Why the South African Black Male question is a failed patriarchal project: A response to Nkateko Mabasa

Mandisi Gladile

“It is meet for us to speak the truth before we die” – Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe

I had exactly a vivid recollection of these above quoted words, by one of the greatest Azanian scholars and revolutionaries who has ever lived on our land, Prof Robert Sobukwe, after reading Ntaketo Mabasa’s article, entitled: “If Black Men Decided To Feel” with parts one and two of the said article.

Thereafter, as an avid student of the black existential discourse, I immediately took upon myself the task of disrupting what is a clear reactionary ideological line and logic however masquarading as decolonial thought and Black-women-sympathetic venture.

However, my aim is not only to disrupt the false narrativizing of the Black women-Black Men standoff (if it even qualifies being called that) by Nkateko and end at that, but equally, I will throughout the course of this paper, give my conceptual theorization of South Africa’s social, institutional, systemic and discursive framework of patriarchy qua male-domination as expressed in individual capacities at the body-level, it is important to go that route in properly theorizing where position of male power lies which has hitherto shaped the so called crisis of patriarchy bedeviling public discourse currently, second lastly, I also aim to give what could be pratical intervention programmatically that can be undertaken to undermine this contradiction. The very last point I want to deal with in this peice is our collective growing up phenomenology of the Black Male experience in an antiblack political ontology that shapes certain behaviors (and indeed, undesirable behaviours) that are not necessarily analogous with Mabasa’s preferred ideal Black men’s behaviours.

Conceptual contestation

For starters, one cannot help but be drawn to the eye-catching, if not dramatic theme of Mabasa’s article, which never got off the ground, and in it, he bodly declares that: “If Black Men Decided To Feel” and just seconds later to this, he literally starts off in the opening line of the article by making yet another shocking bold claim that the imagined fear within the Black men of the Black women leads to the former obstructing, and indeed delaying the freedom of the latter. Given this construction and argumentation, it is by logical extention that Mabasa’s view of the Black Men and Black Women relation is fundamentally predicated on the power principle of degredation, oppression, fencing, otherring and indeed potracted exclusion which he later on further down the article actually concedes and endorse without proper consideration of the implications both conceptually and practically. This, as I will prove in a moment is at most, a blatent conceptual historical and political distortion, or the very least could just be a fundamental misunderstanding of the black liberation project’s venture as mapped out historically on the part of Mabasa.

As I said, the bulk of my peice here is concerned with the Black women question in contradistinction to the Black men as not a subalternity from which we can think of the elaboration of an antagonistic qua genocide thus constituting a crisis as Mabasa would have us believe. What he does out of his obvious conceptual incapacity to understand the interface of white supremacy qua racism with the fact of blackness and the pervasive distortion of inter-subjective relations this engendered between the Black men and women, respectively, is to create a national misguded panic, that does not implicate whiteness without knowing it while he, at the same time elevates himself into an unpaid active agent to aid and abet the problematization of the Black male imago, a fundamental program of white supremacy. This emotionally-charged venture by Mabasa to reach conclusive degradation and battering of the Black male imago without clearly theorizing and locating condition-indicators of what subjectivize his existence and experience under white supremacy finds its most vile expression in the theme choice of his article, and the charge in it for the Black men deciding to feel.

Let me go off on a tangent a little bit to explain the existential dynamic of the formulation of Black men as being fundamentally structured as non-men, I mean, I argued elsewhere that the South African Black Male question is a failed patriarchal project, and rightfully so, you may ask, but failed patriarchy in what sense? Well, it has failed to amass and secure resources, power, land, security, influence and everything else needed in the production and (re)generation of generational wealth and stable well-being not only for itself (the Black Male Question) but for its people as well, the kids, wife, parents and the larger familiy framework. In other words it has failed dismally in bringing about what are constituent elements as far as the patriarchal-power project is concerned. Mabasa doesn’t get this point at all; that’s because like most liberal contemporary blacks lazy to think deeper he doesn’t poses the epistemological thrust to grasp a discourse on black existence as shaped by white supremacy. However, be that as it may, I submit that the black male has not used the patriarchal project in developing himself but instead has been externally controlled and subject to value and non-value, at the white owned factories, in the mineshafts, in the farms, at petrol gas stations, in the private house gardens and indeed in this backward shack in Alexandra or Sharpville and this is because he is also overdetermined by white supremacist racist-patriarchy from without, and this is contrary to what Mabasa erroneously argued in his article, and I quote: “we (Black men) are reluctant to accept that we were allowed to live and go on pursuing ourselves and dreams whilst the girl was sacrificed at our expense” . . . Mabasa goes further with this distorted narrative, read on, he says: “this is a world we’ve created, a world we benefit from and allow to flourish”. Perhaps Mabasa needs to think past the figment of his imagination, proper! The views he embodies are vile and painful to stomach for anyone who is interested in developing further the black discourse of liberation, improve its imperfections and march forth with it towards the future, as a philosophy that honors black history, resistence and existence in all its brokenness!

