@Jamwanda2 on Saturday: Zimbabwe: Anything called the Zimbabwean GEIST?
@Jamwanda2 on Saturday
NATIONS have what Antonio Gramsci terms “particularity of their mind”, GEIST in German language, or ESPRIT in French.
Here in Africa, thinkers called the same variously, including “African Personality”, or the “African Soul”.
Quite distinct from, but not necessarily unrelated to UBUNTU/HUMANISM, which refers to a people’s propensity for some deeply ingrained compassion-driven value system.
Geist refers to a people’s characteristic way of thinking which makes their thought temperament distinctly theirs, in reality the thought sensibility of that people’s ruling class.
I am assuming that, gentle reader, you are alive to Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ postulate that in every epoch, the ideas of the ruling class become the ruling ideas. The British ruling class is very good at using this notion as a form of thought and social control.
When you step out of “line” by thinking or doing anything the dominant, ruling class does not approve of, you are promptly reminded this is “unBritish”, itself implying there is a mode of thinking and doing which is monolithically “British”.
In olden days of the much-feared left-wing thinking, the phrase “looney left” was used on both sides of the Atlantic to de-legitimise and even criminalise a certain way of anti-establishment thinking.
Not quite my focus this week, important though this broad subject is. Rather, this week I seek to test if there is a body of thought or thoughtlessness which is definitionally Zimbabwean. But first things first.
Sugary side of capitalism
Alongside Ngugi wa Thiongo, I have always regarded liberalism as the sugary side of capitalism.
It imparts to capitalism saccharine sweetness and a certain tinge of false humanism which creates the impression that capitalism has conscience, and can be reformed and reconstructed.
Nowhere was this in abundant show than recently in the United Kingdom, itself a leading birthplace of mercantile and industrial capitalism.
The British Guardian commissioned the University of Hull to research into the association between its founders, the Scott Trust, and the notorious Slave Trade by which much of the Western World grew and prospered, thereby enjoying a global head-start.
As is well known, the Slave Trade was about the violent abduction of Africans, and their forcible relocation to Europe and the Americas where they were made to work in plantations as chattels.
Many perished in passage, while millions more were born in captivity, to be reproduced into a fated life of inherited slavery.
Necessity, not compassion
What most Zimbabweans have never known is that with the maturation of industrial capitalism, and the growing militancy in resistance by erstwhile slaves which made their continued enslavement both counterproductive and dangerous, Britain suddenly found its long lost humanity to then start a campaign called “the abolition of slavery”.
By then it had made trillions out of slave labour and, from the amassed capital of that far-flung slavery, could then be ignited its Industrial Revolution by which the slave was displaced by the machine, rendering him or her inefficient, redundant and thus superfluous as a human mode of production.
In other worlds, the abolition of slavery was a movement of economic necessity rather than an act inspired by British compassion.
Slavery after abolition
Even after that decision was taken, British slave owners, among them George Philip who would found the then Manchester Guardian – now British Guardian – back in 1822, pressed for compensation from the British Government for the advantages of slavery foregone, because of the Abolition.
Much worse, these erstwhile slave-masters, now industrial magnates in towns and cities like Manchester, continued to benefit from the fruits of slave labour through several imports from the Americas and the Indies, foremost cotton and sugar, themselves key raw materials for the British Industrial Revolution.
It was not fortuitous that the Guardian was founded in Manchester, itself the citadel of Britain’s slave labour-driven industrialisation.
Renaming the slaves
Elsewhere in the Western World, in America specifically, a Civil War arose as slave-owning southern states of America resisted abolition.
Such is the historical milieu within which The Scott Trust then decided to commission scholars from the University of Hull to superfluously investigate this well known nexus between British liberal publishing capital, and slavery.
The findings are nothing new or surprising, except on detail and nuances.
For example we now know in greater detail slave-owners’ cynical naming of their slaves, itself a continuation of the assault on these slaves’ denied humanity and identities. Some slaves were renamed January, Pompey, Napoleon, Brutus, while others were renamed Bacchus, Boatswain, Cairo, Hannibal, Juba, London, Calypso, Farm Mimba, Philander, Nero or Christmas.
Their ages ranged from 6 months to 90 years!
What has research wrought?
I called the scholarly investigation a superfluous display of idle intellect.
This seemingly harsh view is upheld by what The Scott Trust has since done with the findings of this scholarly act in heroic futility: they have issued some gushing apology to . . . er . . . themselves and to the British society!
Their conscience is now so salved that they even have the temerity to challenge British Royalty to do the same, presumably ahead of King Charles III coronation, which is likely to be attended by several leaders representing Africans here and abroad.
Some kind of naughty schoolboy logic which says, it’s not me alone who did it!
A modest proposal
The Guardian has gone much further. It promises restorative justice meant to “repair harm” of slavery through community projects and programmes in South-eastern US Sea Islands and Jamaica over the next 10 years!
It proposes a Fund which “will increase the scope and ambition of Guardian reporting on the Caribbean, South America, Africa, and on Black communities in the UK and the US”!
This takes the form of expanded bursary on journalism training!
That way, the Guardian hopes to increase awareness of transatlantic slavery, a good three centuries later.
Of course all blacks set to benefit from these bursaries will be indentured to newsrooms of the kindly
Guardian, the new sweatshop in a digital age!
Historicising a continuing problem
Here is my problem: how does the research revelation of a slave renamed January, aged 26 years in 1821, exploited by the founder of the British Guardian then, assist anything, anyone now?
The victim is renamed January to render vain any prospect of traceability and linkage to living African-African American or Indian in the diaspora!
Meanwhile, there is Traore and Sultan, both from West Africa and war-torn Libya’s North Africa; as I write, they’re perishing on high seas in their vain hope to reach Albion’s shore.
