such as the BEE has not negated the white-black dialectic. Rather, it has subsumed sections of blackness into whiteness. Fanonian scholars like Mbembe have identified this to stem from South Africa being a post-revolutionary society where the oppressors lost nothing.[54] As such, the reality of post-coloniality in the state is one of subsumption rather than negation of the colonial dialectic. Therefore, the Fanonian imperative to understand black remains, most cogently found within the Fanonian work of Biko.[55]

Fanonian critiques of South African post-coloniality as a substitution of black into white are explored by Mbembe in his essay ‘Exorcise our white ghosts’. This piece critiques the post-1994 policies for having resulted in little more than ‘whiteness having claimed us.’[56] As such, there is still an urgent need for the decolonial movement as it exists in its current ‘psychic state’.[57]

To Mbembe, the task of this moment is to attempt to move beyond the colonial relationship and understand the Fanonian assumption that ‘whiteness has become this accursed part of ourselves’.[58] To rectify this, anticolonial politics should seek to create ‘new social forms’[59] and imaginaries of blackness that present it as more than just the ‘suffering subject’[60] of whiteness – a Fanonian imperative to negate black as contingent upon white. As such, the imperative necessity of constructing a dignified and independent black subject remains a matter of debate in the country. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in a resurgence of interest in Biko within the post-revolutionary ‘born frees’.[61]

Biko explains Black Consciousness to be a ‘realisation’ by which blackness rallies around ‘the cause of their operation’, namely, ‘their skin’.[62] Writing before the post-apartheid compromise, Biko saw the final ‘harmony’ between white-black to be possible solely through the dialectical unfolding of de-colonialisation creating a ‘viable synthesis’ of both communities.[63] To Biko, this new world would only be possible once black people did not ‘regard themselves as appendages[64] to white society’.[65]

However, for the new generation of post-colonial black activists, the notion of the synthesis of white-black is a provable failure,[66] driven by the ANC’s compromise with whiteness and weakness underneath a white epistemology.[67] As such, the emerging generation of black thinkers have begun to posit that the ever-present colonial dialectic cannot be synthesised away, but instead must be negated.[68]

An example of the contemporary enacting of these new anticolonial responses to post-coloniality can be seen in Azania House – the spatial zenith of the decolonial student movement. This occupied space was an important incubator for contemporary black thought, a transformative space within which blackness was ‘removed from the white gaze’.[69] Azania House represented the Fanonian imperative to decolonise both the mind and material.[70] To Fanon, this was the crucial first step towards the liberation of the colonised – as only when free of the ‘nihilistic’[71] dialectic of white-black could the latter be truly emancipated.

Applying Fanon: Azania and Black Pain

Fanon identified the degeneration of decolonial movements to stem from hierarchies that transform the ‘spoilt children of yesterday's colonialism [into] today's national governments’.[72] To Fanon, this tragedy resulted from the epistemologically-haunting nature of western values within decolonial movements.[73]

Fanon suggested that these entrenched values could be moved past through engaging the colonised consciousness. This could be achieved through the liturgical acts[74] of popular education that liberated the native to ‘discover a landscape […] in keeping with human dignity’:[75] a process to organically construct horizontal pedagogical methods of thought production, allowing the native to bypass coloniality’s tight mental grip, a ‘privileged occasion given to a human being to listen and to speak’.[76] Fanon believed that it was through these horizontal pedagogical forms that black knowledge and consciousness could be constructed as a negation of epistemologically western knowledge and pedagogy.[77] Fanon calls to enact processes of electrification, guiding a body so historically bereft of agency towards subjectification – ‘to incarnate the people’.[78] This is a crucial aspect of the decolonial process. For the native to truly be a subject is an impossibility during the colonial encounter as the whole nation is built from, and for, without. To borrow from Biko, there is no place in the colonial frame where the native is not an eyesore.[79] Therefore, decoloniality fails if it devolves into a ceaseless movement of the black object within the frame. Constantly moved from background to foreground, or shaded in a different hue – lax attempts to build palatability. Rather, the native must escape the frame, becoming its painter, and gaining agency through the initial strokes they render upon the canvas – making it anew.

