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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.

Author

  • Marius Redelinghuys is currently a DA National Spokesperson and Member of the National Assembly of Parliament. He is a 20-something "Alternative Afrikaner", fiancé to a fellow Mandela Rhodes Scholar (which has made him fortunate enough to be the only member of his family to converse with Tata Madiba) and father to two "un-African" Dachshunds. Marius is a former lecturer in political science and development studies at Midrand Graduate Institute and previously worked in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature as the DA Director of Communications and Research. He is also the Chairperson and a Director of the Board of the Mandela Rhodes Community, an alumni network of the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship.

17 Comments

  1. Judith Judith 12 January 2011

    I am quite happy with being a mongrel of Gaelic descent who happens to be a South African whose remote ancestors may or may not have migrated all over the place with great curiosity and courage. If we really all look at ourselves we are migratory folk who move around, beat each other up and take their territories until the next lot come in. These days we generally but not exclusively do it through business and import export agreements, which is less messy. However Darfur et al still prove that we beat each other up and take other their territories in the old fashioned way. Sad really cause you think we might have learnt something over the thousands of years that we’ve been doing it

  2. mazolo mazolo 12 January 2011

    This story is sooooo last week!

  3. Thandinkosi Sibisi Thandinkosi Sibisi 12 January 2011

    Frankly I do not think Setlentse is worth all this attention.It is patently obvious that he is politically opinionated but knows no science.

    All intelligent readers are aware that ” It’s really not about human evolution, but rather a political statement about identity”that “uses ”
    ‘science’ as a crutch” as Marius says.

    Instead of engaging Setlentse’s “science”, I think Marius should have engaged the “political statements about identity” made by Setlentse [using political science or sociological/sociopolitical standards] or ignored Setlentse’s “science” for the nonsense that it is

    I recall one article that Setlentse wrote about the “Big Bang”……….. Need I say more?

  4. JannieJammerGat JannieJammerGat 12 January 2011

    Stuff all the arguments, I`ve decided i`m a Viking!
    Are Vikings part of the previous “advantaged” or “disadvanaged” group? I`ll be needing this info when applying for BBBEE, BEE contracts and future affirmative action positions!

    This pointless debate reminds me of something I saw on a T-shirt once:
    “If a man speaks his mind in a forest and no woman hears him, is he still wrong?” :-) This would be a debate worth having!

  5. daniel daniel 13 January 2011

    excellent! thanks for that (coming from a paleoarchaeologist)

  6. Mpho Mpho 13 January 2011

    Marius you have been at Cathedral Peak in the Central Drakensberg too long, this is old redundant news, move on!

  7. Kwame Kwame 13 January 2011

    Giv it up Marius! What I can certainly conclude is that your arguments reflect deep confusion on the topic. I would rather you applaud Sentletse for giving you a benchmark for you to clarify your own thoughts on the subject matter. For you to frown on him, is highly hypocritical and unfortunate given that you are clearly a scholar on these issues, just like the rest of us.

    In your article you have failed to bring knowledge to the subject by bitting the bullet and letting us know what your understanding is, just like Sentletse did (however ignorant you may think he is). Instead you’ve gone the easy route of whinning and calling judgement on a fellow brother.

    I advise you go back to the Cathedral peak in drakensberg and absorb some new thoughts to enlighten this debate!

  8. Gerry Gerry 13 January 2011

    Let us assume, for the sake of the argument, that the “who is African” is a POLITICAL debate, rather than a scientific/origin one. As illustrated, the scientific and who generated from where makes everyone on the planet an African (or Chinese or Jews, but it makes us all common).

    So, in the light of Apartheid, whites are then NOT classified as “African.”

    Okay, in a political context, I’ll buy that.
    But where do you draw the line? How about “mixed race” people – well, we can therefore also draw the apartheid line: if Verwoerd would have not let you climb on a 1st-class carriage, you are therefore “African”. So therefore everyone except pure-bred whites are “African” – sounds like an “own goal” to me.

    Or are we to say only “pure-bred” blacks are African? Thus the “Cape coloured” and the Indians aren’t African? Another own goal.
    No matter how you slice it, politically, scientifically, ideologically, this is an argument Sentletse cannot win. As the one commentator said “You are Maori if you feel Maori”.

    I’m African because I identify with Africa. I do not identify with Europe, America or Asia. I’m an African.

    Damn – I commented on another blog that to ascribe to a label is to waste time with definitions of said label instead of getting your hands dirty with doing what needs doing. I guess this proves my point.

  9. Ash Ash 13 January 2011

    I think that Sentlese was mostly “stirring” in that article. But I also think that he’ll be grateful to Sarah and yourself for the additional fame he’s got :)

    Mpho & Mazolo, the story is not “old redundant news”, as long as some people in South Africa try to tell other people in South Africa that they have no rights it will be very relevant indeed!

  10. MLH MLH 13 January 2011

    Are we sure that apes only ever existed in Africa?

    Marius, one day you will tell your child he is very, very clever even though you really think that what he has done is fundamentally very basic. Why not allow someone who is desperate to claim exclusivity in a form in which it doesn’t really exist to light up with the same sort of glee?

  11. David Brown David Brown 13 January 2011

    Notion of SA as a land of milk and honey was only ever for the beneficiaries of the discrepant distribution of wealth .The growing poverty of SA is evident to those who have eyes and ears wherever you go.The aspiration which exceeds achievement is everywhere in a youth squeezing into institutions which have not been adequately serviced for years. Meeting their aspiration and the international skill standards required is going to go only so far and then pop. Land of scarce sick bees challenged to pollinate anything and difficult risky dairy farming. Vukani Abantu -the Johnny Walker Blue generation are but a few.Leave this identity politics in the dust where it belongs. How many eat and drink enough and sleep in peace should be the national aim of South Africans its just a small part of the planet.Self declaration is a familiar feature of effete authoritarian patriarchal thinking.Wie is jy ?politics.

  12. Evans Sebola Evans Sebola 13 January 2011

    Why do white people want to be ‘African’ all of a sudden?
    It is a fact, africans are black people!
    White people’s ancestry links them to some other foreign country.

    Like an Indian who was born and bred in Africa will always be an Indian! Never African!
    No identity crisis there

  13. Siphiwo Siphiwo Siphiwo Siphiwo 14 January 2011

    Marius

    The manner at which you’re endlessly harping on this so-tired subject confirms to us that Sentletse was indeed right, there are very few of us who are Africans.

    You and your kin ‘n kirth are Jews; please count the native Africans out of your obsession of this newly found identity. We aint interested.

  14. Marius Redelinghuys Marius Redelinghuys 14 January 2011

    Sometimes I wonder if people actually even bother to read past the first paragraph.

  15. Sparxi Sparxi 14 January 2011

    Two questions:

    1) Why would finding a fossil in Africa make the original Home Sapiens “Black”?
    2) Why would finding a fossil in present day Israel make the original Homo Sapiens “Jewish”?

    Enlighten me, please.

  16. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 14 January 2011

    This blog post is obviously entirely wrong, unscientific, racist and invalid because it doesn’t tell some Africans what they want to hear.

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