MAURICE GOLDMAN studied economics at Witwatersrand University and philosophy at Cape Town. Pages from his South African Notebook were printed in ANARCHY 3.
ACCUSTOMED TO THINKING IN TERMS OF NATIONS we find it hard enough to recast our thinking from the government-country formula based on heavy central government, defined boundaries, and usually a common language, to the time of Joan of Arc for instance, when people thought in terms of the Church, their village and their feudal lord. How much harder then to visualise and grasp the structure of African society which did not know boundaries, neither bond slavery nor wage slavery, neither land property nor money, neither prisons nor total war not guilt-ridden sex!
There were of course powerful witch doctors and powerful chieftains, but before the social forms were devitalised by contact with the white man's religion and drink, by his land pressure, taxes and system of migrant labour which robbed the tribal areas of their young men, before the white man's industrial revolution urbanised large sections of the African population and white exclusiveness united the blacks in racial and national opposition, the power of the chief and the witch doctor was held by the natural physical and spiritual exuberance of the African temperament.
The Bantu-speaking peoples are believed to have crossed into Africa by way of the Horn of Africa from Asia some three or four thousand years ago. Some intermarried with the original Hamitic people (before the Arab invasion from Arabia), others pushed on westwards to the Atlantic coast where the, purest "negroes" are found. They and a group of "negro-Hamitic" people who settled in the region of the Great Lakes in central Africa, displaced the Hottentots, Bushmen and Pygmies from their native haunts, The central African Bantu, probably disturbed by convulsions in the north, by land hunger and the natural urge of a pastoral people to trek, began a gradual move down to the south until they eventually clashed with the first white men they had seen (the negroes of the west coast had long before displaced the white Berbers from the oases of the Sahara) along the banks of the Great Fish River of the Cape Colony. These whites were also a pastoral people who were pushing up north for land.
But that clash came barely two hundred years ago and the character of the African was formed, his traditions deeply entrenched, his customs suited to his way of life. They linger even now when the African (in increasing numbers) is being forced by circumstances to adopt a way of life which is industrial, wage earning and urban. In those comparatively small areas where the African has stubbornly been able to cling, areas like Reserves and the mountain and dry lands, in the Protectorates like Swaziland and Basutoland, one might still find a shadow of the former Bantu way of life. But it is on the way out. The African character, temperament and traditions are being forced into new patterns which will at the same time keep elements of the old.
These societies which are called democracies today, but which are often plutocracies, being ruled by a few hundred wealthy families and institutions, have something in common with dictatorships — they draw in the reins of authority tightly. A new class of African is growing in Africa besides the industrial wage slaves — these are the politicians who are learning the arts of politics and nationalist power from the nationalisms of the world, and especially from their present or former white masters. They are ambitious and power-hungry people like their white counterparts — the politician class in our society. But there is reason to hope that in Africa, a continent which is widely recognised as the cradle of the human race, a new form of social organisation will arise, springing from tribal roots. If it does arise, it will come from the nature and tradition of the people themselves — despite their politicians.
It is no coincidence that there are attempts in some of the newly formed states of Africa to adopt the kibbutz pattern to their tribal structure. Strangely enough it is in the modern sophisticated state of Israel that we might catch a glimpse of the microcosm of future African life.
The kibbutz (a communal and voluntary agricultural settlement with its own small industries suited to its locality) could be the perfect answer as a unit for the new African society. The kibbutz in Israel is linked to the central labour organisation of the Histadrut, independent of the government — but it is practically a self-governing entity.
Of course there are big differences between the kibbutz and the village and tribal units of Africa (and big differences in themselves), but there are basic similarities. Both are peasant, in both there is a large measure of freedom for the individual, both own nearly everything in common, operate their own defence and internal government and work for the common good. I have seen a man get up to argue with his chief at the village council as I have seen a kibbutznik argue at the councils with some committee or other. Both peoples love argument and debate.