Since Mabasa’s entire political venture is predicated upon the problematization of the Black men and his theorization as a good-for-nothing party in the black liberation process, and to give currency to his demonization, Mabasa must charge out a litany of relentless, and indeed, baseless claims about a full-scale violation of the Black women’s humanity’s and irrational exclusion under the direct and wilful program of the Black men, which he ostensibly derives psychological intergrity and coherence from, and we know this is laughable and again, shows a flagrant caricature of the black political question proper, for example, let us revise history books to debunk Mabasa’s wild claims here: remember, in the 1970’s and at the height of the hydraulics of apartheid state machinery, Steve Biko and his generation by sheer subjective will challenged the narrative of black-on-black mistreatment and advocated for solidarity, both across racial lines to resolve the Indian and Coloured contradiction and gendered ones too. That was the philosophical committment the philosophy of black consciousness articulated which culminated into practical political events and milestones such as the election of the mother of Black Consciousness: Dr. Vuyelwa Mashalaba who served as general secretary of the South African Student Organization (SASO) from 1970 to 1971. She was responsible, together with others of conceptualizing SASO and she was an asset to it from the start, she led with verve and gallacy and became a well established political leader, hence the appellation: “Mother of Black Consciousness” seems apt. It did not just end with her alone, there was a plethora of other black female women activists, whom unlike Mabasa’s imagination, were not obstructed by power-hungry and readily dominating black men.

Steve Biko, an important thinker in the cosntruction of a liberation discourse was a master of asserting, and indeed theorizing Black humanity (of both Men and Women), a firm sense of self pride and a combative insolance against white supremacy and it is this asserting black humanity, colletive self-determination, black-led ideological program and black militancy which is his abiding gift to us and the succeeding generations since no where in Black Consciousness philosophy does it imagine or initiate talks about the universal and ontological inferiority of the Black women. This is a heavy misrepresentation of the black political question by Mabasa that must be laughed out loud.

Practical intervention and programs

I have above provided a cognitive mapping and ideological framework of the black political question as shaped fundamentally by whiteness and its violent imposed existence. I have equally explained how the Black men is set outside the delimited boundaries of patriarchy, which by definition is white and colonial in South Africa. Our discourse therefore must understand the Black Male question as what I call, for lack of a better words, a false duplication of the White Male paradigm, but even a duplication requires power too, proper.

Having said that, our first step of intervention must thus be to guard against attempts to unite around people’s backward elements in society that divides us, which are secondary contradictions. Stated differently, we cannot unite one another based on conflict, but should find ways around resolving conflicts or other sentiments that divide us, how will woman want to unite with fellow black men if Mabasa’s framing of black men as monsters should gain political currency? It is backward and vile and must be rejected by all and sundry, and instead, I argue that the first step to find a way around this is first a proper characterization of the problem shaping the black political question which is global anti-blackness qua white supremacy manifest in South Africa as settler colonialism and racism.

This way, we assist people like Mabasa to always understand the fundamental centrality of whiteness in the black political question instead of dealing with it as a footnote as he did when speaking of the violence and disiruption of black inter-subjective relations the colonial project inaugurated.

The second thing to do as a revolutionary is to help black people get through the day, and it can be difficult doing this, and this is perhaps the more sane part of Mabasa’s piece which I want to deal with now, that how do we intervene in lives of people lived within the framework of civic-sanctioned state of emergencies, where violence subjectivizes existence such that even growing up to adulthood for both men and women (perhaps worse for women), is as Biko once oberseved an act of serendipity?

However I want to argue this is on the obvious part us living with the permanence of contradictions under the paradigm of oppression, which we must struggle out against incessantly. Let’s organize our people and conscientize them, let young progressive revolutionaries play role model and leadership to young people, let’s invest in solving black problems ourselves, but more importantly let us build subjective ideological training of our people which must get them to question and understand black misery as a political construction which must be struggled against and fundamentally changed.

Concluding remarks

In closing I want to quickly wrap up on the last issue, the phenomenology of the black men experience under an anti-black political ontology. You see, I think was exactly 15 years old when I began to experience the consciousness of being a black male in the township and the constituted meaning of that consciousness, these experiences, for me ranged from the void of fatherlessness and the frustration this engenders, introduction into brute squatter camp violence, smoking, drinking, general vulnerability to harm and robbery, loss of close ones through senseless deaths and the list is endless.

These experiences, cannot for instance be analogized with the experiences of white counterparts who was are in the same age group as me. This collective growing up consciousness has a clear functionality, which is to reproduce itself far and wide. That must be factored in how we re-imagine what it means to go throw boyhood in the current political ontological framework of white racism. .

And, I argue that a sentimental intervention like that of Mabasa with all its colourful rhetoric clothed in decoloniality may sadly miss the much symbolic and conceptual question surrounding whiteness, which even at the level of intervention will as a result be soft on whiteness when punitive on blackness as we’ve seen with many political campaigns and discourses over the couple of years. Mabasa seems to be overly concerned about soliciting spotlight and panic. Yes, let us criticize and call out black men violence against defenseless black women but equally let us explain more, never explain away the paradigmatic structure of white racism just to fit modern hegemonic discourses and, yes critiques!

Mandisi Gladile is a member of EFFSC Mosoane branch based at the Vaal University of Technology. He has previously led as a ward 95 Branch chairperson (Cape Town) in 2014, and recently as a member of the BCT in 2017. He was also a member of the Kilombo project. He is passionate about mostly black ideas and imagining the possibility of a revolution.


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