The Fanonian liturgical act was a crucial anticolonial practice during the occupation of Azania House. This space demarcated itself from whiteness to construct a ‘True Liberatory University’.[80] The application of Fanonian pedagogy transformed the site into one where black people could discuss themselves and mobilise to ‘re-engineer society’.[81] Azania House applied these pedagogical forms by constructing spaces with ‘no head of the room, no centre, no spatial hierarchy’.[82] Crucially, this horizontality was applied within its understanding of the institutionally striated hierarchies of thought present in the university space. It sought to bring academics, undergrads and university workers together as intellectual equals, eschewing the norms of intellectual superiority that reflect colonial pedagogy and can easily give way to a retrenchment of the settler’s values and manners of thought. In doing this, the occupation sought to negate the internalised white subject presiding in the black self. This was achieved through the creation of a ‘spatial safety’, a demarcated zone existing outside the pathologized zone that is the institutionally-colonial university.[83] Through this, Azania House became a site of negation, with black existing independent of white.

Discussions within Azania House[84] were rich in form and content, covering a wide-range of topics. Of special note was the notion of black pain.[85] This phrase symbolised the exploration of the university space as a site of ‘self-definition’ that due to the ‘stench of colonialism’ ostracised black students from defining themselves – preventing their subject-ivity from coalescing.[86] The ever-present stink of coloniality in such a crucial site of identity creation was examined to its fullest during the occupation. For example, oNe StAB[87] discusses the initial instance of coloniality they witnessed during their orientation week. Namely, they were fortunate enough to encounter an all-male accommodation’s hazing ceremony chant.[88] This ceremony, chocked full of sexist language, was oddly reminiscent of the ‘sporting culture at white private and model C schools’[89] – the pedagogic heart of South Africa’s settler species in coloniality and post-coloniality. Witnessing this display shocked the newly arrived student, demarcating the institutionalised space as one where coloniality was not only tolerated but proudly chanted out loud in the middle of the day.

This, and instances like it, are crucial because they confront a student with ‘the dominant value system of the institution’.[90] They are forced to react to it and ‘decide how they will define themselves’ in relation to it.[91] For black students, this initial wrestling with an entrenched culture that excludes them foists upon them an additional uncertainty during the crucially formative years of university. As such, not only must they personally wrestle with their internal identity, they must also wrestle with their externally demarcated identity as black. Due to this, the university becomes a site of constant confrontation with the dominant values of the settler. Because of this, familiarity in the institutional space is conditional and unstable for black students as their pain and discomfort is ignored and reinforced. Accounts like this one, and many others, became crucial focal points for understanding the colonised experience of the university; fostering the initial impetus towards exploring the realities of black pain. Black pain became a ‘cathartic’ and sobering discussion within Azania House, creating a unified identity based in ‘lived experience’ outside of the ‘white gaze’ that treats the phenomena as ‘black hypochondria’.[92] These conversations united black students’ shared experiences of de-subjectification. They were able to recount the false histories of coloniality they’d been taught, the proud exclamations of settler chants meant to exclude them, and the experiences of discomfort they shared in an institution still built to serve the other. Through these discussions, the frontier zone they inhabited became clearer. Their collective involvement within an institution built for an other became the impetus for constructing a self, capable of standing upright and endogenous in origin.

Azania House’s discussion of black pain became a site of contestation for black scholars, with some scholars, such as Mbembe, critiquing the discourse as self-indulgent, overly subjective, and a misapplication of Fanon’s native-settler dialectic.[93] Mbembe’s essay, The State of South African Political Life, published shortly after the events of Azania House, provides an interesting critique of the struggles undertaken by the students during the occupation. In short, Mbembe argues that South Africa is fast approaching a Fanonian moment which must constitute itself in a manner beyond that of May ’68 or Soweto ’76. Mbembe critiques the reading of South African life presented during the occupation as a Fanonian colony – something the state has, in some form, moved beyond. However, to present the modus vivendi of the new generation as one far beyond the plantation does, to some extent, abstract the new forms of life away from the deep scars time has left upon them. The apartheid era ended only 30 years ago and the wounds of non-subjectivity it formed upon black skin still run deep. The black students attending South African institutions are the children of the Bantustans. They grew up with stories of them, of attack-dogs, of whites-only spaces they now inhabit, and an all-pervasive ‘field negro’ mentality that whiteness attempted to force down the necks of their mothers and fathers. Apartheid still tightly-grips on to those they hold most dear.[94]

