African culture, African intellectuals and the white academy in South Africa -- some implications for Christian theology in Africa
Tinyiko Sam Maluleke
ABSTRACTAttitudes towards African culture are central to the crisis of African intellectuals. This crisis is manifest in the issues of African identity, black self-love, black poverty, the stranglehold of the Western academy and white racism. For the debilitating aspects of the crisis to be converted to our advantage, African intellectuals must reconnect to African culture. However, such a reconnection must include not only an analysis and problematisation of what African culture is, but also the question of how best to connect to it. The call for African intellectuals to reconnect to African culture is not a call for the resuscitation of romantic views on African culture. Nor is it a call for a rehash of the often strident views of Western missionaries, philosophers and colonialists on African culture. It is also not a call for the self-hating castigation of African culture by Africans themselves. It is rather a call to a mature reappropriation of past and present manifestations of African culture within, because of and in spite of oppressive and racist conditions. This kind of appropriation will help African intellectuals emerge from the crisis. Such a reappropriation has significant implications for the teaching and the shape of Christian theology of Africa. Basic to these implications is the necessity to return to black and African theologies of liberation.
STATEMENT OF ARGUMENTIf there is a crisis of African 1 in South Africa, that crisis relates to issues of black identity, black self-love and black poverty (material and spiritual). Consequently, it is in the `veld' occupied by these issues that a solution to the crisis and an agenda for African intellectualism are to be sought. Central to this crisis is the question of connection to African culture. 2 An important insight into the definition of culture for our times comes from West (1993:12), who rejects the dichotomisation of cultural phenomena from structural phenomena:
... we should reject the idea that structures are primarily economic and political creatures -- an idea that sees culture as an ephemeral set of behavioural attitudes and values. Culture is as much a structure as the economy or politics; it is rooted in institutions such as families, schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, and communication industries (television, radio, video, music).
TWO GIANT CULTURES OR GIANT VS MIDGET?Several problems attend on many discussions of `African culture' -- especially when `African culture' is understood monolithically in contrast with a perceived monolithic `Western culture'. Whatever else African culture is, it is not a monolith. African culture, like Western culture, is a concept as vast and as differentiated as the realities it represents. Any attempt to speak authoritatively and conclusively about all of African or Western culture is therefore essentially massive generalising. Often the concept `African culture' is used as a foil for `Western culture' and very rarely vice versa. In other words, whilst the existence of a differentiated sea of primitive tribes and differentiated exotic customs may be acknowledged in Africa -- thanks to such disciplines as anthropology and missiology -- the same is seldom attributed to `the West'. Admittedly specific studies on the West, for example a study of `Western philosophy', may reveal much variance and much hybridity within Western philosophy. Yet even such studies will assume and project a golden thread of progression, depicting various stages within the same reality. The origins and popularity of the concept `African culture' must be traced to attempts to look for an opposite equivalent to the concept `Western culture'. To that extent the concept African culture is not only a generalisation, as I pointed out above, it is also quite often an artificial reaction to an equally dubious construct called `Western culture'. A serious weakness in the approach described so far is the apparent denial of hybridity, dynamism of, and the sometimes embarrassing as well as painful interdependence between African and Western cultures. The `two lumps approach'3 is faulted because no such monolithic lumps of cultures exist in reality. What we have here therefore is an approach in which two imaginary chunks are constructed in order to serve a function. The function at stake is often and ultimately the denigration of `African culture' (cf Van Niekerk 1993, Sono 1994). `African culture' may be denigrated by showing how far it lags behind `Western culture' (cf Sono 1994). Alternatively, `African culture' may yet be denigrated by proposing that it is so `different' from `Western culture' that the only way forward is to promote `tolerance', `understanding' and `peaceful co-existence' between the two `cultures' -- but certainly no intermarriage between the two cultures. In South Africa and indeed in much of colonial Africa we are familiar with an array of versions of this type of `denigration'. A few times, the `two lumps approach' has been used to challenge and `denigrate' Western culture -- mainly by Afrocentrist thinkers. Rather than challenge the validity of the `two lumps theory', these thinkers would use it to demonstrate that African culture -- though different from Western culture and precisely because it is different -- can match Western culture pound for pound (cf Mbiti 1969) and do even better.4
Yet, if truth be told, it has proved difficult to find more precise language to replace this `two lumps approach'. One of the most obvious reasons for its resilience is simply its ability to serve all kinds of ethnocentrisms -- especially the dominant Western ethnocentrism at whose service the artificial construct `Western culture' often is. Once accepted, the two lumps theory tends to tilt the scales resolutely in favour of `Western culture'. Whichever way `Western culture' is understood, it looms larger, it spans a longer recorded period, it has incorporated and coopted more widely and is taken to represent superior and victorious military powers in (recorded) history. There is, therefore, a real sense in which the language of `African culture versus African culture' is not only the language of crushing power, but the language of the powerful in history. It is part of the resourceful `conspiracy of the powerful in history' that this language finds its way even to the lips of the powerless. At the moment that the powerless Africans utter the phrase `African culture versus Western culture' they are permitted to visualise, at least in their minds, the possibility of equal combat between these two equal and yet imaginary giants. Much time and energy can thus be spent on planning and laying out the logistics of such a perceived `battle of giants' by the supporters of both camps. But that is perhaps the furthest both camps may go. Yet everything around us and about us in this age testifies that there are no such giants. It is rather like a war between a giant and a midget -- the giant on a hill and the midget inside the valley below the hill. Need I spell out that the giant in this anecdote is `Western culture' and the midget is `African culture'? Fortunately both do not exist as such in reality. And yet the continued existence of the giant and the midget in the minds of so many is more worrying than if these two characters existed in reality!
