Power to the people

Daya Naicker, the editor of the radical South African student magazine, Mnyama, has died. Few will have heard of the title, which is the Zulu for Black, and none will have read it in print. The first edition submitted to the authorities at The Island – the University College for Indians housed in a former army barracks in Durban Bay -was promptly banned.

Daya Naicker: A luta continua

It was 1971 and the white elite was attempting to deliver one of the most ambitious projects of social engineering on the continent – apartheid. It was marketed as a policy of benign ‘separate but equal’ development and part of the logic was the establishment of segregated universities for different groups based on ethnicity and language.

The primary purpose of these institutions was indoctrination and the suppression of dissent. But they were also intended as proof of the ideology’s progressive realism. At the Island students adopted a policy of ‘sufferance’. They attended essential lectures but boycotted all university sanctioned sporting and academic events in an ongoing protest against tribal and inferior tertiary education. The Rector could gaze upon a football match that continued through the entire day but could not field a university team.

The emergence of a small but potent cabal challenged this established line of resistance. Its leaders pressed for the negotiation of an SRC constitution promising to deliver similar rights to those enjoyed by students on white campuses. This was dangerously divisive but the liberal enthusiasm for co-option can never be overestimated. The refusal of the authorities to allow the publication of a student magazine destroyed their credibility and scotched the threat.

Most of the content was devoted to the rise of Black Consciousness. That might have been remotely acceptable given the state was still uncertain about whether the movement should be regarded as a revolutionary threat or a potentially reactionary ally. But certainly a searing editorial about the deadly and illegal persecution of the Black Panther party in the US ensured Mnyama would be banned as expected.

The Cointelpro report presented at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban gives a flavour of what was filtering through to the Island from the US at the same time as Steve Biko’s rejection of white liberalism gathered momentum.

Between 1968-1971, FBI-initiated terror and disruption resulted in the murder of Black Panthers Arthur Morris, Bobby Hutton, Steven Bartholomew, Robert Lawrence, Tommy Lewis, Welton Armstead, Frank Diggs, Alprentice Carter, John Huggins, Alex Rackley, John Savage, Sylvester Bell, Larry Roberson, Nathaniel Clark, Walter Touré Pope, Spurgeon Winters, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Sterling Jones, Eugene Anderson, Babatunde X Omarwali, Carl Hampton, Jonathan Jackson, Fred Bennett, Sandra Lane Pratt, Robert Webb, Samuel Napier, Harold Russell, and George Jackson.

An essay of considerable importance and uncertain provenance formed the basis of my last conversation with Daya a week ago. Noam Chomsky and the Compatible Left  was originally published at https://lorenzoae.wordpress.com/ which has now been deleted. It is available at Square Space as a pdf, unfortunately without the embedded links.

The critique of Chomsky identifies ambivalence, inconsistency, contradiction, opportunism and an aversion to direct action as traits that have made him useful to the powerful and allowed him to become the most influential spokesperson for the left. It also provides a litany of valuable quotations and signposts to important historical material.

Daya has always held that without the Black anti-racist struggle there would have been little effective resistance to the Vietnam war. And so he was bound to agree with Lorenzo.

The black freedom struggle has been the arena in which the contours of American capitalism, and the revolutionary struggle against it, have been most apparent. As such, it’s the area in which the shortcomings of Chomsky’s extreme self-sacrificing pacifism are most apparent. If activists had listened to Chomsky, the anti-war movement would’ve been sitting on their hands alongside the black revolutionaries, waiting for everyone to agree with them before they actually did anything. But fortunately for the people of Vietnam, putative revolutionaries didn’t obey Chomsky.

Daya chuckled; ‘It’s been a long time coming again’.

He once said “without footnotes there would be no history to write”.  Hamba kahle, old friend.


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