Below is the text of ‘The WHITE REVOLUTIONARY AS MISSIONARY”. It was carried in New Frank Talk, critical essays on the Black condition, No 5, January 2010. A comment by Andile Mngxitama and poem by Aryan Kaganof follow after the main text.
The White Revolutionary As Missionary
Contemporary Travels and Researches in Caffraria
“Your Missionaries have dived into that mine from which we were told no valuable ore or precious stones could be extracted; and they have brought up the gem of an immortal spirit, flashing with the light of intellect, and glowing with the hue of Christian graces”
So reads Reverend Richard Watson’s inscription opposite the frontispiece to Stephen Kay’s 1834 tome, Travels and Researches in Caffraria, describing the character, customs and moral condition of the tribes inhabiting that portion of Southern Africa. (Harper Bros, New York)
This book is a lump of treasure. Small and thick with a worn, green spine carrying raised letters, it feels weightier to the hands than its dimensions suggest. Inside, the volume has 444 foxed, moist pages as well as five plates depicting regal black women and ox-wagons fording rivers. It contains a foldout map of an oddly shaped South African shoreline petering out into an interior vaguely containing drinking holes, slave markets and Koranna and Bushmen “wandering thinly”. The prose itself is packed into long paragraphs, pages long, that warrant, as if possessed of a long gray beard, that whatever tales they tell, whether wisdom or folly, these tales stand on their content and seek no indulgence by being friendly with an easy reader.
The author, Stephen Kay, was a Methodist minister and member of the Wesleyan Missionary Society. His preface tells us immediately about the purpose of the book:
“To urge upon the Christian world the loud and affecting calls of the perishing African is the writer’s principal object in the following pages. To this he has been urged by an imperative sense of duty, as well as by the advice of several wise and judicious friends, to whose learning and piety the world is indebted” (v).
So successful is he at relaying the affecting calls of the “perishing African” that his mentor, Rev. Watson, back in Britain, acknowledges the effect Kay has had upon the opinions of European Christians, many of whom were starting to despair at the paltry outcome of mission work among “the sons of Ham”. The Wesleyan Missionary Society relied on the goodwill and financial support of European donors and Kay’s narrative of his journey through Caffraria showed that one could well dive into that mine and extract precious souls glowing with the hue of Christian graces.
The title tells us how Kay organizes his work: by fusing the activities of travel and research. The book is essentially a diary of an 1800 kilometer, five year long return trip from Grahamstown to Port Natal (present day Durban), interspersed with reflections on the writings of other missionaries as well as contemporary political developments in the colony relevant to the Xhosa people. While Kay is not averse to proselytizing along the way, and indeed needs to show his readers in England that the gospel can take root among the Xhosa, his main purpose is not to build missions or seek converts. It is to record the state of affairs in the African “hamlets” and “hovels” through which he passes. He means to encourage and instruct future missionaries and provide the intelligence so lacking in the “exceedingly unsatisfactory” (vi) writings of hunters, explorers, shipwreck survivors and other missionaries doing the rounds at the time concerning the morals, habits and customs of those living in Caffraria.
Kay distinguishes his work also from those of the already eminent African explorers, Thomson, Lichtenstein and Barrow as well as authors writing about the natives of North America. Overall, he finds these writers to have
“entered upon this new field of study with great ardour; but instead of throwing light upon the subject, they have contributed, in some degree, to involve it in additional obscurity” (vii).
This they do by being too impatient to properly inquire into the everyday lives of the tribesmen and when they do inquire, these writers do not do so through the appropriate prism of values and principles that the Christian religion provides.
Many of these writers saw in the African and American native an inveterately lazy, immoral and dirty being, scarcely human: “a brutish, obstinate beast, incapable of either acquiring religious knowledge or of being trained in the functions of social life” (viii). Kay condemned these views. He presented a view of the everyday life of the people of Caffraria, (he names them the “Kaffers” subdivided further into the amaXhosa and amaPondo) in which, for instance, the smearing of animal fat and ochre on the body is explained as protection from the sun and biting insects instead of an obstinately unhygienic custom. Kay explained the lack of formal villages, towns and rudimentary habitation as a function of the pastoral, semi-nomadic existence of the Xhosa slowly moving after grazing herds instead of flowing from an innate taste for squalor. As for the warlike reputation of the Xhosa, Kay was very clear. The Xhosa were under constant attack from external foes, mainly the “boors”. These were the truly savage people of Caffraria: wholly without honour in matters of treaty, constantly seeking to expand their lands and achieving this quite simply through a policy of massacre followed by the engagement of survivors as menial labour. Describing the punishment meted out by a Boer to a labourer who had lost one of his master’s goats, Kay was at a loss for words. After a protracted beating, the Boer
“proceeded to exercise upon his helpless victim an unnamable species of barbarity, the very invention of which must have sprung from a heart, not only inhuman, but devilish beyond description”. (214)
Kay may refer to the “Kaffers”, here and there, as savages but there is no doubt who the villains are. From Kay’s reports one gets a sense of the clans of Caffraria being every bit as in danger of extinction by “boors” as the clans of Arizona were at the hands of “cowboys”.
Kay though was not opposed to the march of civilization. Such a march should however be inclusive of the native and fair to him. He saw the Church, particularly the missions, playing a crucial role in bringing Black people into the society taking shape in the Eastern Cape. He ends his journal by recommending a particular non-governmental function for missionaries, pertinent to the march of civilization, to which we will return later.
If Kay has an antagonist whose arguments he must defeat, it is a Captain B. Stout. Kay took issue specifically with those secular theorists of colonization such as Stout who set themselves against a praxis in which the initial white adventurers and traders to Africa were to be accompanied by Christian missionaries. Kay was appalled by the idea that religion had no place in colonization and that colonizers should but teach the native how to plough, irrigate, “erect comfortable habitations” and administrate towns and villages.
“The natives of Caffraria are by no means so incapable of understanding the plain doctrines of our holy faith … as Captain Stout and others would have us believe: yea, and further, that adventurers in such countries, American as well as European, unaccompanied by missionaries or clergy …, and disclaiming the need for any theological system whatever, instead of improving the condition of barbarians, have in numerous instances become even worse than the very savages themselves.” (16)
What is the purpose of bringing civilization then if it is not accompanied by piety? I will use the concluding paragraphs of this piece to return to these intriguing thoughts and reveal Kay’s surprising reason for insisting on a clerical accompaniment to colonization.