There are three positions Mbembe presents in this essay I seek to contest. First is his critique of the tendency of the new generation towards positioning itself as a ‘social protagonist’ that he views as the result of the neoliberal system’s ‘astonishing age of solipsism and narcissism’.[95] I believe there is a large degree of validity to this critique. Since ’68, university institutions have become incredibly adept at commodifying revolutionary rhetoric and imaginaries back into the political system by defanging them – and this undoubtedly affects South African institutions.[96] However, it is important to recognise that this new generation is the first black generation in the state with the capacity to be protagonisable – to be subject. This is a dream they have inherited from their mothers and fathers, a grass-is-always-greener syndrome, that they were taught from infancy would satisfy them. Instead, this new generation finds itself double-bound; first into a ressentiment of the unrecognised, subdermal whiteness within the institutions they now have fuller access to. Secondly, there is a pervasive sense of disgust and pain: the struggle of ’94 was not the ultimate revolution, but one of the never-ending penultimate steps towards it. As such, their avenues are the same and their struggle to step-in-line with whiteness persists. Stumbling from this path, a daily reality as seen in the high dropout rates, represents an existential crisis for the young black subject: the gnawing, clawing feeling that you’ve failed to live up to your parent’s dreams, to have let the freedom granted slip through your hands. To never get the chance to engorge themselves on the pastures of the new modus vivendi.

These newly common experiences are fast becoming the standard comparaison within the supposedly ascendent sections of the upwardly mobile black youth; a pain[97] different to that experienced by their parents. It is imperative that these new black subjects open avenues to verbalise this – to give it a commonly understood shape. In doing so, they can transform this commonality into a node for self-subjectification, asserting an incontestable status as the protagonists of their Azanian nation.

The second point of contestation of Mbembe’s position is his characterisation of Rainbowism as a ‘totemic commodity figure mostly defined to assuage whites’ fears’.[98] This characterisation of Rainbow politics as a bandage covering a bruised white ego is correct. It is a policy that affirms Biko’s fears of white liberalism’s “allowing” of blackness a seat in the unbesmirchable liberal self-portrait. However, Mbembe’s totem does not recognise the painter of this new portrait – the ANC – as Mbembe states ‘Mandela himself is on trial’.[99] To the emerging generation of black radicals, the ANC is not the party of Mandela and ’94, but of Zuma and Ramaphosa. The goodwill of previous generations to this party is ending, the rubbish and shit within the party has floated to the top, and it is no longer a vehicle for progress but a lackey of whiteness and reaction.

Mbembe’s most interesting critique is a necropolitical one.[100] Specifically, he argues that whiteness ‘is a necrophiliac power structure’ – a fettered corpse.[101] To Mbembe, this corpse is the reified summit of black desire in the South African state, the final point of success,  “true” recognition within a settler framework. This state of affairs, emerges from a  black voyeuristic impulse to compare and categorise itself within the death mask of the Boer: something only ‘puncturable’ through the formation of new values, desires, and aesthetics of Black life beyond the White dead.[102]

I have two contestations with this characterisation of the white corpse. Firstly, whiteness is not a dead, inert phantasm, but rather, a reanimated Frankensteinian monster. The Victor creating this monster is the ANC. As Mbembe states, South Africa is a post-revolutionary society where the revolters gained little and the Ancien régime lost little. Therefore, whiteness is still a walking, zombified corpus in South Africa, constituted of recycled white and black organs stitched into an amalgam that is still firmly white in origin and mentality. A case that illuminates this somewhat is the 2012 Marikana Massacre of striking miners undertaken by police at the behest of mining companies with the tacit support of black Union bosses. The key black comprador in this tragedy is Ramaphosa, founder of the National Union of Mine Workers, who refused to back the striking Trade Unionists. Ramaphosa is a life-long Trade Unionist and ANC stalwart that since the revolution has become a firm buddy of Lonmin (formerly the London and Rhodesia Mining and Land Company).[103] His actions during these strikes are metonymic for the zombified form of whiteness in post-1994 South Africa. These new black compradors act as little more than organs within the reanimated white corpus, within which they serve as little more than a newly stitched-on arm or gut.

Secondly, the solution Mbembe proposes – of new imaginaries – is not contingent upon a contestation with whiteness. In fact, cooperation with settler norms, to argue within the constraints ‘furnished by the settler’[104] is what has created the current state of affairs. The new generation of black radicals understand this and wish to speak differently. To illuminate this, I shall propose a question and provide a passage from an Azania Occupier – so they may speak in their own words. In a regime that commodifies every emerging black form, is it not worth attempting to present black as an odious, uncomfortable, uncommodifiable absolute, bereft of whiteness?

‘A revolution occurs between her thighs, blood spilling and head first emerges the apple of her eye, he whom has liberated her and made her whole. Her smile, her laughter, her pain and her tears, her joy. All converged and captured into one great moment. She has given birth to a son of the soil, his name is Freedom. He has brought joy, not only to his mother but to those around him. He is the prodigal son they have all been waiting for with bated breath, he who has been spoken about by those who have passed, said to be troublesome, yet the best thing that could ever happen to anyone.