In any case, even those of us who are most uncomfortable with the two lumps theory have found it very hard to suggest a comprehensively effective alternative way forward. Shall I, as an African, respond to the charges of those who operate within the `two lumps theory' by speaking initially not as an African, but as a Tsonga? Is that the way to shortcircuit their argument and thereby demonstrate how general and incorrect their conclusions are? Yet, I am not just a Tsonga person, I am also a South African, a man, an academic, fluent in Zulu, comfortable in English, and so on. Why should I push myself into such a small corner? Or shall I respond as a postmodern individual who is part Tsonga, part Afrikaner, part man, part woman -- some of all of the above? Much current talk of multiculturism 5 is one way of addressing the problems of the `two lumps theory'. Instead of recognising only one, two or three cultures, multiculturism propagates the recognition of many cultures alongside each other. The question, of course, is whether ignorance of cultural variety or dominance of some cultures over others is the issue at stake. To demonstrate the existence of different cultures and even to call for tolerance between them is not enough. Cultures -- whichever way they may be defined -- are not only different, but can often be hostile to one another, each seeking to discredit and destabilise the other (cf Maluleke 1994a). The means used for inter- and crosscultural destabilisation can range from the most subtle and gentle to the most overt and exploitative. When discussion on multiculturism precludes the issues of intercultural exploitation, discreditation and destabilisation, it serves to mask rather than reveal reality. In this way, even the dubious `two lumps theory' can continue to exist below and above the most dedicated discussions on multiculturism. In fact, for all its weaknesses the `two lumps approach' deals much `better' with intercultural war than the multicultural approach.
In the light of all this, at least two complex tasks beckon us, which cannot be conclusively exhausted within the limits of an article of this nature:
SONO'S BASIC ARGUMENTIn my opinion (cf Maluleke 1995a) Sono's monograph (1994) amounts to a storm in a teacup. However, for a number of reasons, the basic principles and assumptions of Sono's thesis must receive our attention. These principles and assumptions are that African intellectuals need to transcend `their culture'; have failed to transcend `their culture'; belong to a static culture, that is African culture; have allowed a restrictive political system (apartheid) to dictate their (mainly reactionary) agenda; and do not as yet exist in reality. These are serious proposals with equally serious implications. There is a sense in which these `charges' are a restatement of centuries -- old evaluations and diagnoses of black and African people in general and not merely African intellectuals. Need Africans outgrow their culture?
The suggestion that Africans need to grow out of their culture is age-old. It has been proposed in different words and actions. This proposal, that Africans need something beyond, better, bigger and greater than their culture, formed the inner core of the self-justifying logic of colonialism. Similarly, Western Christian mission was prefaced on the conviction that `African heathenism' must make way for `Western Christian civilisation'. Africans needed, it was assumed, to be saved from this darkness to the light of Western Christendom. However, as Placide Tempels observed more than thirty years ago, the transportation of Africans from `darkness' to `light' needed to be so thorough that it had to be both spiritual and physical; both philosophical and mechanical (Tempels 1959:29). In the same way that it was assumed to be religiously necessary for Africans to shift from `animism', `ancestor worship', `totemism', etc, it was equally necessary for them to shift philosophically -- only such a holistic conversion could inaugurate `real civilisation'. Indeed, Temples (1959:29) argues that all other `shifts' are unreal and temporary, since in spite of these, Africans maintained `their fundamental concepts concerning the universe'. In time the call for Africans to `hluvuka'7 their culture has come from the mouths and pens of the converted majagani, amaqhoboka -- the African middle and intellectual class itself. Consider how Sono (1994:xv) describes African culture as
... a static culture that is as ecstatic at venerating its ancestors as it is paroxysmal in shouting praises. Yes, let us face it, we venerate our ancestors, coronate our political leaders, ululate our fighting elite and scorn our `scientists'. Our ethicists are conspicuous by their absence, indeed, non-existence. Moralists are aplenty, though, but their moral philosophy is as useful as the head of a flea.
Earlier I referred to the ruthlessness with which the suggestion has been applied. This is what Ali Mazrui (1980:xvi) called the `paradox of humiliation' and he says: `Africans are not necessarily the most brutalized of peoples, but they are almost certainly the most humiliated in modern history.' But why must we accept the suggestion that Africans in general and African intellectuals in particular need to `dress out' of African culture? Why must our intellectual labour be premised on the assumption that African culture needs to be ascended and Western culture to be assimilated? Is it not time that we confronted this assumption at its most basic level?
Failure to `dress out' of African cultureThere is of course nothing unconstructive in the suggestion that a people need to be self-critical and this, I assume, is also inferred in the suggestion discussed above. Self-criticism is not only progressive, it is to be encouraged and to be admired. Yet there is a difference between a critique of one's own culture and an attempt to `dress out of' (hluvuka) one's own culture, and even a hatred of one's own culture. While the first may be healthy, the second is shortsighted and the third simply sick.hluvuka
In questioning the status of the suggestion that Africans need to grow out of African culture, we have already dealt indirectly with the question of the relevance of the charge that African intellectuals have failed to outgrow African culture. If it is undesirable for African intellectuals to grow out of African culture, then the accusation that they have failed to do so is superfluous. However, if it is true that Africans in general and African intellectuals in particular have been and continue to be hounded on their need to outgrow their culture, then Africans must be very moronic to fail to heed such a clear and oft-repeated call. Or else they are simply resisting the call! My proposal is that this resistance must be recognised, analysed and strengthened. Failure implies having tried what one fails to achieve or do. If Africans appear to fail as
... the `civilised', even the Christians, return to their former ways of behaviour whenever they are overtaken by moral lassitude, danger or suffering[;] they do so because their ancestors left them [a] practical solution of the great problem of humanity ... (Tempels 1959:18).