Travels and Researches in Caffraria smells. Will I be laughed at if I say that, simmering just above the musty base, I detect a strand of clotted spice? I spin the pages under my thumb and hold close to them my nose. Somewhere near the piquant mid section of the book there is a diffused whiff of arrested organic decay, of desiccated leaves, such as last filled my lungs in the crook of the branches of the wild peach at my great aunt’s house near Indwe during a summer that baked everything dry. Even the first stirrings of lust for B withered into languor, until the unlooked-for excitement at seeing her wash her hair under the tank, but then so canonical the half-naked moment that it preserved my gasp through the shifting, shielding foliage for twenty five years and, when I finally exhaled, it was with a love for the entire Transkei region. So smells the book.
In August 1825 Stephen Kay set out from Grahamstown in a southeasterly direction. It was not long before he stood at the bank of the Fish River, the bloodily disputed edge of “civilization”. From here on he was to pass through the frontier no-mans land of the Eastern Cape, scrubby cession lands from which the last of Mocomo’s people were, just then, being evicted. Then it was into the remnant territories of still formidable independent Xhosa states; agitated by inter-clan wars, incessant land-grabs and lynchings by Boers from the north and “punitive raids” by British soldiers from the west for Xhosa “depredations” on missions, forts, herds, farms and trading posts in the Balfour, Bathurst, Albany and Mount Coke districts of the new British protectorate taking form around Grahamstown.
He crossed the Fish River. As Kay traveled he researched, alive to the politics of the place and time. Sensing that he needed permission from Chief Nqqika Gaika to be wandering around in areas where his volatile sons held sway, Kay spent many weeks in indelicate negotiations to this end. The success of these negotiations was facilitated by presents of clothing and blankets for the chief and his entourage. Kay’s observations of Xhosa politics, law, religion and war-making during this time are truly fascinating. He spent months among the people. It was a crucial time for the Xhosa body-politic. Kay witnessed first hand the effects of the murderous rampages of the “boors” on Xhosa villages. He partook of the deprivations brought upon the Xhosa by a shrinking territory, frequent war and deepening poverty. He interviewed those present when Gaika turned on his guardian and had him killed. He was around when Gaika’s son, treacherously, returned the patricidal favour. He tangled with Gaika’s infamous Dutch advisor and mandarin, Lochenberg. He fled before the destruction of the mission station at Morley during the war between Faku and the successful interloper Quetu and arrived in the territory of another Xhosa king, the more missionary friendly, Hintsa where he converted many. Kay was happy with a number of Black converts; elders who would develop and protect the missions so much better by being Xhosa themselves, speaking the language and understanding the customs. Kay passed through Pondoland; a place of great music and dancing but going through hard times, overrun with bands of people in the most pathetic condition, refugees from the wars of the tyrant Shaka.
Along the way, Kay was variously feted, snubbed, begged from, claimed as their own, menaced, caucused and manipulated by the chiefs and other Angry Men he encountered. There were moments of real danger too such as when his retinue were defendant to a charge of cattle theft and, within hours, witness to the execution of a cattle-thief. Kay approached what he witnessed on his journey with a remarkably analytical mind, a facility no doubt improved in the editing of his book safely back in the colony three years after journey’s end. Even so, Stephen Kay, I am sure, would have presented, in his time, as a most enlightened and intelligent Brit, and not a little brave too.
His is not a book preoccupied with making political points though. There are plenty of episodes written in a state of genuine, if startled, reportage and these are the most satisfying to read. Kay is hilarious and moving in turns on questions as wide ranging as the licentiousness of the natives, their devotion to their cattle, sorcery, hunting mishaps, food and the richness of the Xhosa language. To all of this he adds a painter’s eye for striking sunsets, verdant valleys and solitary views from the crest of mountains over prelapsarian African landscapes. How wonderful to be the first to write about a place!
I will attempt to do no further justice to the book. I turn now to composing a selection of events Kay describes and ideas he proposes, not even in chronological order. I am not sure that these aspects of the book are particularly interesting in themselves. The principle of selection of the passages I will focus on is neither the exotic fact, nor the exciting event, nor things of high historical significance, nor pathos, nor the inherent aesthetics of the writing of the passage. My selection of facts may indeed seem entirely arbitrary, as if I have opened the book at random, eye’s squeezed shut, then lowered a pencil (gently) upon a page to pick upon an obiter dictum.
Yet there are those who will recognize the arcane connections, who will recognize the contemporary narrative into which these isolated ancient concerns of Kay slot instantly; an antique bronze key unlocking shiny, aluminum sliding doors. For these readers, the parts of Kay’s work that I highlight will amuse and perhaps even disconcert. The full force of my notion that there exists so developed a connection between ideas and events in Kay’s time and ideas and events in our own time is undeniable yet still it may come as a shock. I must be clear. This is not about composing provocative and suggestive analogies with events and ideas 185 years into the past. These analogies are not shocking, merely impressive. Nor is it shocking that the same social conditions, injustices and relationships of power still apply in the Eastern Cape territories today. This is sad and deplorable. What is truly shocking is the wholesale preservation, through the centuries, of a certain missionary discourse, praxis, tone and relationship with the native, with which those conducting travels and researches in the Caffrarias of our own time still operate: a preservation which borders on, the more one thinks of it, the occult.
A word Kay used often in his journal is deprivation. Kay was deeply upset by the deprived condition of the ordinary Xhosa and Hottentot people he encountered (he is quite scathing about their political leaders, the chiefs, who are corrupt, sexist and indolent). While deprivation takes the form of hunger, disease and war once he crosses the Fish River, Kay encountered a different kind of deprivation among those Black people eking out an existence in the cession lands, or buffer zones just within the colony and around the white towns. Their deprivation was homelessness and, barking at the heels, the hounds of extermination.
It is in the buffer zones between the Albany district and the Fish River that Kay encountered the effects of the eviction of Mokomo’s people, a Xhosa clan displaced by white settlement and unable to obtain land from other fiercer clans to their east. So they lived precariously and unauthorized on cession lands with dwindling herds and in obvious physical and existential distress. When Kay encountered them Mokomo’s people had managed for several years to occupy a particular patch of vacant land. However, this was being eyed for expansion and development of farms on the outskirts of ever growing settler towns and cities. As it works in South Africa, Black people must make way. The process of eviction was terrible and efficient:
“These plots being regarded by the colonial government as neutral territory, and Mokomo with his people being unwilling to quit it, compulsory measures were resorted to, and a number of troops were sent against them. These in clearing the country, deemed it requisite to set fire to the huts; which ‘strange work’ seems to have commenced on the Sabbath-day! One of the Christian Kaffers hereupon exclaimed with no small degree of surprise, “Is this thing good, burning houses down on God’s day!” “Bless my soul,” cried one of the (English!) officers, “I’d forgotten that it was a Sunday!” (416)
Kay is upset by the townsfolk discourse of security and vagrancy used to justify the removals as well as the underlying hard-heartedness that can so casually contemplate such a situation. These evictions are “grievances which loudly call for redress” (418) and which Kay spends much time chronicling. In another example:
“Kama some time ago brought his clan to a … vacant plot lying between the Beeka and Fish River close to the sea; and some of the natives have for some past time been enjoying similar privileges. But the precarious tenure upon which these privileges are held renders them an evil rather than otherwise; for, like Mokomo, they are liable to be again driven back at the shortest notice, whenever some new scheme of government or alleged misdemeanour may render it “expedient”” (417).