Dear Freedom, you come with responsibilities that many will fail to commit to. Look at your father, he has already packed his bags, ready to leave on the first available bus out of town. Already he has predicted your failure and he wants nothing to do with you, he has forgotten that you came bearing gifts. Today, 20 years later, he writes to you and your mother, telling you how much he loves you and would love to come back home. Freedom, those who have embraced you are still crying, waiting for you to save them from the rut they find themselves in, free them oh Freedom but most importantly free their minds and free their hearts, teach them to love as your mother did but most of all, teach them to reach out and help each other, for only then can they ever say they are free.


End their hunger and quench their thirst dear freedom, for it is only in your name that smiles can be genuine and laughter can be true.’

As previously explored, South Africa today exists in a new situation where the post-colonial compromise reformatted the Two Zones of life. No longer do white and black exist as perfect thesis and anti-thesis, rather they have seen some degree of merger – due in part to ANC policies such as the BEE. However, these have not ended the psychological harm of whiteness on blackness but have rather unmoored it, as such, blackness now exists alone. Therefore, when Mbembe argues that the ‘Other is our origin by definition’, he is correct.[106] However, as a result of the changes to South Africa in its transformation into post-coloniality, this origin point is no longer a constant.

The BEE has resulted in the merging of the species. The unified cause-consequence of coloniality has been split, with whiteness no longer existing as a totalising thesis upon which a black anti-thesis is constructed. Rather, post-coloniality in South Africa has unmoored blackness, a fact most visible in the ‘post-racial’ claims of Rainbow politics.[107] Therefore, Azania House’s negation of the colonial dialectic where black is anti-thesis is not ‘self-indulgent,’[108] but rather transgressive. This transgression of the colonial dialectic is a product of the post-coloniality of South Africa and Azania House’s refutation of the ‘external forces’ of whiteness.[109]

Fanonian scholars have also critiqued black pain’s negation of the dialectic to be distinctly anti-Fanonian.[110] However, at its best, Azania House was a clear example of the resonance of Fanon’s anticolonial politics in contemporary South Africa. It was a practical application of the liturgical act of education to the context it existed within. As such, Azania House is a metonymic example of the ‘bubbling trepidation from which knowledge will emerge’.[111] This new knowledge was created through a mobilisation of Fanonian pedagogical frameworks; in essence, Azania House mobilised African pedagogy to create African knowledge. In doing so, it constructed an idea of blackness independent of coloniality that allowed ‘born frees’ to position themselves as an ‘original idea propounded as an absolute’[112] – a crucial first step in Fanonian anticolonial politics.


Upon Azanian soil, nestled betwixt the brush, lies a fettered, bloated corpse. Half-melted brain; sun-bleached skin. Inconceivably, it still twitches – it still lives. Rhythmically, as if guided by an evil-spirit, it clenches the soil: squeezing, releasing, squeezing, releasing.

An ambulatory cadaver, the rotting body-politic of the unnamed settler. The supposed thesis, the presumed protagonist. The cartographer and biologist. The namer and owner of this land. The one who decreed cardinal directions to be the appropriate categorisation for this corner of foreign land, for ever England, for ever translocated towards England.

Long ago, this body used to walk, to stomp really. From one end of Azania to the other, chalking lines in the ground. “Mine.” “Mine.” “Mine.” “Yours.” He used to beat and steal, to rape and plunder. He used to tell the natives that when he arrived it was empty land. No one had been using it properly after all? He used to expect thanks for his gifts: Christianity, Commerce, Civilisation.

But he’s half dead now.

So the native asks: Who will replace him? From where will the protagonists, namers and organisers of the land come from now? Will they be his progeny? Slowly hiding themselves further behind reams of barbed wire and blocks of concrete. Or will it be the natives? From where will these natives emerge? Will they be the daughters of the shacks? Or native sons training in model C schools? Who may lead, and for whom may they do so?

‘little boy’s got small hands but big ideas
loves science but hates numbers
likes to think he’s made of coal
because he knows what pressure can do to things of little value
little boy’s not-so-little anymore
likes to play not-so-little games with not-so-little boys
they like to play for keeps
so he let’s them keep what they take
likes to see how much he can lose without disappearing’

The post-colonial South African state is an emulsion. Swirling settler and native into one coagulated, separated, and striated mess. The Two Zones still retain their shape but have lost their rigidity; they now form a patch-work. Black and white, oil and water. This is an oft-told story, seen across large swaths of the post-colonial world. As Fanon understood, if one’s origin is in the other, discomfort is inevitable. The great crime against the black soul was not just material – it was psychological, ontological, and spiritual. Definition became the purview of the foreigners. These scars weigh down the black body, the miasma fogging its vision. The settler fist still clenches and releases.

