By: Vusumzi Nkomo
“The first step to freedom is not just to change reality to fit your dreams; its to change the way you dream.” Slavoj Zizek, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology
When a people’s suffering is ‘beyond words’, when it renders language speechless + dysgraphic, the demands (by those suffering) to ‘not-suffer’, can never be fully legible to those who are not suffering, and more so, to those who are enacting the very suffering. I thought of this when I picked up that there was a backlash against BLF (Black First Land First) Movement demanding that the government should, upon failing to provide jobs for people, issue monthly grants of R5000 to all unemployed people. This demand was thought of as a crazy electioneering move by BLF.
In a response to the ‘Blacklash’, writer Mbe Mbhele, charged that “[c]olonialism has thwarted our ability to imagine”, and, consequently, “most” Black people reject(ed) the demand on the basis that it was “impractical and crazy”, “implausible”. It is important to note that the word “crazy” appears 10-times in Mbhele’s short article. (It would be unkind to blame him for this). In the article “Crazy” is also used quite skillfully to refer to the “blacks who rebelled against white dominance”:
“People said Sankara was mad . . .”
“Gadhafi was said to be crazy . . .”
“[E]veryone thought [Mugabe] had gone crazy . . .”
“[M]any thought [Nyerere & Cabral) had gone berserk . . .”
I write this late rejoinder not as a critique of the article (which I fully agree with), but as means to move/think through it, or put differently, to augment it(s politics of madness). But what would a theorization of craziness-imagination be without Zim Ngqawana’s classic “Bhofolo”? [This will not be an analysis of Zim’s joint but rather an attempt to think of POSTASA (Post-Apartheid South Africa) as perhaps “indawo yamageza!”.]
In Gillo Pontecorvo’s cinematic masterpiece, The Battle of Algiers (1966), a man clad in military clothing appears, armed with a loud hailer and a mob of trigger-happy ‘pigs’ in his corner/back, and commandingly spews, “Listen to me”, followed by a brief pause and then, “Return to your homes.” And with his words married with a tinge of racist condescension, “what do you want?” He knows what they want; in fact, his refusal to concede to any of their demands makes this colonial drama possible. What they want he can’t ‘afford’ to offer; so they try [in the name of their land, their ancestors, and their children]: “Independence! Our Pride! We want our freedom!”, they say. But I’m interested in the moment(s) set in motion by these enunciations: a middle-aged woman waving the Algerian flag at the heart, that is to say ‘center’, of colonial (hyper)militarized white settlement=life, she spins this & that way, thrusting her fist through the wind, pointing at (or put differently, or rather more dangerously, ‘aiming at’) the direction of settlers. She moves forth, stern-faced, towards the besieged European quarters; the pigs push her back, she moves-marches forward. A close examination of her face reveals something quite scary (to established colonial order) and quite liberating (to all wretched freedom lovers): it is that something Frank Wilderson III refers to as “essential to the destruction of civil society” (Wilderson 2008, emphasis mine). This essential something is that element Slavoj Zizek (2010), in Living In the End of Times, asks us to think of as a “fidelity to freedom”, what I would like to call a possessive emancipatory insanity. This essential something is madness. The woman is possessed. She’s gone crazy.
In the introduction to his Red, White and Black (2010), Wilderson III tells a story of a Black woman who used to “yell” at all non-Black people waltzing in & out of Columbia University. No one needed to ask her what she wanted; she, Frank recalls, proactively “accused them of having stolen her sofa and of selling her into slavery.” She did what Fallists might call ‘uku-Collapsa iSpace’, and consequently (because Blackness can never speak without consequence, but must speak no less!) she was called “crazy”. A Native American man sitting on the sidewalk of Telegraph Avenue was also thought of as mad. Wilderson III narrates:
On the ground in front of him was an upside-down hat and a sign informing pedestrians that here they could settle the “Land Lease Accounts” that they had neglected to settle all of their lives. He, too, was “crazy.”
(Wilderson III 2010, 1)
Following Zizek, one can’t just change the way they dream; one has to be crazy enough to dare dream of changing the way they dream. In late 2016, at the height of #FeesMustFall and at a time where ‘some’ Black people and ‘most’ white people thought the demand for a ‘Universally Fee-Free Decolonial education’ was outright ‘crazy’, activist and LLB student Aphiwe Bizani instead charged the students of “lacking the necessary insanity” to render the country ungovernable and make the State submit to their demands. Bizani must’ve been mad! Who would, in they right mind, want to be ‘necessarily’ insane? He seemed to suggested that, as Wilderson III did/does, “they,” the students, in Bizani’s case, “would have to be crazy, crazy enough to call not merely the actions of the [University & the State] but the [University & the State] itself to account, and to account for them no less!”.
In short, it is not possible, by way of Bizani, for a Black person to remain sane in South Africa under this racist capitalist paradigm. Maybe ‘crazy’ is the condition of possibility for freedom and true humanity. Maybe to be ‘crazy-not’ is an unethical position; where there is oppression it is unethical to be sane. And maybe a man who walks into a plaza in broad daylight, wraps his country’s flag around him, and sets himself ablaze, surely he’s gone mad; good GODS he MUST BE CRAZY!