Kay notes that “boors” who occupy land in the cession areas are able to produce title-deeds and other writings. They are also able to approach the courts to access justice whenever their occupation is challenged. The problem for Kay consequently is not the sale and ownership of land as a commercial commodity nor is it, per se, the inequalities of wealth between black and white. Both property rights and the legal principle of formal equality can address and eventually remedy the deprivation suffered by Black people living in the area, Kay feels. How would this happen?
Kay enthuses about the recent passage of an extremely progressive law: an ordinance for the Improvement of the Condition of Hottentots and Aborigines of Colour and for the Amendment and Consolidation of Laws regarding these Persons of 27 July 1828, enacted by Lieutenant-Governor Bourke. Indeed it is a law seriously rivaling even present day Constitutional provisions in sweep and effect. Article II provides:
“And whereas, by usage and custom of this colony Hottentots and other free persons of colour have been subjected to certain restraints as to their residence, mode of life, and employment, and to certain compulsory services, to which other of his Majesty’s subjects are not liable: Be it therefore enacted, that from and after the passing of this ordinance, no Hottentot, or other free person of colour, lawfully residing in this colony, shall be subject to any compulsory service to which others of his Majesty’s subjects therein are not liable; nor any hindrance, molestation, fine, imprisonment, or punishment of any kind whatsoever, under the pretense that such person has been guilty of vagrancy. (401)
Article III continues in similar vein providing that all purchases and legal ownership of land by Black people are of full force and effect.
The deprivations of “persons of colour” could thus be addressed in court. Formally they had rights. These needed to be properly asserted. The earlier treatment of Mokomo’s clan through eviction would have been illegal. Now, through better laws, it was. Kay mentions several recent court cases where whites were prosecuted and successfully convicted of crimes against blacks. Kay is not naïve though. It was not adequate to simply note that “our courts are now open to all classes, black as well as white.” “Seeing that the way into them has not yet been made plain” to the “injured Kaffer”, what was needed was someone “whose business it is fully and officially to investigate his complaints, or to plead his case.” (419 – 20). What was needed was a kind of intermediary, people possessed of goodwill towards all men, people perhaps attached to the missions themselves.
ii.) fellow missionaries and other colonists
Not all missionaries were to be trusted with the upliftment of the “perishing African” however. There were some, like the Dominican friars running missions along the present day Mozambican coast, who virtually still practiced slavery. The priests accepted these social relations. Indeed, they benefited from them. Their mission stations were very rich. This was in distinction to Kay’s own sense of his mission, which was to minister to free, if oppressed, people and take nothing material from them. His relationship with those to whom he ministered and whose affecting cries he relayed to Europe did not rest on command or exploitation. They were freely able to decide to relate to him – or not. Kay railed against the Mozambican Catholic missionaries: “no benefit could be derived from the instruction of persons of depraved and infamous habits, who make mere commercial speculation of their ministry.” (352). Kay went on to allege the mismanagement of funds and the purging of those priests who questioned the Church’s involvement with master and slave relations. Speaking of one such purged priest, Kay reported:
“The other friars however used all their power and intrigue to get him removed to Senna, where he is now in utter idleness, and without any employment whatever: this they did from pure malignity” (353)
Nearer to home, there was another white person with a connection to and influence over Black people that grated Kay. Kay supplied no first name or description of the man that went by the name, Lochenberg. Lochenberg was a “Dutch boor” who established himself in the vicinity of Butterworth, married a Xhosa woman and by degrees made himself an indispensable advisor to the chief Gaika. Kay sensed that some of his trouble in obtaining Gaika’s consent to the establishment of missions stemmed from Lochenberg. What could the reason be?
Kay reported that Lochenberg, a skilled soldier, operated a lucrative ivory trade from within Caffraria. Could the arrival of other white men, people also armed and able to hunt, be a threat to Lochenberg’s empire and influence? Kay reported also that Lochenberg, who had an extensive clan of his own, forbade them any contact with the missionaries. Said Kay: “he knew that his deeds were of such a character as would not bear the light” (244).
Such was Lochenberg’s standing in Xhosa society that even after Gaika’s death, the mandarin still thrived.
In 1828, Quetu, “a bold and adventurous chief” of the amaQwabi clan (325), was displaced by Dingaan for refusing to accept the authority of Shaka’s usurper. Quetu moved south into Faku’s territory. Conflict was inevitable. However, according to Kay, this would usually be settled with limited bloodshed in traditionally, relatively ineffective Xhosa skirmishes and cattle-raids (Kay calls them “feuds and intestine broils” (213)). This of course depended on the absence of cavalry, firearms and more decisive military tactics. Up until this date, white men had not intervened or been directly involved in inter-clan rivalries and wars in these parts. However, sensing a threat to his commercial opportunities should Quetu prevail over Faku, Lochenberg and his band of trained, mounted Hottentots lead the charge for Faku, massacring many of Quetu’s horde including women and little ones and wounding the chief himself. What may earlier have been a largely ceremonial show of aggression designed to ward Quetu off became much more.
“Suffering under the severe wound he had received, the enraged chief now seems to have concluded that all around him were enemies, and therefore determined on adopting measures the most desperate against both white and black.” (327)
Quetu regrouped, crossed the Umzimvubu River and massacred the entire Umyeki clan. This escalated into civil war affecting all inhabitants of Caffraria. Missions and hamlets were razed, many people died, including patrolling British soldiers. The mercenary Lochenberg himself fell. So hated was he by Quetu that after his death even Lochenberg’s horses were tortured.
Kay is astute enough to note the long-term effect of this clash. Caffrarian clans were divided, scattered and unsettled for years to come and thus unable to marshal forces against the Boers. By the time, twenty years on, the British decided to invade under the madman, Colonel Harry Smith, Xhosa military capacity was much reduced.