The colonial dialectic still remains. It has not been transcended; instead it has been reformatted, modernised, neoliberalised. The ANC’s compromises have resulted in breaking the sub-superstructure monism of coloniality, whilst retaining its settler norms. The upwardly mobile black subject is conditioned towards these norms, the recognised traits of success, fostering a constant comparaison – becoming an inadequate reflection of the settler subject. The new modus vivendi has changed its mode of operation little – created more to spread a desirable, wealthy vivendi. This wealth, the recognisable marker of being subject. It is transforming the state, detaching blackness, no longer relegated to antithesis. This new situation has re-opened space for the decolonial imperative: under new subjects, and new constructs.

This piece has very short scope in describing the wave of native subject-ification currently frothing under South African society. Of particular note is the Shack Dweller’s Movement,[114] Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), who since 2005 have built a network of ‘Professors of the poor’ – self-subjectified leaders within working class communities.[115] Their work uniting the most disparate sections of the native species: immigrants, the informally housed, poor workers and women, has transformed AbM into a radically dynamic, horizontal force within the nation. As their 1st President S’bu Zidoke has said, ‘Fanon believed everyone could think. … He would have discussed and debated with us as equals’.[116]

This desire, to discuss with all equally, bereft of presumptions of petite-bourgeoisie intelligence in the presence of the less subjectified, was a crucial discourse for the occupiers of Azania House. As mentioned, the spaces they constructed, and understanding of their own role within them, encouraged non-academic involvement. It stressed that the process of creating a Black Consciousness was not solely the prerogative of those with a greater repertoire of words to ascribe to it. Rather, it was a unitary act of all natives, a point of self-indulgent protagonising. Both AbM and Azania House sought to produce ‘thought on the ground, running’[117] – imprinting fluidity, resilience and tenacity deep into the psyche of its co-constitutive subjects and united systems.

So why focus on Azania House? What role can these educated university-types have in an era of mass communication that allows for the “lesser educated” to self-subjectify and mobilise to dizzying degrees? There are two reasons for this. Firstly, as explored, the situation for these students is a unique one. Sadly, the most peripheral of the native species still exist in a system of quasi-apartheid.[118] This changes either group’s contestation with non-subjectivity. For AbM, non-subjectivity is a historical constant born from the colonial encounter.[119] It remains their lived experiences that they are denied spaces and status as subject. They are still understood as beasts of burden, pushed out from the urban centre into virtual Bantustans. In contrast,  the students have had their cells reshaped. Rather than their relationship with their subject-essence being Promethian, it is Tantalising.[120] No longer do quotidian violences, denial of space and demarcations as outside of “respectable society” rule their lives. Rather, they live a life of constant miss-grabs. Both of these situations create a comparaison – an inevitability when self-worth is communicable solely through a white lens. In opening formerly settler-only pastures and fruiteries to ascending natives, a new space for subjectification is created. Namely, it allows for the development of an independent black force within the state. Settlers are no longer the thesis undergirding an antithetical native. The native is no longer contingent on them for their own self construction. The inheritors of 1994 may now crack the white thesis that deems herself to be its constructor. These cracks, formed via the agency afforded to the generation is becoming the fountain, the ‘bubbling trepidation’[121] from which an independent, monistic, black subject may emerge.