Such `failure' therefore, as Tempels implies rather unwittingly, is not irrational. What even Tempels could not grant was the possibility that such `failure' was in fact calculated. What appeared to be failure was a manifestation of a genuine, rational and calculated rejection of wholesale conversion to Western civilisation in its own terms. One does not deny the possibility/reality that many Africans, especially the middle and intellectual class, may indeed try hard to `dress out' of African culture insofar as this is perceived to be a scientific and progressive thing to do.
The Western school, political, health and economic systems inculcate in all of us the need to say farewell to African culture. It is not surprising that we all try so hard. The question is whether our attempts stem from genuine, rational, conscious and consistent conviction that African culture belongs to the dustbin of history. If my suspicions are correct, for most Africans, certainly African intellectuals, participation in African culture is not due to some deterministic, irrational failure. The challenge is for African intellectuals to begin to reflect upon our indebtedness and connectedness to African culture more positively and more deliberately.
Romantic view of African cultureEven the Romantic stream of African thought called 'negritude' ultimately casts a negative vote on African culture.
The mood of this branch of African thought is one of nostalgia, yearning for an innocence which is eternally lost. All that can be done now is to make the best of a bad job, try to save some of the values of old Africa, and find a synthesis between these and the influences which have come with colonialism and modernity (Mazrui 1980:11).8
Such romanticism, however, is ultimately negative towards African culture. For it must be pointed out that African culture could not have remained thus indefinitely, and things have `moved on' in African culture so that a `return' is not only impossible but perhaps also undesirable. However, the negritude school of thought remains popular and is restated in a variety of ways even in our own times. Much African theology, for a long time, was based on the assumption that pre-colonial African culture and religion was `pure' and `innocent'. This is also a prevalent theme in the works of many African creative writers. This romanticism has often been transfigured as a polemic to demonstrate that African culture is essentially as good as Western culture, for example in the work of Mbiti (1969) who argues that African traditional religions are as monotheistic as Western Christendom. But is it helpful either to make a one-on-one comparison between religious systems or to borrow the gods of one religious system for use in another? -- which is what Mbiti is ultimately proposing.9
Today we see a resurgence of 'negritude' in the popularity of the concept Ubuntu. No phrase has been as overused as `Munhu i munhu hi van'wana vanhu' (a human being is a human being through and because of other human beings). For some reason, many people believe that the solution to many of our problems lies in a rediscovery of Ubuntu.10 Even whites are `prescribing' Ubuntu for typically African problems. However, it is often unclear precisely what this Ubuntu is. How viable is Ubuntu and why is it seldom prescribed for whites? My own feeling is that essentially Ubuntu signifies a type of return to negritude. The basic idea behind proposals for Ubuntu is that the crisis in our nation, which is highlighted by violence and poverty, can only be relieved by the digging out of `values' of our traditions, be they Christian, African, etc. For this reason the ostensibly economically oriented Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP)11 has been associated with Ubuntu via the language of Masakhane.12 I do not think that the financial institutions and municipalities are even remotely interested in whatever African philosophy that lies behind the Masakhane concept. For banks and town councils the bottom line is that people should pay rent and mortgages. So Masakhane applies to, and is aimed mainly at those who need to pay and not those who receive payment.
The Masakhane concept attempts to harness the `African' spirit of community and mutual care for the attainment of a contemporary economic objective. It is debatable whether African communalism should and can (effectively) be used to advance an economic system such as the one represented by South African banks or township municipalities. We ought at least to allow some debate between the two `systems' and not simply put the one at the service of the other. The question is: can and should we even attempt to extract `values' from one tradition to bolster another one without taking into account the `facts' of both?13 Can a static culture without any `facts' contribute any useful `values' to a `mature' and `developed' culture which has learned to differentiate `facts' from `values'? In an unconventional reaction to, and defiance of the disempowering theory of negritude, of which I argue Ubuntuism is a restatement, Es'kia Mphahlele (in Mazrui 1980:12) wrote:
Some day, I am going to plunder, rape, set things on fire; I am going to cut someone's throat, I am going to subvert the government; I am going to organise a coup d'etat; yes I am going to oppose my own peoples, I am going to hunt down the rich fat black men who bully the small weak black men and destroy them; I am going to become a capitalist, and woe to all those who cross my path or who want to be my servants or chauffeurs and so on; I am going to lead a break-away church -- there is money in it ... Yes, I am also going to organise a strike. Don't you know that sometimes I kill to the rhythm of drums and cut the sinews of a baby to cure it of paralysis?Mphahlele is rejecting the notion of an innocent and pure culture. Although he does not say it explicitly in this quotation, he is suggesting that negritude can be a form of control and insult just like direct denigration. My call for African intellectuals to reconnect to African culture is not a call for the resuscitation of romantic negritude. Nor is it a call for a rehash of the views of bitter Western missionaries on African culture (cf Van Niekerk 1993) often with an undeclared political agenda. It is also not a call for the self-hating castigation of African culture È la Sono (1994). It is rather a call to a mature reappropriation of past and present manifestations of African culture within, because of and in spite of oppressive and racist conditions.
