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A Manifesto to End All Manifestos

A Manifesto to End All Manifestos – by Ncebakazi Manzi

Next to kwaito star Chomee, memorandums delivered by protesting blacks are probably the ANC government’s most prized gift. In a country that has seen more than 20 000 protests since liberal democracy declared its victory against the people, the memorandum is the black struggle’s suicide note to power; written with a fleeting passion and a heart heavy with defeat.

Enter: The People’s Manifesto. A student from Wits University trying to describe the manifesto, more to himself than to his attentive audience, really, landed gracefully on the word ukuchwentsa , a Zulu word that refers not just to madness but to rebellion at the same time. “Ah, I see…mad rebellion, just like Julius Malema”, someone might say. No. Julius is neither mad, nor rebellious, my friend; he is only a meticulous murderer of blacks’ truest dreams. A bloody agent of power.

Thomas Sankara knew in his bones what ukuchwentsa meant. For him it was a key ingredient. One couldn’t “dare to dream” of radical possibilities without it. Why else would a country’s president sit in a stuffy, non air conditioned room and write laws precluding his charges from riding luxurious, expensive cars, having chauffeurs or earning big fat salaries? Why else, if not because of pure rebellious madness?

Long before him, Suzanne Cèsaire revelled in the beauty of this rebellious madness. For her, “it nourishes an impatient strength within us, endlessly reinforcing the massive army of refusals”. And the reward for that is far more priceless than any sushi or flavour of champagne: “Millions of black hands will fling their terror across the furious skies of world war. Freed from a long benumbing slumber, the most disinherited of all peoples will rise up from plains of ashes”.

I can tell you now that if you approach the manifesto, red pen and ruler in hand, searching for the exact line or paragraph that best exhibits ukuchwentsa, you will not find it. Same way you wouldn’t point to the spirit of any man or woman, even if you tried. The best you can do is to imagine with me a young black man, new to Robben Island, being ordered by a prison guard to take his hat off and then without flinching or caring to conceal his disdain, simply asking, “Why?” Nelson Mandela saw this young man’s callous audacity but wouldn’t dare show his awe. So instead, he wore that soon-to-be-famous nigger smile and held his cap in his hand while the guard looked on, quietly stunned. The manifesto is just as likely to leave the guards of whiteness baffled by its lack of regard for authority.

What of those 20 000 protests we mentioned earlier, is it really fair to say that they have come to nought? Lenin, who was once agitated by the spontaneity of workers’ strikes in Russia, probably has the best response. Allow me to quote him at length:

“Even the primitive riots expressed the awakening of consciousness; to a certain extent the workers were losing their age-long faith in the permanence of the system that had long oppressed them. They began…I shall not say to understand, but to sense the necessity for collective resistance, and definitely abandoned their slavish submission to their superiors. But this was, nevertheless, more in the nature of outbursts of desperation and vengeance than of struggle”.

Our people have fought hard against the ANC government over the last 17 years, to the extent that places like Balfour have at some point been militarised in a concerted effort to crack down on protestors. But ten thousand more similar outbursts will not necessarily tinker with the framework of power that guarantees the continuation of the anti-black status quo. Mind you, neither will the manifesto. But the manifesto is an opportunity to begin to politicise the relationship between the neglected majority, the ANC government and white settler capital. Nothing could be more important than that.

Slavoj Zizek explains politicisation as the “moment in which a particular demand is not simply part of the negotiation of interests but aims at something more, and starts to function as the metaphoric condensation of the global restructuring of the entire space”. The manifesto aims at a whole lot more than seeing politicians living in the slums. In fact, its proponents have accepted wholeheartedly that the targets of the proposed law might simply laugh in our faces. But if by then, blacks are “conscious of the irreconcilable antagonism of their interests to the whole of the modern political and social system” , there’s no guessing who will have the last laugh. This is not to say that the manifesto is the paragon of post-94 resistance. No. It would be a grave error for us to put our energies into this document alone and ignore all other efforts by our people. But all of these efforts must be politicised. Expanding on Zizek, Jodi Dean says that “an act or practice of resistance, then, has to become political, it has to be reiterated in another register, a register beyond itself (even as there is no ‘itself’ absent this ‘beyond’). A community’s struggle for toilet enclosures, for example, must be articulated in a way that points to the necessity of a complete rupture from the current anti-black, capitalist order. So that even when a cunning politician, feeling the inevitable rumble of anger plumbed from the depths of black men and women, sends builders to Makhaza to build wall enclosures around toilets, our people welcome the intervention with a smile and then, as soon as the last brick is laid, in unison shout, “Off with the king’s head!”

Similarly, The People’s Manifesto must keep our eyes firmly on the structural forces that make the suffering of the majority possible otherwise it is no different to similar demands that are hollowed out of all political content in order to ensure the survival of the status quo. In other words, following Lenin, the demands of the manifesto have to be subordinated to the larger revolutionary struggle for liberty and black socialism . As Dean suggests, the manifesto must speak ‘beyond itself’ and so far all evidence suggests that it does exactly that.

There is yet another crucial opportunity that the manifesto presents to us. Black resistance in the past 17 years has been largely fragmented and localised. This is partly due to the fact that, up to this point, there has not been a revolutionary movement unifying all struggles and connecting the dots between them. Lenin again, analysing similar conditions in Russia read the situation thus:

“The upsurge of the masses proceeded and spread uninterruptedly and with continuity. Revolutionaries, however, lagged behind this upsurge both in their “theories” and in their activity; they failed to establish an uninterrupted organisation having continuity with the past and capable of leading the whole movement”.

This June 16, a group of no more than 120 protestors stood below the cold imposing stares of two buildings in Sandton, one of the richest suburbs on the African continent. They had walked from Alexandra, a rough ghetto that feeds the white area with cheap labour and a life of shameful privilege. At least five community organisations addressed the crowd and towards the end of the proceedings one of them, spoke of how we need to build a national movement. We cannot claim to be no longer lagging behind the upsurges led by the black poor but The People’s Manifesto certainly gives revolutionaries of our time an opportunity to be much more forceful than they have been, in charting a path towards black liberation.

Interestingly, at the “Alex to Sandton; Hell to Heaven” march there was neither a memorandum delivered nor a government official with a patronising smile waiting to receive it. It would seem then that the manifesto even inspires us to undermine the accepted rituals of protest.

And so, if The People’s Manifesto is used as one of many tools to build a radical national movement seeking true black liberation, then our rise from the “plains of ashes” is inevitable.


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