  1. Ibid. pg. 38
  2. Ibid, pg. 40
  3. Ibid, pg. 39
  4. This point of antithesis, of non-subjectivity, is a deep existential scar on blackness in South Africa. Post-apartheid reforms have caused a black “middle-class” to emerge that continues to carry these marks; their transformation into subjects (of labour and over commodities) is constrained by the logics and norms of white-settler society. For many, it seems as if their shackles have been loosened, yet all they’ve gained is to be able to more fully trace the bars of their cell.
  5. Fanon, Frantz, 1986 (1952), Black Skin White Masks (London: Pluto Press), pg. 211
  6. Fanon, 1961(1963), pg. 43
  7. See later for more on this term.
  8. Fanon, 1952(1986), pg. 212
  9. Ibid, pg. 212
  10. Ibid, pg. 212
  11. Ibid, pg. 217
  12. Ibid, pg. 209-214
  13. Two such examples of emerging South African monopolies are Shoprite and Nandos. The former is a supermarket chain founded in 1979 – still owned and controlled by settlers – with approximately 2800 stores across Southern Africa that undercuts local producers and sellers, and constitutes the thin wedge of South African rainbow capitalism now forcing itself upon the rest of the continent. The latter is a well-known chicken-shop, advertising itself as having a unique blend of peri peri spices – “inspired” by Mozambican style cooking – that since the 2000s has been quick to attach itself to progressive causes. Its appropriation of Africanised colour schemes and a “friendly” marketing approach mystify the reality of the company, a mechanised butcher of caged animals centred in the settler city of Middelburg and in London.
  14. Fanon, 1961(1963), pg. 39
  15. Businesstech, 2013, ‘SA black middle class pegged at 3 million’
  16. ANC, 1994, ‘The Reconstruction and Development Programme’
  17. Ibid
  18. Ponte, Stefano, Roberts, Simon,Van Sittert, Lance, 2007, ‘‘Black Economic Empowerment’, Business and the State in South Africa’, Development and Change, vol.38, no.5 (November), 933-955
  19. Ibid
  20. Ibid
  21. Ibid
  22. Ibid
  23. For Fanon’s illuminations and the role of the national bourgeoisie see. Fanon, 1961(1963), pg. 61-65
  24. Fanon, 1961(1963), pg. 43
  25. This cyclical process is not solely contextual, in that the BEE shares practical governmental similarities to Volkskapitalisme, a ‘therapy by hibernation’ (see. Fanon, 1961(1963), pg. 64) , but also epistemological. It affirms capitalism, and specifically extractive colonial capital as the heading logic of the state. It affirms the settler path as the correct path towards “development”. In doing so, the Black imaginary is shut off, and the decolonial imperative is swept aside under the “serious” concern of economic development; of providing for the state’s new subjects a standard (and form) of life that fulfils their expectations of their newfound position. However, as the logics dictating the internal mechanisms of the state have not changed, this policy does little but reflect whiteness upon the black subject by entrenching it more fully in capitalist systems – the very process that mechanised the objectification of their subject-bodies.
  26. See. The Man of Color and the White Woman in. Fanon, 1952(1986)
  27. Gibson, Nigel C., 2011(a), Fanonian practices in South Africa: From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo (Scottsville: KwaZulu-Natal Press), pg. 121
  28. Gibson, Nigel C., 2016, ‘The spectre of Fanon: the student movements and the rationality of revolt in South Africa’, Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, vol.23, no.5 (August), 579-599
  29. Price, Max, 2014, ‘UCT's response to allegations of racist violence’
  30. See. oNe StAB(a), 2015,  ‘ON UCT, ITS ORIENTATION PROGRAMMES AND THE REPRODUCTION OF WHITE PATRIARCHY’ The Johannesburg Salon, vol.9, no.1 (n.d.) 55-58
  31. Price, ‘UCT's response to allegations of racist violence’
  32. Ibid
  33. See. RMF Writing and Education sub-committees, 2015, ‘Salon for What?’, The Johannesburg Salon, vol.9, no.1 (n.d.) 1-3
  34. See. Gibson, 2016 ‘The Spectre of Fanon’ and. Huchzermeyer, 2009, ‘South Africa’s Approach to Eradicating Informal Settlements’
  35. Fanon, 1961(1963), pg. 41
  36. oNe stAB(b), 2015,’Decolonised Notes’, The Johannesburg Salon, vol.9, no.1 (n.d.) 49-52
  37. Biko’s focus throughout his revolutionary career was the development of an independent black cognition of self. In essence, this – as in the above quote – was a process of transcendence. Black had an imperative to become more than a distinction or a caste. But an independent, endogenous block – beyond constraints assigned by the other – to truly become subject. See. Stubbs C.R., Aelred (eds), 1978, ‘I Write What I Like: Steve Biko a selection of his writings’ (Oxford: Oxford Press), pg. 48