Permanent prisoners of apartheid?The suggestion that African intellectuals are hamstrung by the constraints imposed upon them by apartheid is at once `obvious' and `easy'. Nothing has affected the lives of black South Africans more than the heinous racist policies of the white minority. Black intellectuals were no exception. Few black intellectuals explicitly supported apartheid, however. Even the homeland-leading doctors, chiefs and professors often argued that their mission was to change the system from inside rather than to acquiesce. The prevalence of the theme of `resistance' in the works of African intellectuals, be they creative literature or academic studies, is therefore understandable. It would have been gross irresponsibility if African intellectuals did not engage the oppressive reality. Yet many tried hard to avoid this reality too. To the extent that oppressive reality, racism and economic exploitation still weigh heavily on the shoulders of black people today, it is still relevant to combat and unmask oppression. To `blame' African intellectuals for preoccupation with apartheid (for example Sono) is to be cruel. To ask them to forget about it and move on to write about the beauty of daffodils is to be insulting. There are more ways of looking at apartheid than the sterile victim/oppressor scheme. In his comment on the views of the unconstructive diagnoses of `conservative behaviourists' who prescribe that black people can succeed in North America if they tried harder and changed their attitudes, West (1993:14) has this to say:
... [they] also discuss black culture as if acknowledging one's obvious victimization by white supremacist practices (compounded by sexism and class condition) is taboo. They tell black people to see themselves as agents, not victims. And on the surface, this is comforting advice, a nice cliché for downtrodden people. But inspirational slogans cannot substitute for substantive historical and social analysis. While black people have never been simply victims, wallowing in self-pity and begging for white giveaways, they have been -- and are -- victimized. Therefore, to call on black people to be agents makes sense only if we also examine the dynamics of the victimization against which their agency will, in part, be exercised.
West's comments apply squarely to our situation in which the temptation is great not only to try to delete the past, but also to blame black people for failing to become agents. One of our richest resources, both for the present and for the future, is the rather lean body of interdisciplinary `protest literature'. This is only a small portion of the larger `protest culture' which includes religious activism, art and the performing arts. My own feeling is that not enough reflection on and problematisation of this `culture', beyond `party-politicking', has been done. One is horrified at reconciliation-inspired suggestions that this `culture' be taken leave of to allow the 'new' to set in. We must be wary of the well-meaning but misguided need to forget the past being fostered by diverse individuals and groups in our country.14 The present government of South Africa hopes to deal with the past through the appointment of a Truth Commission. However, `the commission seems to emphasise amnesty for the perpetrators of oppression ... [whereas] the perpetrators have had their day and they have had their say' (Bam 1995:49). The underlying assumption is that `the truth' is to be found on the lips of the perpetrators rather than in the words and scars of the victims. Recognising their hegemonic position as bearers of `the truth', some perpetrators of oppression are enriching themselves by `revealing their stories' to newspapers and book publishers ahead of the appointment and sitting of the Truth Commission.
Furthermore, we must debunk the sterile and artificial dichotomy of either blaming the victims (blacks) or deterministically blaming apartheid for everything. `It is imperative to steer a course between the Scylla of environmental determinism and the Charybdis of a blame-the-victims perspective' (West 1993:57). What we need therefore is a mature and straight look at the past and the present. Refusal and avoidance of the past are not only cowardice but perhaps the most potent signs of continuing enslavement.
The notion of a `protest culture' to which I referred above has its limitations. It tends to conjure up images of marches, cadres, Robben Island prisoners and the like. But protest was going on a much more varied and subtle scale than that. In the hostel subcultures, in mbaqanga music,15 in Isichatamiya,16 in vernacular literature, in the stampede of Zion Christian Church (ZCC)17 dancers, in the eardrum-bursting sermons of the Manyano and the Madodana18 -- protest was happening. How can we hope even to begin to understand ourselves without a renewed interest in this rich and diverse protest culture? `Protest culture' must therefore be redefined to mean more than Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK), Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA),19 or Nelson Mandela. In other words it does not mean only that which has been known, written about or celebrated.
THE ABSENCE OF AFRICAN VOICES IN THE ACADEMYThe absence of African voices in the academy is doublefold. Let us consider the first type of absence. They are physically absent insofar as they are so few in the institutions of higher learning in the country. Let me give one example. In 1994 The Principal's Advisory Committee on Equity and Excellence (PACEE) of the University of South Africa (Unisa) -- a body formed by the principal reported among other things that: The Principal's Advisory Committee on Equity and Excellence
In 1994 black students comprised 58% of Unisa's total student enrolment. In contrast, as at 1994--01--31, 73 or 6% of the total of 1 207 permanent academic staff were black (including Indian and coloured South Africans). If the Department of African languages [which comprises up to forty percent of Unisa's black staff members] is excluded then the black proportion of the permanent staff in 1994 was 2% (PACEE Report 1994:1).
It is noteworthy that Unisa has a Council-backed decision to take `active steps to change staff composition in order to make it more representative and in line with the composition of its students' (PACEE Report 1994:1). However, it seems that it is the principal's office rather than the various departments that has taken the 1992 Council decision seriously. The PACEE report reveals that `approximately half of (this)  increase [of twenty-eight black appointments] was funded by a special allocation of personnel points specifically set aside [at the principal's office] for black appointees in 1994'. In other words, many departments are unwilling to use their own personnel points to appoint black academics. Perhaps the principal's strategy of granting special points for the appointment of blacks actually encourages many departments to resist the appointment of blacks, making it the principal's agenda and not the departments'. The in-flow of black academics is therefore not only slow but also set against heavy odds. We continue therefore to have a situation in which while blacks are `allowed' to be in the majority in the squatter camps and shanty towns, they remain a tiny minority in institutions of (economic and ideological) power,20 such as universities.
