31/07/2017 09:51 SAST | Updated 31/07/2017 11:41 SAST

BLF And Faux Revolutionaries Are Hijacking Debates We Should Be Having Without Them

More Mngxitamas will come as the stakes get higher. We would do well to make them irrelevant by having the hard discussions ourselves.


The unceremonious expulsion of Bell Pottinger -- the British PR firm in charge of oiling South Africa's disinformation machine -- from South African politics did not shatter the Gupta-led project of poisoning South Africa's public discourse.

The campaign of disinformation, primarily via social media, keeps ticking like clockwork: unceasing, entirely predictable and repetitive, yet mesmerising and seductive for the easily fooled observer. Daily allegations against the Guptas -- and the politicians and multinational corporations now stuck in the sticky web -- is swiftly followed by a flurry of tweets, online articles and public utterances denouncing the alleged lies of white media and its co-ordinated anti-black campaign.

Prophet Andile Mngxitama's Black First Land First (BLF), a group of seemingly omnipresent revolutionary messiahs and denouncers of media lies, is a small but relatively effective cog in this machine. Whether at the behest of the Guptas themselves as allegations suggest, or less convincingly on their own accord for whatever reason, the group is at pains to awaken South Africans from deep slumber and deliver us once and for all from the Matrix.

As previous weeks in particular have revealed, however, the BLF repeatedly demonstrates it is more interested in stifling debate than enriching it, and in denouncing its detractors as puppets and agents over challenging them with counter-claims grounded in credible evidence. It is the means and end of the BLF to proclaim from the highest mountaintop the correctness of its theoretical basis and revolutionary praxis, and to shout down anyone who thinks differently.

Mngxitama's own capacity to debate in good faith, in particular, is outrightly thwarted by his belief in the undeniable veracity of his message and his automatic casting of critics as anti-black racists or confused blacks that "want to be whites".

On Planet Mngxitama, one must either embrace the BLF's premises and emancipatory programme or you are a puppet of white monopoly capitalists, or at the very least complicit in the scourge of white supremacy and oppression. To people on the left, for example, you either read Frantz Fanon's 1961 canonical text Wretched Of The Earthas an unambiguous call for violent revolutionary overthrow at whatever cost or you are wholly corrupted by the kool-aid of liberalism and its agents at South African universities.

This was made plainly evident in my first face-to-face encounter with the man at the helm of his self-proclaimed vanguard of the 'Black Agenda'. Upon arrival at Media24 in Johannesburg with a team of BLF supporters for a scheduled interview, Mngxitama sooner spewed a perennial flow of accusations against me (the usual: racist, imperialist, white settler) before allowing me to introduce myself. Perhaps he may have found we could agree on some of his diagnoses of South Africa's ills had he not denounced me before even exchanging pleasantries. But on Planet Mngxitama, politics is performative rather than substantive and it would be disingenuous to expect more from him or his groupies.

What Mngxitama perhaps hasn't calculated is that the BLF's shenanigans, in all likeliness, embolden parts of the right-wing commentariat at pains to shut down debates on history and just solutions for a country engulfed in flames. Rather than opening space for nuance, complexity and a deeper diversity of views, the BLF functions only to toxify social relations, assert the hegemony of its political world view and shut down its detractors.

Even if we were to assume Mngxitama is serious about the BLF's political project and not a pawn in a dastardly Gupta game, the BLF's antics remain a gift to those who wish to bury difficult discussions. As important as the focus on 'Zuptafication' of the country is, the complex debates about the economy and social relations must not be overshadowed.

In the view of some pundits, to engage in debates about high levels of concentration in the economy and the legacy of both apartheid rule and post-apartheid policy in sustaining this dynamic, for example, is now to pander to Bell Pottinger's 'WMC' Gupta campaign. Meanwhile, for Mngxitama and the growing cohort of virulent historical determinists, to call out the Guptas is apparently to declare your complicity in a co-ordinated campaign by white monopoly capitalists against transformation.

This is a sorry state of affairs, and the greatest casualty of this intolerance and divisive noise is our ability and willingness to collectively figure a way out of this harrowing mess.

An inconvenient truth about the BLF, however, is that it is not just seemingly the product of a Gupta plot or project of dogmatic anarchists seduced by Vulgar Marxism. It exists partly because we have created the conditions for it to flourish. A perilous failure to breathe life into constitutional promises for everyone in this country -- including eliminating racism from our politics -- have laid the foundations for fanatics to hijack crucial debates that, admittedly, have not found much of a home in South African media yet.

Relegating BLF and its toxic politics to the dustbin of South African history, along with the endlessly slanderous campaigns souring our political discourse, will require us to confront the past in good faith, describe the present in earnest, and design a future those judging us decades from now will hail as the work of courageous, selfless and creative South Africans.

More Mngxitamas will come as the stakes get higher. We would do well to make them irrelevant by having the hard discussions ourselves.