There was a Northern theorist of colonization whose work Kay had read. In his introduction Kay confesses that in editing his book he found himself moved to insert material to refute the claims of a certain Captain B. Stout, an American East Indiaman shipwrecked off Caffraria in 1796 and who published a provocative pamphlet owning that
“ ‘some very potent objections have taken possession of my mind respecting the usual manner of colonizing, which for centuries past enlightened nations have invariably pursued. It cannot have escaped those people who are conversant in history, that since the establishment of Christianity in Europe, no savage country has been settled from that continent, without having some missionaries or clergy of some order to accompany the adventurers. The piety of the measure would at this day be applauded, if experience had not taught us the impolity of it; for I believe that it will be found that hitherto the adoption of this practice has been seldom attended with a single good consequence.’ ” (16)
Stout’s reason for arguing thus is that missionaries from different religious persuasions enter a new land and start preaching their “sacred truths”. The “poor savages” though will find these truths contradicted the very moment they are chanced upon by missionaries from another denomination. Soon the natives themselves will be “divided into sectaries; and from thence must arise contentions and reciprocal animosities, which generally terminate in persecutions and bloodshed” (16).
Better to provide simple and honest support: ploughs, building materials and useful skills to secure the attachment and upliftment of the local community. The “important end” of civilizing the natives and eventually making them “useful members of a regular community” may be accomplished without confusing them with mysterious doctrines and dogma. Stout ended strongly: “I object to the establishment or introduction of any theological system on the continent of Africa.” (17)
Kay was stung by Stout’s polemic. When he responded, he did so in interesting terms and having an anecdote to support his views. He mentioned the initial settlement by a small party of British adventurers of present day Durban in 1823. This party of twenty, off-loaded by a British navy ship, contained among them no man of religion, just the men of science and commerce that Stout recommended be left with the job of winning the favour of the natives and colonising Africa. However, when a ship arrived to resupply the landing party a few months later, there were horrible scenes resembling those in Kurtz’s compound in Heart of Darkness. Strife and dissension had set in and “the whole company, instead of strengthening each other’s hands, in the course of a very short time became completely scattered. The greater part of them immediately left the country”. Ominously, “several were never more heard of” (339), a life-and-death and perhaps original episode of Survivor.
The short answer Kay provided to Stout is that missionaries and clergy are necessary in every colonizing party primarily to ensure the civilized behaviour of the colonists. Lusts must be controlled, virtue needed support and the atmosphere of dense moral evil that sometimes descended over Africa needed the warnings of a Christian minister and the salutary influence of Christian dogma (340).
There were several instances in Guinea of the regression of colonists to the level of the savage, said Kay, spawning the term, “gone black”, which spoke not of an alteration of complexion but disposition. If colonists ‘go black’, how were they then to spread civilization? Colonisation needed colonizers, not assimilators. Since the presence of clergy and missionaries were a profound check on the tendency of adventurers to simply lose themselves in the society of those they were supposed to be improving, they were a crucial element of every colonizing initiative.
iii. Against romanticisation
While Kay saw himself as a champion of the aborigines in South Africa, he found it necessary to distinguish himself from a class of fellow philosopher
“who supposed that man arrives at his highest dignity and excellence long before he reaches a state of refinement; and in the rude simplicity of savage life displays an elevation of sentiment, an independence of mind, and a warmth of attachment, for which it is vain to search among members of polished societies. … They describe the manners of the rude natives with such rapture, as if they proposed them as models for the rest of the species.”
Kay was no romantic. He was able to be quite critical of the chiefs he encountered, if we are to believe him, even to their faces. They were liars, corrupt and extremely indolent. He did note however that decision-making was seldom a unilateral matter as it was with European potentates. While the ordinary man was servile before a chief, Kay spoke approvingly of the extensive consultations with other important personages before decisions were made in Xhosa clans. The only problem was that the decisions so democratically arrived at were often plainly wrong, imbued with superstition, ignorance and pettiness, such as when people were pointed out for witchcraft after lightning strikes.
The treatment of women in African society left everything to be desired. African men in general left the work to the women who were, according to Kay, very badly treated, with no say-so at all, degraded, worse than livestock. The supposed carnal use of women against their will, at the price of a fine, was an aspect of Xhosa custom with which Kay could not reconcile himself.
As he traveled, Kay’s opposition to the liquor trade hardened. He saw the effects on natives who he considered delicate and prone to dissolution by alcohol. He strongly approved of those chiefs who demanded continence from their subjects and who dealt harshly with drunken crimes but wrote with contempt (and a little envy) about instances of intoxication and the associated upsurge in native licentiousness.
Chiefs were not averse to using missionaries to enhance their own prestige and better their access to resources. A dispute arose between minor chiefs Daapa, Quanda and Cetani about in whose village a mission station should be erected, each wanting it closer to his own dwelling. Daapa said, ‘The institution must be mine; for I first called the Umfundis, and he comes at my request” (320). Consequently, the excellent spot elected for the mission had to be abandoned. Fortunately after protracted further negotiations, interspersed with some brinkmanship and sulking from Daapa, another consensually located place was found.
Kay coined a term “predatory natives” (421) to explain those deracinated Xhosa men of no particular clan or having rejected the authority of their chief, that banded together and occasionally menaced white and black society alike. Perhaps they were the off-spring of those rendered homeless by Mokomo’s eviction or were refugees from a Boer massacre. To Kay these “predatory natives”, proto-criminals were particularly dangerous as they were the pretext for punitive raids against the settled tribes and gave the Xhosa a bad name. In any event, they were uncontainable and unpredictable in their depredations and were a danger also to missionaries. Kay speaks approvingly of the practice whereby predatory natives who were caught committing a crime were taken over to Caffraria for the administration of (harsh) tribal justice.
Interestingly, a rump of predatory natives became known by their desperate plea, “Siyamfenguze” (I’m looking for work) and, over time, the Mfengu clan was imagined and born. Many in this clan would serve as mercenary footsoldiers for the British in the decisive frontier war that would rage thirty and forty years later.
Even more unapproachable than predatory natives were Bushmen. Pound for pound they were the most dangerous of all the men in Africa, says Kay, with their mysterious poisons, sneaky guerrilla tactics, practiced thievery and ability to withstand extreme conditions in pursuit. They were so resolutely foreign, stalking the frontiers of agriculture, despising civilization, plundering the property of everyone. What is more they were immune to the gospel and herding instincts both, preferring marginalization and extermination to incorporation by either settler or Xhosa society. It was only their inability to form large bands that reduced their threat to civilization. If they could they would set it all ablaze.
