By: Mbe Mbhele
“Without new visions we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is a series of clever manoeuvres and tactics but a process that can and must transform us” – Robin D.G Kelley
I could have found Bhakubha but Azola Dayile says it is a no-place far away in the abyss and no one has ever reached it. Masixole Mlandu insists that those who go there never return and in Unathi Slasha’s literature it is a place filled with unimaginable terrors. Since there is no one who has gone to Bhakubha and returned to tell the tale we can not dismiss it as just myth or affirm its existence. There are many tales similar to the one of Bhakubha throughout Africa, these tales turned metaphors reveal the relationship and the importance of the imagination in how we define ourselves, make sense of our desires and our future(s). The colonial conquest undermined the very importance of how we organize around imagination by ridiculing it as myth, non-empirical and savage. This imaginative slavery still exists today and finds expression in how we think about our political and social lives.
It is election season in South Africa and political parties are making all sorts demands and promises to get votes. The Black First Land First (BLF) recently made a declaration that if the government fails to create employment for young people it should provide all unemployed people with a monthly grant of R5000. Of course this demand was dismissed as ridiculous, impractical and crazy by most black people. It is not by accident that blacks who have been colonized for generations thought this demand was implausible. It is the very function of colonialism to strip the colonized of his dignity and reduce him to a thing that can’t imagine itself outside of oppression. It is the very function of colonialism to kill the dreams of the colonized, to annihilate any possibility of imagining a better tomorrow.
The same blacks who shout that the demand by the BLF is ridiculous do not think that it is crazy that whites who are a minority control almost all the land in this country and make trillions from it. They do not think that it is crazy that blacks are stuck in townships while politicians earn millions in parliament. The do not think that it is crazy that politicians loot yet we continue to vote for them election after election. They don’t find it crazy that inequality continues to widen and poverty has been normalized in a country rich with resources such as ours. They do not find it crazy that they have allowed this state of affairs to continue almost without any question yet they think it is crazy for a movement to demand that those who are unemployed must be supported. Here I am not suggesting that an unemployment grant could liberate black people, it cannot. What I am interested in is what the ways in which it was rejected tell us about ourselves.
Colonialism has thwarted our ability to imagine. We fail to imagine a reality where we are not oppressed so much that if someone who imagines this is seen to have gone crazy. They forget that fantasies become reality. All the slaves and blacks who rebelled against white dominance were said to be unrealistic. People said Sankara was mad to say fuck you to imperial powers, Gadhafi was said to be crazy when he declared that no one will pay for basic services in Libya. When Robert Mugabe said Tony Blair must keep his England everyone thought he had gone crazy. When Julius Nyerere and Amílcar Cabral said Africa belongs to black people many thought they had gone berserk. When Shaka defeated the British with spears no one thought it was possible. Do we not revere and sing praises to them as visionaries now? Are their victories not a product of their imagination and demands that were seen as impossible?
It could be that the BLF was also engaging in cheap electioneering but I doubt it. Andile Mngxitama was well aware that the demand would be met with backlash and ridicule like many of the positions that the party has taken. It seems what he was doing was to invite us to a conversations about the importance of imagination and the demands that we ought to make to those who claim to be representing us. This is a position that the party has held for a long time, that it is not just in it for the votes. That the votes can be sacrificed if it means that the black person will be conscientized. That the main duty of a revolutionary black consciousness movement is to do the difficult work of freeing the people from all forms of oppression and infuse life into their empty shells so that they are reminded of their dreams and their worth. Of course the imagination must always be reconciled with reality. This means that to imagine the kind of world we would like, we have to do the work to make it happen. As Baruch Spinoza suggests, the way of life endorsed by reason needs to be brought within imaginative reach if it is to mould our desires into reality.
*** Mbe Mbhele is is a law graduate, a creative writing student at Wits University and author of the anthology of short stories titled Crazy Father and Other Very Short Lies
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