Change: Angazi, But I’m sure

I was still mulling over a conversation with Frantz Fanon which began a few years ago – about Black Skin, White Masks (1952) when the story of  H&Ms’ Coolest Monkey in the jungle hoodie, made social media headlines
Fanon wrote a number of interesting things in Black Skin, White Masks, but two ideas stayed with me. The first one read like a confirmation letter to something I have always felt but never knew how to pronounce and it is this:

“I am not a potential of something. I am wholly what I am and I do not have to look for the universal. No probability has any place inside me. My negro consciousness does not hold itself out as a lack. It is. It is its own follower” – (Page 103, The Fact of blackness; Black Skin, White Mask)

There’s nothing missing in me. The seed is in the tree. The tree is in the seed. I am whole. I can only grow into what I already am; i.e unless genetically modified an apple seed does not grow into a pineapple tree or into a monkey for that matter.

So what’s the fuss about?

The second idea was more interesting – and perhaps more relevant to our times – so I soaked in it. Remember that Frantz Fanon was not just a political activist.  He was a trained and qualified psychologist whose primary preoccupation was the mind and how colonialism was affecting the minds of black people in  France and French-Martinique – Black Skin, White Masks –  is a collection of his findings and personal reflections based on actual cases of psychiatric patients observed. So while his work was specific to the Black experience of the white man – mutatis mutandis – this quote can be applied to humans as a whole.

“Man is human only to the extent to which he tries to impose his existence on another man in order to be recognized by him. As long as he has not been effectively recognized by the other, that other will remain the theme of his action. It is on recognition by that other being that his own human worth and reality depend” (page 169 – The Negro and Recognition; Black Skin, White Masks)

Imagine the magnitude of such a statement. Fanon is saying that as humans we are ostensibly slaves to one another, we are not human until our humanity (humanness) has been effectively recognized by other humans.  Can you see why most of us ( especially the oppressed) have the need to believe in a higher power – a benevolent God and saviour  who will recognise us when those with whom we share our lives do not or cannot affirm our humanity?

Without a higher power, we are bound, victims of each other’s neurosis.  This neurosis, it seems continues today regardless of the fact that racial segregation laws have been repealed in South Africa. The discourse around race, racism and who is to blame remains unchanged. It is as if we are still living under white minority rule in Apartheid South Africa circa 1981. Fanon has an explanation for this phenomena and it is rightly rooted in the psyche of the black man;

“There is not an open conflict  between white and black, one day the white master, without conflict recognized the negro slave, but the former slave still wants to make himself recognized”

Triggered

So despite having gained freedom and political emancipation from the white man, the black man is still mentally enslaved;  the incidents or periods of trauma are still kept alive psycho-somatically until triggered by  Monkey business. The black man will be obsessed with being recognized by the white man through his academic, cultural, social or financial institutions.  In this context, the black man will not be fully human until he is given the Oscar, or until Ngungi  Wa Thiong’o is awarded the Nobel prize for literature, only then will he become human. And once they have gained the full recognition they will want full control or  the power to retain their right to recognize others or not and the cycle will begin again with white people feeling victimized and marginalized by a loss of power – they will also begin as they are already doing in South Africa, to demand that their humanity, be recognized.

This theory – the need for recognition is the source of almost all conflict in the world and can be applied to most people, communities and nations.

In South Africa today we have an opportunity to begin a new cycle, which does not degenerate into a downward spiral of repeating old habits.

So what does this have to do with the law?

Let me try to explain: Mutatis Mutandis is an archaic, Latin term,  used mostly in the law  which means with “all the necessary, changes having been made.”  It is often found in contracts (and our constitution) to indicate that whatever new terms or changes which have been made in past or present contracts will be applied to all future contracts.

Angazi, but I’m sure,  while not a legal term is a form of defence. It is a vague answer often given to “difficult” questions. It might seem contradictory to you to hear someone say I don’t know, but I’m sure, but in the (black) South African parlance, it isn’t. This is the standard answer given when people know the answer to a question but are not sure if the person asking the question can be trusted with the information.  So Angazi, but I’m sure, means, I know but I don’t know if I should tell you.

I’m sure – in this context – also does not mean that one is certain of what one speaks of, it is used to infer doubt; perhaps/maybe.

It is often used as a response to a question: searching for something or someone.

i.e Q:  Have you seen Jedi? A: Angazi, but I’m sure she’s  around.

In serious circumstances, it is equivalent to pleading the fifth by refusing to answer incriminating questions. It is a non-answer.

This could explain why no one seems to know anything about what is going on in government today, especially ministers and government officials.

Angazi, but I’m sure is a historical colloquialism which carries within it expired struggle codes used to deflect further inquiries by unknown inquisitors. The language was used loosely in the vaguest terms so that the speaker and the listener could not be held accountable for what was not being said.  The term leaves enough room for interpretation – and evasion.

This year members of parliament (our elected representatives) have been tasked with removing the Angazi, but I’m sure, a clause in our collective subconscious and in the practical application and interpretation of the law. They have to define in concrete terms what constitutes a serious violation of the constitution which will be applied henceforth mutatis mutandis to future presidents who may be in the very committee tasked with drafting the rules for the impeachment of a president. As is now the case with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa who is being called to defend the very constitution he helped the draft in the 1990s- even though he might ostensibly be guilty of violating its terms.

Will members of parliament draft laws based on the lowest common denominator or are they going to hold themselves and future presidents to the highest ethical standards which are not open to Angazi but I’m sure?

The caveat, of course, is this:  it won’t matter how brilliant our laws are at safeguarding our democracy or bill of rights if they are routinely circumvented by politicians and public officials who are intent on abusing their power.

There needs to be a commitment to hold not only others accountable for their actions – but we must also commit to holding our ourselves accountable to the laws we collective create and agree to; i.e The Constitution.

If we don’t we will continue to say,  Angazibut I’m sure –  Mutatis Mutandis.

 

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