The second type of absence is in the literature recommended and prescribed in the academic programmes. Except for a qualification in African languages, it is possible to do any other degree in South Africa without reference to any work by any African scholar. This discrepancy is most obvious in prescribed works. African works may form part of the large number of recommended works, but seldom are complete works by Africans themselves prescribed.
The real issue is the meaning and implications of African absence in the academy. When millions and millions of would-be black academics are placed at the feet of white teachers many of whom have little knowledge of and respect for African culture, what does this imply? What are the implications of the fact that African thought is not part of the core teaching material in the academy? Are these questions irrelevant to the academy or are they at the very heart of it? I think that these are appropriate questions because the academy is not acultural. It does not exist outside culture, but more often than not, tends to serve a culture. And the culture it serves is not African.
One of the greatest deficits of African intellectualism is that African languages, like African culture, have been confined to the periphery of the academy. No wonder they are often lumped together into an African Languages Department, whereas English and even Afrikaans (which should be an African language!) have their own separate departments. The more basic issue I wish to raise is that African languages are not teaching subjects, especially at institutions of higher learning. Why can theology not be taught in Zulu, physics in Tswana and engineering in Tsonga? From a theological point of view it is curious that traditional religion is taught exclusively in a foreign language.
What are the implications of the fact that the price we pay for our academic development includes the abandonment of our first languages as media of instruction in contradistinction to what happens at our own homes? How can we begin to subvert the hegemony of `foreign' languages in the cognitive world?
A DIFFERENT UNDERSTANDING OF INTELLECTUALISMSono (1994:xi) implies that even to talk about the existence of African intellectuals is to grant them a great favour. Note how he comments:
... historically African scholars have featured nowhere except in one or two instances. Indeed the concept of African intellectual as a class with reference to South Africa is historically so alien that its mention would probably evoke puzzlement, if not amusement, among the knowledgeable.It is one thing to be critical of the output of a community of scholars, but to go on and deny their legitimacy at the same time is to veer towards the absurd. If there are no African intellectuals, why write such a passionate book about them? Admittedly, note must be taken of the fact that African intellectualism as a specialised enlightenment-based category is a very young phenomenon in South Africa. Until 1916 `there was no provision in South Africa for African students who had progressed as far as the mission schools and teacher training colleges permitted. Such students had to go overseas' (Saayman 1995:50).
However, as Odera Oruka (1991) ably points out, African intellectualism (philosophy) must not be understood only within the framework of Western rationalism. Nor, as indicated above, should we uncritically follow the leads of ethnophilosophers such as Tempels. Oruka points out that the net conclusion of ethnophilosophy is that African intellectualism, if it exists at all, is homogeneous and unable to be critical. It is precisely this conclusion that people like Sono and Van Niekerk have accepted uncritically. Furthermore Oruka argues that it is faulty to insist that intellectualism can only be a written enterprise, implying that oral cultures are incapable of critical philosophy. Our reclaiming of African intellectualism must therefore go beyond mere highlighting of a few African scholars defined as such by Western standards alone. This means that we need to reclaim African intellectualism at the ideological level. This is more fundamental than preoccupation only with the `written' or some individual African intellectual luminaries -- for both tend to operate under the philosophical hegemony of Western rationalism. By definition a reclaiming of African intellectualism implies an inauguration of combat at the philosophical and ideological level.
DIALOGUE, OWNERSHIP AND RACISMMuch of current insecurities and lack of clarity about the status and agenda of African intellectuals relates to the lack of two things: dialogue between African intellectuals and bold, purposeful conscious connectedness to the African community. African intellectuals tend to spend more energy either `dialoguing' with white intellectuals or `earning' their recognition and even approval. Forums where African issues and African thought are encouraged are few and far between. This `lack' can be extended to other areas of black life. I am not aware of many black-owned schools, churches (except some African Independent Churches (AICs)) and big businesses (except the Thebe Trust and the emerging but powerful conglomerate of Dr Nthato Motlana). In some cases, we are `sacrificing' the little that we had to the god of the 'new South Africa'.
Let me point out, lest I be charged with racism, that all other `white groups' in South Africa own all of the above and more. Thus, for example, a tiny minority of black children, whose parents can afford the cost in money and culture, get to attend some white schools. But no South African in his or her right mind thinks that white parents will send their children to black schools -- even the best and most peaceful black schools! Racism, if this be an illustration of it, is still very much a part of South African society. We now live in an era when it seems possible to hate two unlikely things with equal passion; those things are apartheid and the blacks.
Snippets of a simmering crisisThere is a crisis in the black community. I offer a few illustrations below. One often hears of the need for the re-establishment of a `culture of learning' in our schools. A noble idea with which no black person can disagree. But the culture of learning what? Where? Taught by whom? And to what end? These are the questions for which students are seeking answers -- questions which will not be drowned by the monotonous chorus for a culture of learning to ensue. Yet another illustration of the crisis is the rampant and growing poverty among many black people. Is this part of the reason for the seemingly uncrackable riddle of violence in our community?
There is also a crisis of morality. Such black television `soaps' as Matswakabele and Mokgoenyana Matswale underscore this crisis. In the majority of these ethnic `soaps' women are portrayed very badly. If one relied only on these, one could conclude that the favourite pastime of black South African women was manhunting and fighting over men. In one case more than six of them allow one man (appropriately called Masenya -- one who destroys) to run rings around them, making almost all of them pregnant. In another a `boyfriend' falls in love with his girlfriend and her mother! Another interesting matter is that although many of these soaps are supposed to be set in the township, the amount of wealth on display is monumental. I know of no black family, however wealthy, where the drinking of liquor is as lavish and as `civilised' as I have seen in these soapies. What are we being taught here? In the TV series Going Up we saw the talents of a gifted actor, Joe Mafela, being wasted on a reproduction of the stereotype swart kombuis bediende (black kitchen servant). Why is Joe Mafela not the lawyer and his white boss the `tea-boy', for example?