Or if lucky to escape that cruel fate from raging, big waters, they sail straight into Italian, French and British frigates, to be instantly deported back to the same African continent the Scott Trust sucked dry back in history, vicariously sucks now, and continue to immiserate through wars and other acts of destabilisation of this habitually and ceaselessly broken Continent.
Typical misfortunes of a Continent which the Manchester Guardian so colourfully report on, to this day?
We historicise and locate in the vast distant past a problem which continues unresolved and deflected by frigates now and in future?
Even framing packages of feigned restitution in such a way that the unity of victim communities here and in the diaspora, gets sundered through petty vying for crumbs off the table of rich scions of the slave-master sitting cosily in London, yesterday, today and in the foreseeable tomorrow? Our travail of yester-centuries become fresh content on the master’s breakfast table? Mheno!
What, where, is our own?
All of which takes me to my key theme for the week. Do we as Zimbabweans have national thought which typifies us in this age of whirling thoughts and global cacophony?
Is there a Zimbabwean geist or esprit, the same way the Germans and the French boast of such?
I could broaden the vista: does Africa have a Geist/esprit the same way Europe, Asian, America and, contesta-bly the Arab World may be said to have?
A way of cognising us and the world about us, in a way dubbed uniquely our own?
Some intellectual formation or forming whose lineaments we could recognise, argue and possessive lay grip as our own?
One standing us distinctly apart from the rest or totality of the world’s human minds?
Where are you perched or pinioned?
The foregoing paragraphs on the British Guardian and the University of Hull have just shown the inveterate epistemological relationship or nexus between sites of learning and sites of information gathering, packaging, interpretation, and the general circulation of ideas, thoughts and opinions.
The twinning of what Althusser calls knowledge industries, towards a common national and global purpose: to investigate, collect, interpret and deploy information and opinion in a way suited to defined agendas of given nations and for the world.
Such an assignment is just as important, if not more important, than curing malaria: the mind has to be curated, cured and canalised in a certain direction! Such as the ABC of human affairs in this divided and polarised world.
That way even evils of the past become energies of the present and the future; blemishes of the past, blueprints for the present and future; vices of the past become virtues of the present and future.
It all starts with making the world knowable after one’s wishes and interests. From one’s selfish national perspective, in other words.
Including the past already lived or suffered, depending on which side of the human equation and power relations you are perched or pinioned. All this got me thinking.
Being told what to think about
As, too, did the Al Jazeera so-called documentary alleging illicit minerals flows and money laundering in many parts and regions of Africa and the world, including or — according to the documentary — starting here in our Zimbabwe.
Two instalments have been broadcast so far, neither of which impressed.
Both have been plain politics, a very bad hatchet job for some ailing cause and tattered, dying colonial interests.
Yet one was struck by the documentary’s capacity to galvanise and organise national opinion here in Zimbabwe in a certain, compulsive way.
It did matter which side one took; the issue is Al Jazeera told us what to think about, even then before it had exhausted its four-part effort!
We call that agenda writing and agenda setting: where a society is told not so much to think in any one way — even though that is the concomitant — as to be told on what to think, focus and debate on, often interminably, often rancorously, to the point of creating lasting, deep divisions which may take long to forget, heal or suture, if at all.
An outsider who tells a whole Nation what its great national question is or should be, at some given moment?
What its turning point is!
Latter-day slave called January
When I saw how this one, poorly put together, partisan documentary to which little intellect attached — how it ran rings around the national mind, including triggering elongated secondary conversations on social media, even before all the episodes had played out, I despaired.
Thank God, did so philosophically, which is how this piece came about.
I had several calls from leading journalists inviting me to offshoot discussions arising from the first part of the documentary.
I declined, with growing impoliteness which verged on raw, ungovernable anger.
Why was Al Jazeera organising the focus of a whole Nation, even mis-narrativising its management of its resources and affairs?
Why was Al Jazeera telling our journalists what to ask, what to report on? Yet the story — nay, opinions collected in this documentary in which nothing happens — was culled here in Zimbabwe, itself the hunting ground of this foraging beast we collectively misname the Zimbabwean media, in reality some latter-day January!
Did, does, the Nation not know how to ask itself questions on and about its own affairs: at its own time, in its own fashion, language and tone?
On its own platforms; from its own mind? Does it have to fit into a narrative triggered by those from afar, prompted by interests completely inimical to its own?
Even exchanging expletives and home-grown insults over borrowed questions, allegations and narratives?
Tabula rasa Nation
Putin’s Russia is in a do-or-die conflict for the survival of itself.
Yet beyond guns, bombs and threats of nuclear warheads, Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China know the war is a war on how to view, interpret and therefore organise the world, beyond age-old Western hegemony.
It is a lot more than arms and nuclear sabre-rattling; it is brain rattling in fundamental Russian and Chinese way.
A rattling arising from a staunch belief that a people has and deserves a national and world viewpoint, which it is ready to assert and defend even by force of arms.
Some epistemological sovereignty we do not seem exercised about; some defensive contestation one woefully misses in us.
Which is why Al Jazeera, the Americans, the British or any other imperial power, becomes our adopted mind.
A nation which is some tabula rasa upon which any comer can scribble their worldview.
Some empty vessel into which other peoples pour their pungent fluids.
Not even sex our own way!
Nothing is yours, unlike us donkeys. We do things our donkey way.
We bray even as and while you our masters talk; make love only in Winter and Spring, even as you our mad masters declare, alongside deposed and mad King Lear: “The wren goes to it, and the mall gilded fly does lecher in my sight, Let copulation thrive, for/Gloucester’s bastard son was kinder to his father/than my daughters (be)got between the lawful sheets.
To it, luxury pell-mell, for I lack soldiers.”