Difference homogenizes and makes uniform experience in two blocks that are supposedly different. This is part of dualism. Beta is different from alpha and vice-versa. In accordance with this binomial practice, difference determines identity. But this is the trap of categorization, a strategy of the standardizing empire. Understanding identity in this way is to conceive it in belligerent, antagonistic and opposing terms. Thus the peculiarity of each being is denied. Each creature is peculiar and different from all other creatures, who are peculiar and different among themselves. Difference reduces identity to only two identifying blocks: alpha or beta, gamma or epsilon or any other pair. The peculiarity of the self unties binary binds and amplifies our self-reflective consciousness, the bridge necessary for comprehending the experience of the being in totality. This comprehension necessarily requires a “new humanity.” This is the “new world” that we construct every time we disconnect from the standardizing machines and live our lives in a different way and more naturally in order to de-alienate ourselves and cure ourselves from the sickness of ideology, injected by the syringe of propaganda. And difference is one more trap of propaganda.
August 3, 2015
“The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.”
― John Cage
“A fool’s brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education.” – George Bernard Shaw
August 2, 2015
I should begin with a few opening remarks which will, I hope, anchor my overall argument as it relates to Language and Transformation at Stellenbosch University. Firstly, in response to the emerging critique following the memorandum of grievances and demands which was handed to the vice chancellor, it will be difficult to address some apparently ‘significant’ concerns since they are informed, however unconsciously, by apartheid era epistemic procedures which have always served to construct taxonomic racial and cultural diagrams. One such concern, often highlighted by those eager to jettison the ethico-politcal dimension of our argument, has to do with what is seen as ostensibly a paradox: ‘there is an amorphous number of black people who are also Afrikaans speakers’, therefore your demands are inattentive to the needs of many black students at Stellenbosch. Far from being a neutral objection to our demand for language reform, this argument, if that is what it is, reflects a profound and hurtful blindness to white supremacy. That is to say, such a contention simply gestures towards an inability to develop a critical vocabulary that can capture the mutating forms of racism in our post-apartheid context. A contrastive analogy, fanciful as it might seem, would be the post-Marikana debates which took place in many middle class circles shortly after the 34 striking miners were massacred in 2012. The assertion in these circles (black and white alike) was that, because the miners died under the watch of a black government, at the instruction of black police commissioners, at the hands of mostly black police men and women, the massacre cannot possibly be a racial issue, and we should therefore not conceive of it as such (it was seldom framed in racial terms). The simplistic reason: because there were black people involved in the incident, the racial and racist dimension of the episode can be set aside. This logic is clearly flawed and conveniently disavows the social determinations of human life together with the specificities of our racial past. On a far less visceral level, the objection to our demand for language reform takes on the same illogical thought pattern: because an amorphous number of black people are involved in instrumentalising Afrikaans, the charge of racism against the university and its language policy can be set aside, and the debate conceived of in neutral linguistic terms. As if to suggest that if x amount of blacks participate in a system, their mere participation indicates an ