Burning Down the House: Frantz Fanon and the Rise of the Fallists (Part 1)
Written by: Anthony Stuurman
“Each generation must discover its mission; fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.”
– Frantz Fanon
Frantz Fanon, beloved by the Fallists, wrote extensively on the subject of protest, liberation, racism, identity, and decolonisation. Despite his critics, Fanon serves as a useful primer when trying to understand why sometimes liberation movements succeed or fail. Interestingly, this is one area of Fanon’s work that Fallists often ignore, or, at best, misinterpret – yet it is extremely insightful when trying to get a handle on explaining the rise of Fallism and in particular the recent events at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
So, according to Fanon, why do liberation movements succeed or fail? And, more importantly, where do Fallists fit into Fanon’s understanding of failed/successful states? For Fanon, liberation isn’t automatic or guaranteed. In fact, it is quite a risky business. Getting a vote really isn’t enough. For liberation to be fully realised, certain prerequisites must be in place, namely: unity, food security and industrialisation. If not, disaster strikes!
Unless there is a common social cause, there cannot be true liberation, as the various groups within the newly liberated country simply subjugate each other. Consequently, central to liberation is the emergence of a particular group of intellectuals that drive national unity. To succeed, however, this newly emerged class of intellectuals needs to do the hard work of creating a new and unifying identity for the country. This necessitates a truly creative approach, which also means avoiding easy ideological shortcuts. However, Fallists fall into a second possible group.
Rather than doing the hard work necessary to create a new unifying narrative, some within this new class run the risk of what Fanon refers to as ‘lazy’ and ‘wilfully narcissistic’ intellectualism. By its nature this narcissistic class is out of touch with the reality of national liberation, and, instead, positions itself incorrectly as the focal point of liberation – in other words, they become the struggle. Working class and others concerns are sidelined through the use of divisive rhetoric. This enables them to con the working classes into believing that if they engage in violent protest (burning libraries, science labs, etc.), they will somehow further their cause.
Anyone who dares to disagree is branded with cries of ‘you’re a coconut’/’Impimpi!’ or if you’re white, ‘Racist!’. No matter whether this is voiced by white, black, middle-class or working-class – Fallists will attempt to silence criticism with the race card. Free speech goes down the toilet. Their ‘lazy intellectualism’ and ‘wilful narcissism’ allows them no other option but to misdirect with ultimately divisive hyper-racialism. As a direct consequence, the very real needs of ordinary students are effectively silenced. However, it is these ordinary students who pay the price through disrupted studies, burning of facilities, etc.
Fallists often like to quote the following of Fanon: “first and foremost the land.” But they don’t quote the second part, which reads: “the land which will bring them bread and; above all, dignity.” When Fanon wrote about land ‘first’, what he actually refers to is the industrial intensification of agriculture, which in turn leads to food security. He isn’t writing about random land redistribution; he is referring to its use of feeding the population. In others words, you can’t be liberated if you are at risk of starvation. Interestingly, South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa to achieve this first goal of liberation. We have a largely industrialised agricultural system which provides food security. There is no dignity in starvation.
However, Fallists, as members of the newly formed wilfully narcissistic class, instead demand that agriculture be de-industrialised, to be reduced to some form of small scale peasant farming – in essence, to risk the nation’s food security. By doing this they demonstrate their lazy intellectualism. Their cries of land first are really there to create racial division. When they cry “land first”, what they really mean is “me first!”. They don’t really care, or even know, much about feeding South Africa.
Industrialisation and Job Creation
The third requirement is the development of the industrial sector. Again, this is very important as it provides jobs to the masses. Fanon correctly observed that in colonial countries, there is as much a problem of uneven development as there is under development, meaning that jobs in turn are spread unevenly. To remedy this uneven industrialism, Fanon argued, a class of industrialists needs to be nurtured. In other words, capitalism must be able to run its course throughout the country. Without jobs, the working class is in danger of remaining in grinding poverty and developing a culture of dependency on state handouts, just to survive. If you are dependent on state handouts, you aren’t really liberated; you’re chained to a cycle of poverty.
Once again, of course, rather than seeking to promote job creation through industrialisation, we find Fallists demanding obscure and abstract changes to the university curriculum that does nothing to develop the entrepreneurial, technical and employability skills needed to fully industrialise. Further, they rail against what they divisively see as a mythical ‘white’ monopoly capital. They ignore the fact that South Africa’s wealth is now largely owned by black South Africans. Instead, they push the hyper-racialised myth that ‘whiteness’ is to blame for lack of job creation. When Fallists protest ‘white monopoly capital’, what they really protest is job creation!
Increasingly we are seeing, among Fallists, the rise of an intellectual class that Fanon referred to as ‘retrogressive’ by nature. Rather than taking the hard route of leading the country forward, they are dragging down the real world liberation and everyday dignity of the average South African, black or white. The eroding of free speech, burning and protests are a direct and national cost of Fallists trying to promote their regressive agenda. The three prerequisites for national liberation: unity, food security and industrialisation, are at risk. Politically, South Africa is at a vital junction point. However, as Fanon pointed out, the rise of the Fallists isn’t inevitable.
In Part 2, I shall be exploring the conditions, tactics and strategies that are required to ensure that Fallist ideology, and its regressive influence, is side-lined from national discourse.
Author: Anthony Stuurman (a pen-name) is an educator in the Eastern Cape with an interest in neuroscience, ethnobotany and a passion for free speech.