Kay seems to have been under the impression that the African in general was in danger of perishing “on our threshold”. His actions then were to urge upon the Christian world their loud and affecting cries. By 1834, when Kay’s book was ready for publication, the oppression of the Xhosa was no less. However, their response had become more effective. A quantity of firearms and horses had made their way into Xhosa hands and with the border of the colony much expanded, it left a large perimeter to defend. Britain was embroiled in European military adventures and, if you read dispatches back and forth between civil and military commanders at the time, a hint of desperation at the low numbers of soldiers, ammunition and finance available to secure the colonial project can be detected. Empire was stretched. As a result a new colonial policy, Bannister’s Humane Policy, was adopted in which missionaries were to have a startling but smart dual role.
A commission of enquiry had found that the only hope for “ ‘a reduction of the heavy expense now incurred in maintaining the defense of the frontier is the progressive extension of more amicable relations with the tribes” (426). It added:
“it is at once consolatory and satisfactory to reflect, that any measures tending to preserve the tranquility of the frontier on the side of Caffraria will in the same degree contribute to the prosperity and commercial enterprise of the colony” (426)
In order to foster more amicable relations with the tribes, “civil agents” would be appointed to live among them,
“and to constitute organs of communication with government upon all subjects. These would indeed form a connecting link; and if suitable men – men of sound judgment, firm principle, and a philanthropic spirit – were selected, … the results would doubtless be of the most happy character. But while, on the one hand, no sphere presents itself in which a proper person might make himself more extensively and really useful; on the other, there is scarcely one in which an improper person, a mere placeman, or a man of loose and immoral principles, would be a greater curse. May Heaven save the country from such men!” (427)
Kay goes on to suggest that since Christianity led the way in opening discourse with the tribes, missionaries were perfect candidates to be civil agents. He was not wrong!
The burdens Black people carry are identical to what they were 185 years ago: homelessness, hunger, eviction, state violence and racism. Their calls just as loud and affecting. I wonder whether anything is to be gained by spelling out the connection between Kay’s ideas and those of our present day missionaries who just as dutifully grapple with these deprivations.
Today organized religion is in decline (in the West) but the sociological literature is filled with other authors who have noticed the ethical baton having been picked up by charities, NGO’s, pressure groups, philanthropists and social movements. The standard discursive move against deprivation in South Africa today is to appeal to the (universal) norms of human rights instead of the (universal) norms of Christian goodness. Even Methodist Bishop Paul Verryn, one of the last activists who are actual missionaries today, ministers primarily to the rights not the souls of the Black refugees at his station.
The overwhelming majority of individuals and organizations fighting deprivation today are state-facing. Every existing NGO or social movement in South Africa poses its central demands as ones that both presuppose and invite the attention and assistance of a strong state. In particular, the executive and the judiciary are loudly engaged for the amelioration of the conditions of the deprived. The mission / struggle is about better connecting the deprived to the government and about ensuring that the government does more. For none of them is the social antagonism of Quetu an option. They are no Bushmen. There are though many “predatory natives” around but they are completely eschewed and thoroughly disciplined when caught.
A tremendous confidence is placed in the substance of Articles of law. Progressive new laws are a source of strategic direction and values for those fighting deprivation. They are constantly invoked, exalted and underwritten. The most interim of relief from a kindly judge is received as the vindication of a life of hardship and a bestowing of humanity itself.
Although now a fad, until fairly recently no real progressive social agency was expected from the lumpen proletariat or from single-issue organizations espousing no grand left, nationalist or religious identity. Like the “Kaffers” were a mine from which no precious stones were expected, so too were slum-dwellers, Aids sufferers, the evicted, the disconnected. Yet we are shown too now how they flash with the light of intellect, and glow with the hue of civil graces.
In this country there is a noticeable, although diminishing, racial split between “missionary” and “Kaffers”, except the accepted dichotomy nowadays is named “activist” and “community”. The former approach the latter with elaborate politeness, sensitivity and a primordial store of T-shirts and blankets.
The work of missionaries / activists has not departed a jot from its established course. It is to help the voice of the Kaffer / community be heard, his loud and affecting cries urged upon the authorities, donors, the Church / Left, the world. Between themselves, missionaries / activists measure, display and compliment each other for the quantity of “piety” (v) they hold and piousness too is the dominant tone employed in voicing the voice of the native.
Splits within the missionary / activist group are rife and, if they have any ideological basis at all, it revolves around whether the work of colonization / active citizenship is best achieved by introducing (which) religion / ideology into the missions / social movements that exist among the Kaffers / community. Or deliberately not introducing any at all.
While the Kaffirs / communities have their moments of evil, they are essentially noble, just deprived but amenable to civilization; that is, work, law, agriculture, liberal arts and participatory democracy. The church / Left will filter the barbarian out.
While romanticisation of noble communities, Blacks, the grass-roots is rife, yet, among the activists, there are voices raised against so enrapturing the poor, as did Kay.
Some of those in favour of systematic ideological work in communities note the accountabilities created by a democratic and socialist politics first and foremost among those outsiders working in communities. It is not foremost about converting the deprived to democracy and socialism. It is about ensuring democratic and socialist conduct by activists. Assimilation by activists with the desires, habits and lived environment of “communities” is, for whatever different reasons are supplied, completely anathema.
Allegations that some missions / social movements / NGOs are but commercial enterprises are widespread. Allegations even of fraudulent conduct in representing these movements have surfaced. Plausible allegations that some of these benefit from the racially subordinate position of Kaffers / slaves / communities in which they are located have also been made. Those damnable Dominicans and their NGO’s!
Indeed, Dominican infamies also fester today. Some say that priests / activists who speak out against the Church / Left’s involvement in unequal relations of power over Kaffers / communities are marginalized and dismissed from their jobs by other priests / activists. This happens and has happened for fifty years.
A popular criticism by missionaries / activists is that writings on Kaffer / communities hitherto available have been shoddily researched. Younger missionaries / activists show that they are not afraid to brilliantly take on the eminent writers who have come before.
The role of (white) Lochenbergs in sparking and sharpening conflicts among communities that should actually be united against a bigger enemy is also an area of concern. When we talk of white we do not mean complexion but disposition.
There are dispositionally white Lochenbergs today spending enormous energy trying to keep their clans, their Gaikas away from the influence of other whites. They deny being missionaries / activists at all! Politically they are one with the people. They tell the Kaffers / community to be aware of the Church / Left.
In the 1950’s, an influential pamphlet did the rounds. It was called ‘The Role of the Missionaries in South Africa’. The author used a pseudonym creating the impression she was Black. She was Dora Taylor. The message had greater bite and acceptance in Left circles than it would have had. Her lover at least was Black. Perhaps well meant, this technique of operating through Black voice is known to every activist who has ever selected a co-author or pseudonym for their scribblings today. This essay may note but not itself escape the laughable irony of activists decrying missionaries.