  38. Ibid, pg. 48
  39. Ibid, pg. 50 & 100-102
  40. Fanon, 1961(1963), pg. 40
  41. By this I mean those vulgar forms of dialectic typified in “Philosophy 101” courses and certain Marxist orthodoxies. For Fanon’s critique see Fanon, 1961(1963), pg. 39-44
  42. I do not want to suggest that some idealised city-on-the-hill, a la Columbia in Bioshock, can exist – however this idealised system is closer to that found in the colonial centre than colonised periphery.
  43. The recognition of proletarian-as-subject in “developed” states is not explicit, but rather, a subdermal concern undergirding governmental/institutional management. Their subject-ivity can still be seen within all aspects of governance, from the emerging Cybernetic forms of capital management, the remnants of the Keynesian Compromise and the growth of HR (propaganda departments for businesses). These forms of governance reveal a core truth: these workers are still recognised as a threat, specifically because they are insiders to the system and subsequently presumed to have agentic capacity.
  44. The colonial-capitalist system emerged alongside the euro-centric concept of national sovereignty. This superstructural presumption was never extended to the newly “discovered” peoples of the New World, granting; them a space in the universal jus gentium (law of peoples) as object for extraction. They were the new Saracens, to whom the Christian settlers had the solemn duty to ‘carry off both the children and women […] into captivity and slavery’. This logic persists today, most notably within the UN’s colonialistic jargon of “failed states” that is so readily attributed to regions where non-state forms continue existing alongside colonial-state forms (such as in the Congo or Somaliland). For a larger discussion see. Anghie, Antony, 2012, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law, (Cambridge: University Press)
  45. Fanon, 1961(1963), pg. 40
  46. Biko, 1987, pg. 19-27
  47. Ibid, pg. 51
  48. Ibid, pg. 51
  49. Ibid, pg. 52
  50. Ibid, pg. 51
  51. Fanon, 1961(1963), pg. 40
  52. Ibid, pg. 40
  53. Ibid, pg. 41
  54. Mbembe, Achille, 2015(a), ‘Exorcise our white ghosts’ City Press
  55. See. Biko, 1987, pg. 48-55 & 87-120
  56. Mbembe, 2015(a)
  57. Ibid
  58. Ibid
  59. Ibid
  60. Ibid
  61. See. Gibson, 2016, ‘The Spectre of Fanon’
  62. Biko, 1987, pg. 49
  63. Ibid, pg. 51
  64. Biko’s choice of ‘appendage’ is revealing to the nature of blackness during the colonial context. It illustrates the position of being black as a moved/moveable object, castigated to the immovable position of submission. If we imagine the body-politic of the nation-state to be a physical body we can illustrate the depths of this submission, and it  illuminates a crucial question: what avenues are open to the arm or leg – the non-agentic producers of labour – in a body(-politic) that is fundamentally tied to a white brain?
  65. Biko, 1987, pg. 51
  66. For discussion of the failures of the ANC due to entrenching whiteness see. Gibson, 2016, ‘The Spectre of Fanon’ &  Mbembe, Achille, 2015(b), ‘The State of South African Political Life’, Africa is a Country
  67. For discussion of capitalist retrenchment in the post-colonial state see. Fanon 1961(1963), pg. 61-66
  68. Ramadwa, Lufuno, 2015,’Stain’, The Johannesburg Salon, vol.9, no.1 (n.d.) 106-107
  69. Sebambo, Khumo, 2015(a), ‘Little Boy’s Got Black on his Skin’, The Johannesburg Salon, vol.9, no.1 (n.d.) 22-24
  70. See. Fanon 1961(1963), pg. 58-61
  71. Gibson, 2016, ‘The Spectre of Fanon’
  72. Fanon 1961(1963), pg. 48
  73. Ibid, pg. 43
  74. A liturgy is a crucial, public aspect of the Christian faith – the dominant spiritual opiate south of the Sahel. Black churches and other faith structures have long been vital spaces of electrification for struggles for black dignity – from 1790s Haiti to 1960s America. Fanon’s use of this term builds upon this long history; the decolonial imperative must understand the importance of alternative sources of power and the varying public-facing avenues for its dissemination. For more see. Biko, 1987,’The Church as Seen by Young Laymen’
  75. Fanon 1961(1963), pg. 195
  76. Ibid, pg. 195
  77. Ibid, pg. 195-196
  78. Ibid, pg. 197
  79. Biko, 1987, pg. 19-27
  80. Sacks, Jared, 2015, The University of Azania House
  81. Daniel, Antje, Josh P. Miller, 2022, Imagination, decolonization, and intersectionality: the #RhodesMustFall student occupations in Cape Town, South Africa
  82. Sacks, 2015, ‘The University of Azania House’
  83. Sebambo, Khumo, 2015(b), ‘The Black Imagination: Notes on The Black Imagination’, The Johannesburg Salon, vol.9, no.1 (n.d.) 108-111
  84. For a primary narrative account of the occupation and the pedagogies it imbued into its meetings see. (Sacks, 2015 & ‘Decolonised Notes’ oNe StAB).
  85. Ibid
  86. Ibid
  87. oNe StAB (aka Asher Gamedze) is a musician and theorist who was deeply involved in the occupation of Azania House during the #RhodesMustFall campaign at the University Formerly Known as Rhodes. His writings reveal a lucid account of the sentiments of black students in a colonial institution and the methods of agency and pain they experience and imbue into their studies. For other work by him discussing these topics see. gamEdze and Gamedze, 2000, ‘Concerning Shutdowns’, Publica[c]tion
  88. oNe StAB(a), 2015,  ‘ON UCT, ITS ORIENTATION PROGRAMMES AND THE REPRODUCTION OF WHITE PATRIARCHY’ The Johannesburg Salon, vol.9, no.1 (n.d.) 55-58
  89. Ibid
  90. Ibid
  91. Ibid
  92. Sebambo, 2015(a), ‘Little Boy’s Got Black on his Skin’
  93. For a critique of the self-indulgence of Azania House see. Mbembe, Achille, 2015(b), ‘The State of South African Political Life’, Africa is a Country. For a critique of Azania House’s understanding of Hegel see. Nyamnjoh, Anye, 2017, ‘The Phenomenology of Rhodes Must Fall: Student Activism and the experience of alienation at the University of Cape Town’, Strategic Review for Southern Africa
  94. See. Rhodes Must Fall (RMF), 2015, ‘Introductory Poem: The Black Imagination’
  95. Mbembe, 2015(b), ‘The State of South African Political Life’
  96. For Azania House’s understanding of their position within this see. RMF Writing and Education sub-committees, 2015, ‘Salon for What?’
  97. Of non-entity, of lesser-or-nothing subjects.
  98. Mbembe, 2015(b), ‘The State of South African Political Life’
  99. Ibid
  100. For the sake of brevity I shall vastly oversimplify Mbembe’s most important theory – necropolitics. In his 2003 work of the same name, Mbembe characterises death as the point of ultimate subjectivity, the point where our negation of nature (through the transformative potential of labour) unifies to our base “animal” origin-point. When a subject truly contests with death, that is when they truly become a subject, as they transcend the “animal” present in the subject and contest with what we could term their internal “spirit-essence”. In the colonial situation, the control of death – or right for a subject to contest with it – is negated by a striated state of exception over the colonised subject that is enforced through systemic, quotidian violence that transforms the colonised into anthropomorphic cattle designated for expropriation by the foreign “other”. As such, the native’s ultimate point as subject, death, is stripped away. Individualised acts of death transform through management into a collective mortuary – an impersonal, objectified mass-affair. The two available escapes, revolutionary suicide and personal connection to “spirit-essence,” become congealed through numberification or settler appeals (discourses) of reactive, animalised emotions. A robbery of the ultimate personal defiance, the subject’s personal fire-escape, through management and essentialization of natives into impulses and numbers.
  101. Mbembe, 2015(b), ‘The State of South African Political Life’
  102. Ibid
  103. The cloaking of Lonmin under a new name is metonymic for the “adaption” many apartheid-era companies underwent in ’94. Changing their name and very little else.
  104. Fanon, 1961(1963), pg. 84
  105. Molepo, Mamalema, 2015,  ‘Freedom: The Stillborn Grown Child’, The Johannesburg Salon, vol.9, no.1 (n.d.) 44-45
  106. Mbembe, 2015(b), ‘The State of South African Political Life’
  107. Gibson, 2016, ‘The Spectre of Fanon’
  108. Mbembe, 2015(b), ‘The State of South African Political Life’
  109. Sebambo, 2015(a), ‘Little Boy’s Got Black on his Skin’
  110. Nyamnjoh, 2017, ‘The Phenomenology of Rhodes Must Fall’
  111. Fanon, 1961(2004), pg. 161
  112. Fanon, 1961(1963), pg. 41
  113. Sebambo, 2015(a), ‘Little Boy’s Got Black on his Skin’
  114. For a good introduction to the organisation see. Gibson, 2011, ‘Fanonian practices in South Africa’
  115. Gibson, 2016, pg. 591-592
  116. Zidoke in Gibson, 2011(a), pg. vi
  117. Gibson, 2011(a), pg. 154
  118. Huchzermeyer, 2009. ‘South Africa’s Approach to Eradicating Informal Settlements’
  119. Gibson, Nigel C., 2011(b), ‘Speaking the Truth in Uncertain Times’
  120. Here I’m referring to the tortures suffered in Tartarus. The former having his heart constantly plucked out, and the latter never being capable of reaching the fruit above him or water below. AbM represents those suffering the curse of Prometheus, the principal force of subject (fire) being worn down, repeatedly having his liver plucked, weaponised monotony. Tantalus, who bested the Gods in his own home, like the students of Azania was condemned to forever desire – to compare.
  121. Fanon, 1963 (1961),  pg. 161