APPROACHES TO INTELLECTUALISMAll of this and more constitutes the `raw material' for African intellectual activity. Beyond the questions of agenda and raw material are the issues of models of and approaches to intellectualism. Let me conclude this essay by outlining a few models of intellectualism. Cornel West (in Hooks & West 1991:137f) identifies four models of black intellectuals: the bourgeois model, the Marxist model, the Foucaultian model and the insurgency model. Without extensive discussion, I adapt and re-interpret West's models to the theme of African culture. I must point out, however, that these `models' do not exist in pure form. In other words, no individual academic could be classified completely in terms of only one intellectual approach. Most intellectuals would straddle quite a number of these approaches, depending on the issue being discussed. I therefore do not discuss the approaches below with a view to putting specific intellectuals into boxes. My intention is to outline some possible approaches to being an intellectual so as, it is hoped, to shed more light on our pursuit of a useful and constructive academy.
The bourgeois approachThis is a model whose `linchpin ... is academic legitimation and placement' (West in West & Hooks 1991:138). In other words, certificates and positions take priority over the content, orientation and quality of intellectual output. Often intellectuals operating within this model are unwilling or simply unable to question dominant intellectual paradigms. This model, argues West, is virtually inescapable for most black intellectuals, for all `black intellectuals must pass through the white bourgeois academy (or its black imitators)' (1991:139). Although this model is ultimately debilitating, one must accept that it can and has been used by some black intellectuals to capture some ground. Many of our first generation of intellectuals -- but by no means only them -- would probably slot comfortably into this model. However, I cannot help but agree with West when he says that this model, inescapable and prevalent as it is, is `more part of the problem than the ``solution''' (1991:140). Where we have no choice, we must reflect upon strategies through which this model can be exploited for the better.
This approach to intellectualism would display the most discomfort with African culture. However, this discomfort is perhaps not so alarming, since it tends to be `knee-jerk' rather than the fruit of long, conscious and deliberate reflection. For this reason the public stance of bourgeois intellectuals towards African culture is often negated at regular intervals by their private conduct. However, it must be stressed that the conscious stance encouraged by this approach tends to be vehemently opposed to African culture. The strong dose of positivistic rationalism in the academy plus many years of anti-African-culture socialisation provides bourgeois intellectuals with a `satisfactory rationale' for their stance. At times bourgeois intellectuals who genuinely want to relate positively to African culture fail to do so due to their imprisonment in Western rationalism. Therefore, their well-meaning efforts to appropriate African culture tend to be replete with contradictions. For example, although it is most unAfrican, philosophically and empirically, many bourgeois intellectuals also display the same rather self-contradictory antipathy towards religion -- especially Christianity -- displayed by the West (cf Sanneh 1993).
Marxist approachThis approach is characterised by a discomfort with, and suspicion of the bourgeois model. It can be highly liberating for black intellectuals since it allows for critical consciousness and critical attitudes towards hegemonic paradigms. One of the shortcomings of this approach is that it can be more liberating for the individual intellectual than for the larger cause of African liberation. Its excellent theories and the protestations of its adherents are often difficult, if not impossible, to translate for `mass' benefit and consumption. Also, Marxist discomfort with culture does not encourage Christian Marxist intellectuals to venture into sticky cultural issues (cf West 1981).21 However, because of its strong suspicion of hegemonic traditions and its sensitivity to class issues, this model is `part of the solution' and `black intellectuals must pass through it, come to terms with it, and creatively respond to it if black intellectual activity is to reach any recognizable level of sophistication and refinement' (West in West & Hooks 1991:141). The challenge for Marxist intellectuals is therefore not only how to incorporate issues of culture -- even the much maligned African culture -- but also how to overcome their deep-seated suspicion of religion. There is far too much religion in the world, especially in Africa, for any serious intellectual to ignore it. I would argue for example that the marketing, political and industrial worlds are deeply religious and cultural phenomena. For this reason, the `struggle' between `classes' is spiritual, cultural, religious and not exclusively material in nature. The `class struggle' is therefore not only between the ruling and working classes, but it is also between Coca-Cola and Calvinism, between the eschatological claims of the Insurance Industry and those of Christian Millenialism, between the individualistic `salvation promises' of the Christian Gospel and those of the growing diet industry, etc.
Foucaultian approachAttached to the thought of Michel Foucault, this approach `unequivocally rejects the bourgeois model and eschews the Marxist model' (West in West & Hooks 1991:142). This is a typically postmodern model which casts suspicion over concepts normally associated with bourgeois and Marxist models of intellectualism, such as scientificity, civility and prophecy. It challenges such self-authorising by the academy when it declares itself as being representative, guarding, creating and articulating on behalf of others. In its apparent espousal of `detachment' and `motivelessness' this model cannot encourage a lively interest in issues of culture. It is precisely in its quest for detachment that this model finds itself imprisoned. Even to be neutral is to take a stand. While absolute scientificity, genuine prophecy and sincere philanthropy may be unrealisable intellectual ideals, it would be an illusion to think that intellectuals can rid themselves completely of these ideals. It seems therefore that it is better to confront issues of scientific claims, prophecy and philanthropy in the academy, not merely to prove their vanity, but to seek better scientific ways, better prophetic approaches and better philanthropic research methodologies in the academy. The academy and intellectualism are not frivolous institutions created to stimulate and satisfy the scientific quests of detached individual intellectuals. The academy in general and intellectuals in particular exercise a strong influence on society -- therefore require serious attention.