Which brings me to the desire to incessantly confess the crimes of one’s people, of one’s race, of oneself. Kay is unsentimental, in extremis, yet even he makes an exhibition of the Christian stirrings of his conscience when confronted by colonialism’s crimes. How well this deflecting practice has served and been preserved.
Like Kay, contemporary liberals and Leftists, speakers of English and gentlemen at heart have sought to distinguish themselves from the real savages, the “boors”. British settlement of Africa was sedate and the crimes it produced merely procedural. “Bless my soul, I’d forgotten it was a Sunday”.
Let us not forget the sly role of chiefs / community leaders themselves in vying for the honour and resources of having a mission in their location. Let us speak also of the persistence of ignorance, clannishness and indolence of which chiefs / community leaders are capable, at least from the perspective of missionaries / activists.
Let us acknowledge that the most effective missionary is in fact a Black missionary, someone who speaks the language. Let us admit that the most reliable Black ally, in protecting the gains of civilization, and those of the Church / Left is one who must mfenguza.
In distinction to genuine black converts or elders, the dubious character of some of the chiefs / community leaders, particularly their gender politics, is another topic of hot gossip and wry disgust by missionaries / activists. How many girlfriends they have, how subservient their women, how prone to ravishing.
These attitudes are related to the evils of drink. Those chiefs / community leaders who firmly root out the evil of liquor in their kraals / squatter camps are to be praised and supported in their efforts. It’s this kind of self-government that is enthusiastically celebrated by missionaries / the Left.
To top it all we have the formalisation of the use of missionaries / activists as civil agents, not so much to save the perishing African but to be saved from him. Contemporary understandings of the role civil-society plays when giving voice to the poor, endorsing legal norms, channeling social conflict and advocating humane treatment of restive natives as a cheap and necessary mechanism of social control are well publicized. What is more, these insights are borne out by the containing legalism, teleological strategic doldrums and liberal-dressed-as-radical humanism we see applied by activists to restive native struggles today.
Last, we know how, through the centuries, historical discourse has been invoked by warring social classes to establish a public right to dominate others. The 18th century French monarchy were supposed inheritors of Caesar’s absolutism, American colonists verily fled persecution to establish a land of the free, and the Boers entered empty tracts of Africa and, like the Israelites, won further chunks of heathen territory through legitimate conquest and treaty. What we do not always see so clearly is how the dominated themselves are represented in ways that legitimate their domination by those who come to their aid: the savages need help, they need government intervention, they need social inclusion, they need to turn to law. And so the process begins of selling these lines, of making accommodations for the savage within civil-ised society. Where does the process begin? Who is civilisation’s advance guard? Yesterday it was civil-agent missionaries and today it is civil society activists. Abasizi.
The list could go on. Every Left activist in South Africa knows exactly what I am talking about. The point is not to compose a list of mere analogies but to ask whether the analogies are not so striking, deep and without any disturbance pointing in a different direction, that it signals an actual continuity in the political praxis of the missionaries of yore with the activists of today. In other words, at what point does the rubric of a very tightly layered analogy signal an identity.
For such an identity to hold there will have had to be, in the absence of organization, in the absence of something in the order of a colonialist Illuminati, an organizing discourse of considerable force and effect. This organising discourse moreover would have to have a method of transmission to enable it effectively to guarantee the same approach to the native question centuries apart. One such discourse immediately springs to mind: white supremacy. This would especially be manifested in the impulse, arrogance and cultural capital to urge upon the world the “affecting cries” and sufferings of the native, to have the analytical distance and to presume in the first place to embark on travels and researches in Caffraria. I have some ideas about how such a supremacist organizing discourse could have been transmitted over the required period, sinking within or even opposing apartheid, again to emerge as it has in present-day activism.
However, I am looking for another concept that accounts not only for the (supremacist?) gesture of traveling and researching but accounts for the matching details of the outcomes of those travels and researches. I am looking for something that carries a good deal of content for, as we have seen with the analogies above, the connection between missionary and activist work is too tight with identical detail to be produced by a vague and general attitude. I suspect I am looking for something pre-political.
White supremacy will also not do for the purposes of this argument as it tends to pass judgment on the values the missionaries / activists express. I am not interested in the religious / political content of the moves missionaries / activists make with respect to the native question. Some of these may be dead right and perfectly beneficial. I am interested in the place from which missionaries / activists make these moves, the roles they assume in doing so, the relationships that come into being in the process, the motives that are revealed and, above all, the affect all of this has on the overall workings of power.
I also care little to be associated with or to strengthen the rank and manipulative nativism that is connected to the loud and affecting cries of “white supremacy!” one hears from time to time. When last did anyone in this country resort to this specific charge who was not, as per Wilderson III, a contending and usually losing “prelate” for elevation within bourgeois institutionality?
Perhaps adapting the ideas of Freud could provide an acceptable organizing discourse. Clearly, the identity Kaffer is created only in relationship to the identities, Boer and Settler. The identity Settler is also created only in its inter-relationship with the identities, Kaffer and Boer. And so on. Could it be that the original relationships that came into being between these identities, which in fact brought them into separate being in the first place, has set in place a rubric of behaviour that is to be perpetually re-enacted? The trauma of these original, infantile betrayals, wounds, abuses, disgusts, fascinations and hatreds were so searing that they have become fixed, binding and canonical on future interactions. Indeed whatever else people who are “Settlers” may be to themselves or as they exist in other relationships, when they come into contact with perishing “Kaffers” it is the missionary position that is adopted and a travel and research in Caffraria that is embarked upon. There is no way out of the Origin and no interlocutor other than the Other? Origin and singularity trump whatever a dialectics or collective may bring into being.
In the lounge on the farm, overwhelmed by a framing exercise involving pink roses, is a photograph of Pastor Claus Böhmke, the original settler in South Africa who arrived shortly after Kay left. He was a third son. German tradition gave the first son title to the land. The second was to go out and seek fortune (and land) through the army and the third was to enter the church. Pastor Claus joined the Berlin Missionary Society and was a Lutheran minister who came to this foreign continent and land. His chief claim to fame, besides issuing the writer, was to have had a church built thirty miles from East London around which the town of Berlin sprang up.
The photograph is very faded and some naughty brat, probably now a venerated ancestor, has penciled in a fuller beard for the man who had but a Prussian moustache to recommend him. Pastor Claus clutches a bible under his arm and looks severely out at some distant idea. He is trying to ignore his frame of pink roses.
My father now lives on a farm in the area where his family has lived for a century and a half. By a certain logic the farm is in a sort of cession land of its own since it is the last “white” farm. Further up the valley, across a river there are just Black farmers, most of them newly resettled there through a land reform program.
