Marius Redelinghuys
Marius Redelinghuys

We’re not all Africans, we’re Jews!

When Sentletse threatened to respond to my post (“Africans are humans too“) I packed my bags in a state of panic and headed into the mountains, Cathedral Peak in the Central Drakensberg to be precise, to escape this particular “swart gevaar“. I had naturally revised my entire first week of 2011 because of my typical white obsession with the “black question” and this irrational fear of black people having an opinion, and especially one that dares to disagree with the institutionalised white opinion.

I must say I was slightly disappointed to find upon my return a response that, unlike I was promised, did not quite “dispel [my] newly found pseudo-Africanism”, and in fact, didn’t even mention me or my argument at all. I would attribute it to mere oversight on the part of Sentletse, but I find it difficult to believe this especially because he unashamedly states that “[t]here was a deliberate intent not to discuss the issues raised in the article, but rather to embark on mindless attempts at character assassination in order to distract other readers who had full control of their mental faculties and the ability to regulate their emotions,” and “after all the noise, the kicking and screaming, the fact remains what they were and what will continue to be in the near future”.

Now, just to recap for those who have missed this spectacular show of “white hysteria” (I really dislike that word, partly because of its sexist connotations and partly because I don’t have a uterus) in response to the initial post on the subject by Sentletse.

The article seeks to demonstrate that only black people are Africans because recent — and the supposedly oldest to date — Homo sapien fossil finds in China allegedly point to the fact that white people came from China and not Africa. It also charges that the Out-of-Africa hypothesis of human origins is the product of post-1994 white revisionism because we, the white people, also want to be a part of the post-apartheid land of milk and honey.

Now, in my Africans are humans too response I merely sought to demonstrate that the biological origins of modern man as a species is widely and generally accepted as being African, and that Sentletse’s reasoning held either that black people are Chinese, or a different species altogether. An argument that Sentletse curiously ignored in his response.

Secondly, I also sought to demonstrate that the Out-of-Africa hypothesis is not 16 years old, ie is not a post-apartheid creation. In fact it was first postulated by the father of evolution, Charles Darwin, as early as the 1870s (ie long before the existence of the Afrikaner as a consolidated cultural, ethnic and linguistic identity). To quote a website on Africa: The Cradle of Mankind:

“Because Charles Darwin believed that all human beings were merely descendants of a prehistoric and extinct ape, this placed the origin of man in the same area as the original site of the apes ie Africa. This theory was supported half a century later by fossils and remains of an ancient hominid civilisation and their implements. These were found in Africa.” The site goes on to mention, as I did, the major advances in genetic technology that maps the African origins of our species.

The claim that the white hysterical responses deliberately refused to discuss the issues raised in Sentletse’s article forces me to believe that his argument from the outset suffered from a lack of conceptual clarity and that his subsequent response testifies to selective reasoning and cognitive dissonance.

In the first instance I don’t think it is clear to him, or even those “other readers who had full control over their mental faculties and the ability to regulate their emotions”, whether he was referring to “African” as a biological concept or a socio-cultural, ethnic and linguistic heritage or identity. His selective use of one, unsourced, fossil find (further incorrectly interpreted and unsubstantiated) is used as a launch pad from which he attacks white revisionism and defines Africanness. The aforementioned “other readers” may therefore be forgiven for thinking his article was about the biological origins of man, instead of it actually having nothing to do with it (as he didn’t even bother to respond to evidence, or an argument, to the contrary).

In his subsequent response it becomes clear that it in fact is not a scientific discussion of human biological origins but is instead, as I argued, an empty political argument that used “science” as a crutch: “That today we still have the majority of whites in South Africa who struggle to pronounce African names, never mind speak fluently at least one African language, is a shame.”

So it’s really not about human evolution, but rather a political statement about identity. Fine, I thought as much, so please leave science out of it.

Beyond this lack of conceptual clarity there is the issue of cognitive dissonance, selective reasoning and even inconsistencies in his argument (which makes me wonder who is guilty of an emotional and irrational outburst).

These inconsistencies are rather sad, considering the man on the one hand held that white people are of Chinese origin, therefore not black and especially not African. In his follow-up he switches from arguing from science to arguing from legislation (which is not, by the way, scientific or dependent on evidence) and informs us that “[t]he Broad Based Economic Empowerment Act and the Employment Equity Act is unequivocal in its definition of black people, who are ‘Africans, coloureds and Indians’ “. This beautiful form of circular reasoning is the result of cognitive dissonance, or as he himself put it: “It is often difficult for human beings to readily discard particular views and prejudices that had long been imprinted in their minds through socialisation and experience. Often our worldview is informed by these particular conceptions, however preposterous they may be. People interpret facts before them according to their well-ingrained conceptions of what reality is and should be.”

First black people were the only Africans, but now we hear from him that you can be black without being African. It is confusing, I’ll admit, which is why I understand it being ignored because it contradicts his argument: cognitive dissonance. But, let’s take this a step further, especially now that Chinese people are also considered black. Which, in effect, emanating from his original article, would mean that white people are also black by virtue of their Chinese origins.

Allow me to throw a further proverbial spanner in the wheel of his argument. In response to a charge against his “science” Sentletse claims that science is not 100% conclusive. He is correct, if it was based on that principle it wouldn’t be scientific, but religious. However, he then invokes the now long dead flat earth theory as a case in point. His claim is that contradictory evidence invalidates the original assumption, or hypothesis. Rather foolish because a hypothesis — and eventually a theory — should be internally consistent and stand up to the scrutiny of potentially contradictory evidence, and survive. One mere fossil find does not revise the entire Out-of-Africa hypothesis. I’m actually hesitant to invoke the principles of science lest I be accused by him of imperialistically imposing a “Western” way of thinking on his African mind, but let it stand as he wanted to use “Western” science as a launch pad.

Accordingly, if we should, like him, believe that science is very fluid and rapidly changing without scrutiny, investigation and analysis, then I challenge Sentletse to revise his entire argument based on the finds of Homo sapien remains published the fateful day he unleashed his own scientific discovery. The most recent find, ladies and gentlemen, by Sentletse’s reasoning, would make us all Jews and not Africans. Even though these finds predate the next oldest find in East Africa by 200 000 years, in the spirit of true science and after four years of investigation since its discovery, the researchers do not fatalistically pronounce it as a revision of the long-held scientific hypotheses. Instead, they claim that “digging continues at the cave … with researchers hoping to “uncover additional finds that will enable them to confirm the findings published up to now and to enhance our understanding of the evolution of mankind, and especially the appearance of modern man”.

Sentletse, please do me a favour before, like uJuJu, you accuse me and other “white hysterics” (among which one curiously finds the black face of Khaya Dlanga) of being “counter-revolutionaries”: provide us with an internally consistent operational definition for the term “African”. You have been defining, redefining and debating this concept so inconsistently and incoherently that I concur on one other point: any “other reader who had full control over their mental faculties and the ability to regulate their emotions” is definitely correctly rendered in the past tense.