By Zinhle Manzini
On February 25 it was reported that two buildings and a car were burnt at the North West University Mafikeng campus, yet this incident is not the only occurrence of violence that has disrupted some of South Africa’s universities. One would recall that a bus was also set alight a week ago at Wits university just outside a residence in Parktown and on February 23 we also heard of the violence that broke out at the University of Free State during a ruby match.
These incidents arguably mark the first violent outbreaks since the beginning of the “Fallist” movements and they have somewhat highlighted the urgency of decolonisation. They also indicate a level of frustration that the Fallists are feeling (if all the violent outbreaks are orchestrated by the Fallists).
While some people have been quick to dismiss these actions as “irrational and thoughtless”, I think that it would be worthwhile to try and understand the Fallists’ reasons as opposed to merely dismissing the actions without thorough engagement. Although I personally don’t condone any act of violence, I don’t find them surprising. In fact I think these incidents should have been anticipated, especially if we consider some of the movement’s ideological stance, as well as South Africa’s political history.
Recall the establishment of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) during the anti-apartheid era. MK was not just established out of thin air, in 1961 Ben Turok stated that “peaceful methods of struggle were over, that one had to now look at alternatives and that the alternative was armed struggle”. This indicates that acts of violence in protest movements follow a similar trajectory: people start peacefully, where the terms are negotiated (recall when Wits had spent hours in conversation with Adam Habib last year). When some of the negotiated terms are not met in due time violence erupts.
Frantz Fanon defined decolonisation as “the replacing of a certain species of men by another species of men” (Fanon, 2001: 27) which constitutes on the first day where the demands of the colonised are heard – it is a phenomena that is met by two forces that are in opposition to one another. The success of decolonisation happens if the entire social structure is changed from the bottom up. Furthermore, what makes the act of decolonisation a violent one is that the very act is demanded, it is called for – it changes the order of the world.
“decolonisation is not automatic […] it is always the result of a struggle, [it is] the result of strenuous efforts, even the most peaceful form of decolonisation is always the result of a rupture”.
Notably, the act of decolonisation is one that is highly embedded in history which therefore makes it a historical process. Aime Césaire (1959, p.125-126) said,
“it cannot be understood, it cannot become intelligible nor clear to itself except in the exact measure that we can discern the movements which give it [a] historical form and content”.
Decolonisation is further inherently violent because it questions the structures that have been legitimised by man and not a supernatural force, so in the performance of decolonisation the very man who legitimised colonialism also becomes a man in a process where everyone is trying to free themselves.
We then can understand why the Fallists find it necessary to deploy violence at this point of their movements. In this light we ought to see violence as a response to a colonial structure that is violent in a structural and subliminal manner, hence the act of decolonisation will also be violent. We should note that violence should not be regarded as irrational but it is indeed necessary, violence becomes the tool towards a new humanism. Morton Schoolman (1979) writes that,
“no matter what new institutions take place of the old, the psychological effects of oppression continue to linger, perhaps for centuries. Even after ‘independence’ is declared, colonialism continues to reside in the minds of the native people”.
It is only after the colonised have reclaimed their identity as man through violently decolonising the colonial state that the oppressed can become a “new man”. Violence arguably becomes the only way that man can reclaim himself. As Gerald E Tucker (1978, p.405 ) states, the colonised is
“unable to issue forth from the womb of a colonial situation without violent pangs. The truly decolonised native knows no peaceful birth”.
When we view violence in this light, it is seen as a way to reclaim the colonised humanity, consequently making it legitimate. We could view this form of violence as self-defence, as well as the removal of an unjust social system, a system like the university. The university has continued to deny black students entrance even though they meet the academic requirements. As a result of poor finances, an injustice is done to students. Yet, violence here does not signify revenge any more than it signifies a natural disposition. The act of violence in a symbolic manner thus becomes a physiological form of release from the effects of servitude from the coloniser to the colonised.
Here I take the university, its management and its structures as the coloniser and the students as the colonised, doing so allows us to understand the contexts of these movements in a better light.
Even though the acts of violence are a response to the colonial system, violence is used as a method to shift the balances of power. Having said that, one could ask what happens once these violent tactics are not responded to in the manner that the Fallists hope, and when the government and its universities do not respond?
Zinhle Manzini is currently reading towards her master’s degree in philosophy at Wits as a 2016 Mandela Rhodes Scholar. She is a proud coconut from the townships of Kagiso and is always trying to navigate between the spaces of being an academic and a girl from kasi. A feminist, a reader and a writer whose sitting on an unpublished manuscript; she is also a director of Ward66 (a concept store in Kagiso) who loves baking and making smoothies. Instagram @conflictedblackwoman or Tweet @ZinhleManzini
Césaire, A, 1959. “The man of culture and his responsibilities”, Presence Africaine. Presence Africaine: Paris.
Fanon, F, 2001. The Wretched of the Earth. (Trans.) Farrington, C., Penguin Group: London.
Schoolman, M, 1979. “The colonial overlay and the African response”, in Potholm. C. P., (ed.) The theory and practice of African politics. Prentice Hall: New Jersey.
Tucker, G E, 1978. “Machiavelli and Fanon: Ethics, Violence, and Action”, The Journal of Modern African Studies. Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 397-415.