The insurgency approachAccording to this model, preferred by Cornel West himself, `the major priority of black intellectuals should be the creation or reactivation of institutional networks that promote high-quality critical habits primarily for the purpose of black insurgency' (1991:144). This model rejects the bourgeois legitimation of
... the solitary hero, embattled exile, and isolated genius -- the intellectual as a star, celebrity, commodity -- this model privileges collective intellectual work that contributes to communal resistance and struggle.
Therefore such intellectualism will be connected to the (African) community which will also be regarded as a participant in intellectual activity. Significant slices of the culture and activities of black communities will then become important interlocutors for the black intellectual (cf Oruka 1991). Such areas as economic, political and religious activism become relevant interlocutors. This model is the one best suited to an appropriate connection, not only to present African society, but also to the vast wisdom of past African societies. It must not be understood to be a case of either the individual or the community as an intellectual; it is a case of both needing each other. More precisely, it is perhaps the individual intellectual who must be conscientised to recognise his/her need for the community. Addressing the question of whether professional philosophers are redundant in the light of his proposal for `sage (community) philosophy' to become the basic raw material in the construction of African philosophy, Oruka (1991:5) has this to say:
... are professional philosophers not redundant? They are not, for they alone are best equipped to help explicate the philosophical underpinnings in the texts and sayings of the non-professional philosophers. Plato was professional; Socrates was not. And Plato helped to make Socrates explicit.
Although speaking with specific reference to the discipline of philosophy, Oruka's views adequately illustrate an aspect of the manner in which the individual intellectual can be connected to the community of 'non-intellectuals'. However, in the same way that the professional intellectual may make the non-professional `Socrates' explicit, the non-professional `Socrates' does the same for the professional -- albeit not in a written propositional manner.
SOME IMPLICATIONS FOR CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY IN AFRICAFew disciplines have felt the need to `sort African culture out' and establish an unequivocal opinion on it more than the discipline of Christian theology. Placide Tempels -- a Roman Catholic priest and missionary in francophone Africa -- was only one among many Western-trained theologians and missionaries who seriously grappled with questions about African culture, philosophy and religion. In reality, attempts by Westerners to make sense of Africa, its peoples and their cultures go back to the nineteenth century. It was seldom a solo effort by representatives of the discipline of (Western) Christian theology -- `alliances' were often built not only with other disciplines such as philosophy, anthropology, and linguistics, but also with colonialism (cf Saayman 1991). In having maintained an interest in African culture, however warped such an interest might have been, Christian theology must be commended. Furthermore, we urge an even more vigorous situating of Christian theology in Africa. However, we need to review many of the `traditional' Christian theological motives for studying African religions and culture.
I submit that Western theological efforts to analyse African culture were motivated mainly, as I have argued above, by a desire to convert Africans. Often this goal was pursued with such zeal that Africans and their cultures were superficially understood and `ruthlessly' converted, that is the end (conversion) justified all means. The conversion motive continues to influence much theological interest in African culture and African religion in our own times -- only more subtly. I wish to question the validity of all conversion-motivated interest in African culture by Christian theology -- unless conversion is radically redefined as being, at least, a two-way process. An informed, contextual, comprehensive and librational view of African culture requires Christian theologians to revisit the concept of conversion especially as a motive for both theologising and Christian mission. I am doubtful if the concept can be rescued from its notoriety and would therefore ultimately urge its abandonment at least as a motive (declared or undeclared) for theology. Related to the conversion motif are other `tyrannies' such as the hegemonic equation of the Bible with the `revealed Word of God' (Mosala 1987:15). This equation can and has been a powerful tool used to legitimise the rejection and dicreditation not only of current black experiences but of all black culture within Christianity.
It is about time that the insights gleaned from more than thirty years of black and African theologies were used as a basis for the development of a truly African Christian theology (cf Maluleke 1995c). Such insights include the insistence that in the same way that (African) cultures are various, so are `Christianities'. Therefore all unqualified references to generic and monolithic Christianity, especially when African culture is under discussion, ultimately intend to deny the validity of African cultures. More importantly, not only are different cultures and different Christianities possible, these are not necessarily at peace with one another. Theological mediations of intercultural and interconfessional conflicts must eschew bias in favour of the powerful against the powerless -- even if such bias is couched in the language of the Bible as a revealed Word of God. One of the most powerful lessons of liberation theology is precisely that the voice of the powerful must not be `allowed' to drown the voices of smaller people.
Black and African theologies are uniquely equipped to help the Christian theology of Africa avoid both the Scylla of viewing African culture as an expired `ephemeral set of behavioural attitudes and values' and the Charybdis of viewing it in exclusive structural, materialist terms. Black theology must consistently refuse, as it has done in the past, to regard (African) culture as a set of detached, somewhat exotic attitudes and rituals (cf Buthelezi 1972). Black theology must continue to insist that African culture is structural, material, contextual and contemporary. Similarly, African theology must continue to insist, as it has so eloquently done before, that Africans have valid and respectable religions and cultures -- cultures and religions which are not only independent of Western Christianities but are seldom comfortable and therefore often in combat with many versions of Western Christianity. These religions deserve equal, unbiased academic inquiry which is substantially free of the conversion motive.
Contrary to suggestions that black, African and other liberation theologies are spent forces (cf Villa Vicencio 1992a, 1992b, 1993), I propose that if ever there was a time when black and African theologies ought to be compulsory for students and teachers in South Africa, it is now (cf Maluleke 1994b, 1995c). For without `listening' carefully to these theologies, current talks about Africanisation, at least in theology, will yield very little fruit. One is not suggesting that black or African theologies have no need for reassessment and further development in the light of changing circumstances (Maluleke 1995c). However, these theologies have `captured a lot of ground' in the `veld' of African culture and religion. Any theological discourse on African cultures and African religions that does not drink from the wells of black and African theologies is suspect.