I now wonder, when I entered politics clutching the Freedom Charter (which later, more or less, became the Constitution), whether I had the same stern look as Pastor Claus. I might have had. Was there something more? What if the base impulse to sally forth into townships and locations with an ideology in hand has been transmitted to me at some hitherto undiscovered level of scientific analysis, somewhere between genetics and class. As Kay has neatly argued, missionaries are so very necessary to the enterprise of colonization. Could it be that I intuited that activism is so very necessary to the enterprise of citizenship upon which the development and stability of the present ideological order rests? What is the tradition in South Africa? What does the first-born do to keep title? Politics? Civil Agency?
If we find that undiscovered level of scientific analysis in the psycho-social or geno-political ether that I am sure exists and through which hyper-genetic but sub-class interests and desires are carried onward, I can promise you this. The impulse to freedom I thought I had was an impulse to civilize. The impulse to help the deprived was an impulse to minister to, improve and convert them. The impulse to achieve equality was an impulse to better the precarious prospect of white settlement in South Africa.
There is a Xhosa phrase that arose during the time of the missionaries and in relation to their work: abasizi ababulalayo or helpers who destroy.
My father farms with Nguni cattle. There are disputes now and again about fences with the lazy neighbour but, and this is the only hope and only tragedy, for the ether sparkles and vibrates in all directions, my dad is as devoted to his cattle as any Xhosa and the neighbour loves his rugby as any Boer.
Heinrich Böhmke, June 2009
A Poem by Aryan Kaganof
Beware of the nice whites
The polite whites
They just waiting for you
To put your balls in their mouths….
…then their teeth suddenly sharpen
…just as hard
as their granddaddies used to
a white man’s mouth
is not a safe place for a black man
to keep his balls
Commentary by Andile Mngxitama
Reading Heinrich Böhmke is like de-quailing a porcupine. To feast one must invariably suffer the pain of bloodied fingers first. This edition of New Frank Talk (NFT) presents us with numerous difficulties. Firstly, this is no easy read, it requires patience but infinite rewards await those who stay the course to the end. Secondly, this is an essay by a white writer; we make no bones about the fact that NFT is about black people and for black people, white voices already saturate and pollute the public space. Frankly we don’t give a shit what whites do or say. Lastly, and this is important, Böhmke is an active player in the scene that he invites us to critically survey. So this essay is not some innocent, beautiful literary foray for its own sake; this is part of an ongoing battle amongst latter day white missionaries who go by such endearing titles as human rights activists, internationalists, researchers and resource persons.
The challenge for NFT is simply this: are we, by publishing this essay, not entering an internecine battle between whites whose sole aim is to capture the souls of black folk? From this point of view, whichever side wins, the black stands to lose. In some twisted ways this is the central point made by this essay – white help invariably serves white interests in the final analysis. This may come as a surprise to readers who are familiar with the history of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa because we remember as if it were yesterday the great white warriors for liberation such as Joe Slovo, Ronnie Kasrils, Judge Albie Sachs, Jeremy Cronin and Ruth First amongst others. They all suffered in the fight against white supremacy. Really? Read on.
This essay is essentially about the place, motivation and role of white people in black struggles. This is a painful and difficult subject which has plagued all attempts at transforming the anti-black world we inhabit. Böhmke’s conclusion is disturbing in its lucidity – white revolutionaries are essentially missionaries! The journey to this discovery is long; it eats up all of 185 years! To understand this conclusion the writer takes us through an inviting review of a book published in 1834 by a missionary named Stephen Kay with a long title: “Travels and Researches in Caffraria, describing the character, customs and moral condition of the tribes inhabiting that portion of Southern Africa.” Caffraria is real, it’s the region of South Africa we call the Eastern Cape today, the land of the Xhosa-speaking people and their “Bushmen” cousins. Böhmke infuses life into an ancient book that could have been left to rot and never come to public attention, but it’s as if he walked into an amazing piece of artillery just when he needed it most in the ongoing missionary battles of our day. He discovered a perfect brick to hurl at the glass edifice of white radicalism. You can almost hear the shattering glass as it comes down. Damn!
One can imagine Böhmke turning the pages of the book rapidly as he read, baffled by the shocking discoveries and startling parallels between the original missionaries in service of civilisation and today’s activist. He must have been floored by the similarities between contemporary white actors in black affairs separated from their colonial predecessors by almost 200 years; these brethrens in the service of a humanity that dehumanises share the same impulses, strategies, discourses and concerns. Their overriding interest, just like Stephen Kay two centuries ago, is to “urge upon the Christian world the loud and affecting calls of the perishing African”. The treasure of this discovery couldn’t have escaped a seasoned warrior of Böhmke’s calibre. His advantage is that he got there first; the charge sheet he presents to white radicals indicts him no less. But he doesn’t care to defend himself, he pleads guilty with a smile. What will the rest of the accused plead? Smart, wicked move.
The first section of the essay which contains the historical material makes for fascinating reading. We get to see the strategies of how the “affecting calls for the perishing African” are carried out by missionary Stephen Kay. We get to see how Kay places himself as the true friend of the “Kaffers” against the marauding Boere, against the rapacious competing missionaries and other colonialists. Böhmke randomly chooses some themes from Kay’s book for fairly elaborate treatment. The parallels between the missionary of yesterday and the white activist of today yielded from these themes are shocking, yet we are shocked despite the writer’s council that we shouldn’t be. We discover powerfully how today’s white activist is no different from the colonial missionary. They have identical concerns and designs for the lost soul of the native. Of course unlike the bible- pushing colonial missionaries today’s white activists’ time is expired in service of human rights, justice, participatory democracy or any other such battle. Their bible is the constitution.
From Kay’s forays into Caffraria we can see that when it comes down to it, both the colonial missionary and the contemporary human rights counterpart are dealing with the same evils confronting the blacks: deprivation, homelessness, landlessness, evictions, state repression and inadequate protection by the law, or more specifically lack of implementation of existing laws to defend the helpless native. The missionary of yore stood between the Boere hordes and the helpless natives with his hands to the heavens and the bible under his armpit. Today the white activist stands between the poor, the squatter, the landless, the HIV positive and an indifferent black government with the constitution under the armpit driven by the same impulse to civilise.
Reading the essay, look out for rouge colonialists like Stout and Lochenberg. I smile thinking what these and other missionaries thought of the self righteous Kay. Then beware of the “predatory natives” who were “uncontainable and unpredictable”, the “sneaky” Bushmen who despised civilisation. They lived outside of civilisation and were therefore available for harsh colonial disciplinary measures. Kay, the righteous, approved of such treatment against these hordes who refused to live within the rhythm and discipline of work and God. Here I was reminded of how a few years ago white activists in a social movement refused to give any legal assistance to black members of the same movement who were accused of murder because of their involvement in a collective community crime prevention measure which left one of the tormentors of the community dead. Basically, a squatter settlement in the south of Johannesburg was terrorised by a gang of thugs who raped, killed and mugged community members. The police refused to act each time. The community then decided or rather spontaneously took matters into their hands. But because they acted outside the law, they were branded vigilantes by their white comrades and were therefore left to face the full punishment of the law. They were abandoned to harsh measures just like the “predatory natives” of Kay’s time.
Dear reader I must warn you, take no word of the writer at face value and don’t be seduced into a lowering your guards because of the beauty of this essay. Remember this is a white battle for the soul of the contemporary native who otherwise goes by the name of “the poor”. For instance, where Böhmke in a single throwaway line writes, “How wonderful to be first to write about a place!” don’t be mistaken, he is not making an innocent statement. He is talking to the many white researchers who make it their business to research and write about black struggles. They come from Canada, the USA and Europe. And then of course there is our very own home-grown settler stock. They work for NGOs and volunteer their time for a good cause. All of them are the Stephen Kays of our day. As they research about or administer to the natives, they denounce and approve accordingly, in the process saving souls and converting heathens. The success of the preaching is the changed behaviour of the poor; all of a sudden tyre burners become articulate preachers of human rights and the constitution. They learn process and patience. They stop demanding the impossible and acting illegally. They become perfect victims failed by the law and state.
The key point is simply this; the missionary of yesteryear was in it for colonisation and civilisation through spreading the gospel of God. Today the white activist is in it to be “saved from the native”. Are the barbarians still coming? Truth is even those who fought against apartheid did it to serve and save white civilisation. They are “helpers who destroy”. The role of today’s white activist is in the main to channel black anger into the castrating chambers of the constitutional court where if they lose they must go home and accept their fate as a turkey would on Christmas Day. If they win, and they rarely ever win anything useful, they must party all night long and be thankful to their white saviours – the lawyers, researchers and other NGO types in service of human rights and the constitution. This process actually serves to shape the desires of black people and lowers their expectations of what it means to be free. Like animals they listen as judges and white lawyers argue about how many kilolitres of water are enough to keep them clean and quench their thirst; they hear arguments on their behalf about how many communal toilets can take their shit and the number of flood lights needed to keep them from smothering each other to death at night. It doesn’t stop there, there are court cases led by human rights lawyers to determine how the poor must be forcibly removed, they plead for a just process before the removals but removed the natives must be, it must just be done according to due process! You’d think these masses of helpless blacks are not a majority in their own country. Black people have lost all self-respect in the name of the constitution and democracy. Now both the ANC and the DA are able to build wall-less toilets for blacks!
When it comes down to it, the white radical is actually worse than the colonial missionary. Without Joe Slovo it would have been possible to attempt an entry into a register of black suffering which didn’t defer to whiteness at all. Blacks would have been able to simply say, “Look, this is our fucken country and we are going to fight for it by any means necessary”! The very presence of whites in the zone of black resistance crowds out other possibilities. In fact certain acts become outlawed. Certain demands unimaginable. Imagine the oppressed seeking agreeable means to fighting their oppression from their oppressors? Absurd!
Böhmke comes to a similar conclusion as Frank Wilderson even if they arrive there from totally different routes. Böhmke takes Sigmund Freud while Wilderson uses Frantz Fanon. For Böhmke, to understand the unbroken chain of the white radical’s postionality as a missionary, one has to search in the “pre-political”, a zone crafted upon the infantile traumas of the first encounters between black and white signified by violence and betrayals. These have now become “fixed, binding and canonical”, thereby a priori governing all future interactions. In other words, a template of behaviour is now set in stone. The nasty encounters between black and white, where white seeks to civilise are fated to be “perpetually re-enacted” in all black and white encounters. From here a devastating conclusion is inevitable; there is no relationship between blacks and whites which is not already trapped in the Manichean poles of civiliser and the heathen soul. The writer points at himself and admits quite candidly that, “The impulse to freedom I thought I had, was an impulse to civilise”. In the final analysis, the Kaffir Boetie and terrorist finds that this impulse was actually to “better the precarious prospect of the white settler in South Africa”. This is significant, what we are being told here is that if we want to understand how post 1994 South Africa delivered a liberation that re-enacted and sustained white supremacy, we may find the white radical as a key player in ensuring this raw deal for the celebrating and voting native.
Be careful, when Böhmke points to himself, he in not delivering a confessional. What Böhmke has done with this confession is to take away the agency of the white radical, at least as revolutionary subjects. All white sacrifice in the struggle for black liberation stands at once as illegitimate. However, Böhmke does more than just dispossess the white radical of his most potent weapon and claims to be allowed into the black war room. Through this act of dispossession, Böhmke has simultaneously orphaned blacks of their white radical father figure who makes their travails understandable to the media, the government the donor and the world. Without the white radical, there is no way the “affecting calls of the perishing African” can be heard. Without a white radical to calibrate their voices, the poor are tongue-less and nameless. Without a guiding white father, the orphaned black is likely to explode into a flame that consumes all! Terrified, the black gropes for his lost white father, mouthing mumbo jumbo about non-racialism, ubuntu, and also making claims like, “we are all humans”. The black community leader is by and large a native convert who will kill for his missionary spiritual guide. He now wants the missionaries to say what is good for him. He wants to be in the constitution! He wants human rights. Yes, occasionally the convert is a she.
From Fanon Frank Wilderson observes the multiple disadvantages presented by the presence of a white radical in black struggles. He writes; ‘White political thought and action is necessarily inadequate to, and parasitic on, the black body and black liberation”. Referring to the experience of black fighters in the USA and the place of white radicals in that fight, Wilderson makes the point that:
“White radicalism works through the same ensemble of questions, and the same structure of feeling, as does White supremacy. Which is to say that while the men (and women) in blue, with guns and jailers’ keys appear to be White supremacy’s front line of violence against Blacks, they are merely its reserves, called upon only when needed to augment White radicalism’s always already ongoing patrol: a patrol of a zone more sacred than the streets: the zone of White ethical dilemmas: the zone of civil society. ”
Here we must remember Stephen Kays’ “predatory natives” and the civilisation despising “Bushmen”, but more remember the name Quetu!
It’s disturbing but unfortunately true, that in the final analysis the leading Communist Jeremy Cronin occupies the same structure of feelings as the brutal enforcer of apartheid, the much hated Eugene De Kock. Ultimately, they are both about preserving “the zone of civil society”.
Andile Mngxitama, January 2010