Written by: Hermann Pretorius
I admire wordsmiths. People who, with greater ease than I can, etch phrases and sentences and paragraphs and arguments into the minds of others through their use of the available linguistic tools.
I write this in reaction to Joel Modiri’s fantastically-written ‘In the Fall: Decolonisation and the rejuvenation of the academic project in South Africa’ of 16 October in the Daily Maverick. This is not a rebuttal piece, nor a response. Its writing was merely prompted by the reading of Mr Modiri’s piece, which serves as an eloquent manifesto for the fallist movement.
Joel Modiri’s adjectival brilliance is a gift. With a fluency and prosaic drama most academic writers can only admire, he races the reader along his writings and arguments at breakneck speed, thoroughly walloping and beating about the head all opposition in his way with his beautiful use of adjectives. Epistemological. Pedagogical. Hegemonic. These words imbue Mr Modiri’s writings, and that of his fallist, decolonist peers, with a sense of moral purpose, epochal gravity and intellectual rigour. It is, as I say, a gift. It is a stylistic flourish. It is a feather in Mr Modiri’s tribal headdress.
It is also the height of irony which serves to undermine his central argument: that all and everything ‘western’ or non-African is dismissible as ignorant, evil, Eurocentric oppression.
Epistemological. Epistēmē – from the Greek for ‘knowledge’. Pedagogical. Paidagōgia – from the Greek for ‘teacher of children’. Hegemonic. Hēgemonikos – from the Greek for ‘commanding’.
The words used to make the decolonist (de – nugatory prefix from Latin; colonus – from the Latin for ‘settler’) fallist case, carry a rhetorical and definitional echo that forces a consideration of the true weight of the arguments offered. The words also bear, in the mouths and opinion pieces of the fallists, a hefty amount of irony and hypocrisy (hupokrisis – from the Greek for ‘playacting’). The irony and hypocrisy is to be found in the fact that the core of the fallist argument is that all things ‘western’ and non-African must be discarded, burnt, banished, or destroyed, as they are remnants of an oppressive and racist system. But by using words like ‘epistemological’ and ‘pedagogical’, the fallists employ exactly the tools and tactics they insist on wanting to destroy. They borrow words, and concepts from ‘western’ non-African origins to further their own cause. They culturally appropriate to advance their own ideology (idea + logos – from the Greek for ‘form’ and ‘word’). This appropriation of words – this importing of foreign concepts and ideas – is exactly what the fallists purport to despise. Even the label they choose for their movement seems to imply the incorporation of at least some Newtonian aspects of gravity.
Am I here arguing that all non-‘western’ peoples and cultures are inferior and should bow meekly before their master, a homogenous, melanin-constant ‘western’ behemoth? No. That would not only be racist, but it would also be falling into the trap of ignorance the fallists themselves seem unable to avoid.
The idea has taken hold among the fallists and broader society, that ‘western’ civilization is somehow a single entity – a hive mind with one religion, one school of thought, one level of melanin, one pursuit, one identity, one evil, colonial instinct; a perverse and cruel simunye. This is historical and cultural stupidity of the highest order. By arguing against the ‘west’ as if it is a single, oppressive order, the fallists arm themselves in the garb of cultural and historical warriors, yet history and culture seem to be the fields where their ignorance, despite steep competition in other areas, reaches its peak.
If I were to accurately describe Africa as a patchwork continent formed and moulded by war, colonialist enterprises, and migration, the fallists would be the first to agree. Yet, a glance at the historical, genealogical, and ethnic make-up of the European continent shows also exactly that: a patchwork continent, formed and moulded by war, colonialist enterprises, and migration.
When the wordsmiths of the fallists and decolonists, like Joel Modiri, forge their arguments for a bizarre form of African supremacy and isolationism in the flames of burning tyres, books, and buildings with neo-Roman architectural elements, they argue in the forums borrowed from others, using words borrowed from others, under democratic systems and human rights concepts borrowed from others. They fail to see that their movement is dependent, like each and every other movement or school of thought in history, on the wisdom and knowledge of others.
Where the fallists insist that the story of history is one of ‘western’ oppression against the East and South, they ignore, either maliciously or naively, the truth that the story of history is the constant rise and fall of empires of all colours, all creeds, all continents, and all cognitions. All four compass points point to patch-work continents and countries; rag-tag bunches of people borrowing, stealing, hating, and loving across all borders and boundaries.
The fallists themselves are borrowers, stealers, haters, and lovers of things foreign to them by nature and necessity. By hypocritically rebelling against all things foreign to them, they rid themselves of any intellectual definition and therefore any intellectual relevance. They seek to sever the very branch upon which they are sitting. Fallists indeed.
Author: Hermann Pretorius is a master’s of constitutional law student and tutor of public law at the University of Pretoria.