ENDNOTES1 In agreement with Cornel West (in Hooks & West 1991:29), I differentiate between academics and intellectuals: `There is a fundamental difference between an academic and an intellectual. An academic usually engages in rather important yet still narrow scholarly work, whereas an intellectual is engaged in the public issues that affect large numbers of people in a critical manner.'
2 My view of (African) culture has benefited from Mazrui (1980:47f) who outlines seven functions of culture: a lens of perception, provision of standards of evaluation, the conditioning of motivation, a medium of communication, provision of a basis of stratification, provision of legitimating ideology for the dominant mode of production, and the definition of identity. It is important to keep all seven `functions' of culture in mind when discussing any given culture.
3 This is how my colleague Ras Van Niekerk (not to be confused with Attie van Niekerk, whose work I quote below) refers to any discussion of African and Western culture that operates on the assumption of two huge monolithic chunks. I am thankful to Ras for the most illuminating discussion we have had on these matters. However, whereas Ras Van Niekerk tends to advocate a complete rejection of the `two lumps approach', I choose to problematise it as a means of taking the debate further.
4 However, we must not hastily assume that such Afrocentric thinkers necessarily approve of or concur with the `two lumps theory'. It is possible that they latch onto it because it is the most practical tool of hegemonic language.
5 I am using the term `multiculturism' in what I consider the chief and most common way in which it is used in South Africa, namely the recognition that society consists of not one, two or three cultures but several (in fact an infinite number of) cultures. Underlying this belief is the assumption that conflict, rivalry, bigotry and intolerance can be eradicated in the relations between these various cultures. The chief tool usually proposed for the eradication of these evils is the increase of knowledge of other cultures.
6 In his article, Seepe (1995) discusses the negative portrayals of blacks by institutions such as the multiracial schools and the media in South Africa by means of several empirical illustrations. He argues that these form part of a larger network of institutions which not only refuse to learn from or credit anything to blackness, but seek to discredit all forms of black experiences. It is this comprehensive onslaught that Seepe calls the `rubbishing of black people'.
7 Literally meaning to come out of (certain) clothes one was wearing, but normally used to mean `to be developed' or `civilised'.
8 See also Junod (1907:141), where he laments that unlike twenty years previously, when natives lived `in their old and picturesque way, clad as children of nature ... [now] they all long for covering their body with gowns'.
9 An example of a different approach is that of Setiloane, who in numerous writings, has insisted for example, that Modimo the Tswana God is not the same as the Christian God and therefore the two are not interchangeable.
10 Ubuntu (literally meaning humaneness) has become a clich é to denote an often poorly defined, yet supposedly noble set of good behaviours that used to be typically African.
11 The RDP is the comprehensive policy of the South African government aimed at responding to the sociopolitical legacy of apartheid. To demonstrate its sincerity, the government has created a special RDP ministry. I have discussed the RDP in more detail elsewhere (Maluleke 1994c).
12 Masakhane (literally meaning let us build one another up) is a programme of the present South African government whose main objective is to encourage the payment of residential services, rent and mortgages in black communities which have a history of deliberate non-payment as a political protest strategy. It is an attempt to put an end to the non-payment protest culture and put in its place a culture in which people pay for such services. The government has spent a considerable amount of time and money `selling' the Masakhane concept to the black public.
13 I am alluding here to the Enlightenment-inspired belief in a strict separation between facts and values (cf Newbigin 1986, Bosch 1991:262f). According to this belief only `science' teaches `facts'. These are given and non-negotiable. Religions provide values and no facts. Values are negotiable.
14 Bethge (1995), the well-known friend of and specialist on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, tells how in post-Nazi Germany many were so eager to forget the past and how he, together with a small circle of friends, `fought' against this strong pull of national amnesia.
15 This is the fast-paced, rather repetitive, instrumentally based brand of South African music which has developed mainly in the urban townships. It is, one could say, a coming together of African rhythm and Western musical instruments. Some of the best known South African mbaqanga musicians are Mahlathini and his group called Mahotela Queens.
16 This is African choral music mostly sung by males. Although the Zulus have perfected this type of music it is by no means exclusive to them. It bears some resemblances to traditional African male music, but is slightly more complex. Its name derives from the soft tapping type of dancing. The best-known group that sings this type of music is Joseph Tshabalala's Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
17 Arguably the largest (African Independent) church in Southern Africa.
18 The Manyano are the church women's groups which normally meet weekly -- on Thursdays -- for prayers, Christian outreach and mutual support. The male counterpart is called the Amadodana. Some of the distinctive characteristics of both groups are their colourful and mandatory uniforms, their preference for `choruses' (that is brief repetitive songs) and the vigour with which they sing, dance and preach.
19 MK and APLA were the armed formations of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) respectively.
20 The only institution of power in which blacks are in the majority is the government in general and parliament in particular. Significantly, however, even here, executive and advisory power (directorates and the civil service in general) remain in white hands. In the context of modern economic democracies there is a limit to what a parliamentary majority can achieve in practice.
21 Recently, at least in the discipline of history, there has been a renewed interest among some (mainly white) Marxist scholars in the role of culture and religion in human struggles (cf Harries 1994). So one must be careful not to imply that Marxist intellectuals are by definition ill disposed towards culture and religion.
Dr T S Maluleke
Department of Missiology
University of South Africa
PO Box 392
Republic of South Africa