In pre-national African society there were no extremes of wealth, and poverty, wealth was measured in terms of cattle but not in the impersonal way we know money pieces or land properties. Each head of sheep or cattle was known by name and its idiosyncrasies were made allowance for. There was an existential feeling of "encounter" almost, between the herdsman and his flocks. The religion was ancestor worship and the warfare that was indulged in was limited largely to taunts, single combat of champions in the fashion of David and Goliath, to ransoming of prisoners, and to compromise. Mass tribal warfare and destruction began only when the shock of meeting the whites caused a shudder of readjustment right up the east coast of Natal. Chaka was the first African dictator who united the tribes of Natal into the Zulu nation. And Chaka learned his methods from Dingiswayo who learned from Coenraad Buys, the white who took a Hottentot wife and was cast out by the white community — Buys was the king of the Bastards.
The Africans were and are still both a strongly spiritual and a strongly physical people. At one time in the tribe there was a balance of power kept between the chief and the witch doctor but it was rarely that the individual African surrendered soul and body to authority. Ancestors were all too close and created strong family bonds. They were so acutely aware of their bodies (and still are, as may be witnessed by their dancing) that the physical union of man and wife was something very real and thus filial bonds were equally real. Where the family unit is strong (for example in France and Italy) the authority of power cannot reign unchecked, for the family is the only real unit in society. It is the brick and mortar of society.
The emotional equipment of the African is certainly no more "savage" than that of the northern peoples. But perhaps they are the most guilt-free of peoples regarding sex, or were so before original sin came their way. Like the Hebrews they have a strong sense of historical continuity and they owe allegiance more to their family ancestors than to any earthly power. They are people of volatile passions and slow moving to hatred. Time and again the writer has found that what will drive Africans to fury is not economics, but mainly the white man's refusal to mingle his blood with theirs, his exclusiveness, his refusal, as one Christian sect leader put it to me, to make one nation, one people.
It is because of the African's spirit of a universal one-ness that he has taken so readily to the Bible and to Christianity. But Christian missionaries are complaining that the Moslem faith is gaining ground in Africa at the expense of Christianity because the Moslems do not adhere rigidly to monogamy.
Will the industrial revolution eventually sweep through these once tribal lands leaving monolithic industrial states in its wake? My reasons for saying that it won't are firstly that the natures of individual African people do not take to the automation of the factory or to blind obedience to the bosses. Industry might well come in the home craft tradition of the tribe, or in a form, as I have suggested, like that of the kibbutz. Secondly: a land which has for colonial centuries remained a supplier of raw materials will most likely continue in the primary industry tradition and will therefore remain conservative. What will change will be that the African continent will take less and less of the manufactured products of the northern countries. The communal settlement will be ideal to supply the basic needs for manufactured goods, to be self-subsistent and to satisfy the African desire to be rooted to the soil, and at the same time, to be his own master in a small agricultural-cum-industrial community.
Let's carry the thing to its logical conclusion. Suppose you do win your freedom. It is bound to be on the basis of black versus white, the latter being in power And all your talk about not being anti-white — in a multi-racial setting — is just so much tongue-in-cheek stuff. In a Ghanaian or Nigerian setting, nationalism has taken the form of Africanism since the Colonial power abdicated: it is now simply a feeling of being African, and being anti-white is irrelevant.
Here, then, you have both the reality and unreality of the position of the Afrikaans and African nationalists (to go back to that awkward terminological distinction!). Paradoxically, the African nationalists do not really present a challenge to the Afrikaans. What does present a challenge is an organisation that consists either in close association or in an alliance of black, white Indian and Coloured. Such a body constituted a negation of the Afrikaans' theory of separateness, their medieval clannishness.
What about the non-nationalist — like me? The apparent unreality of my position lies in what turns out now to be an endeavour on my part to civilize a large mob of white tribalists whose every act or attitude is motivated by the primitive instinct of fear …
The pain of not being nationalists lies in the cold realism of it. We are aiming at a common society and to prove that multi-racial societies can thrive and become a glorious reality in Africa. The black nationalist in a multi-racial context appeals not only to the most dangerous, because corroding, element of human nature among his people but also to the worst hedgehog qualities of those who would like to crush him. He, of all people, should know this because the Afrikaans nationalist has all through the years been evoking the same response among his own people and from our side. We have watched the Afrikaans and the Natal English shrink and shrivel up within their tribal cocoons; we have seen their minds grow pettier and pettier; we have seen them become more and more barbarous. Yes, they taught us violence, mental and physical, into the bargain. And the decay has not ceased.
—EZEKIEL MPHAHLELE: "The African Image."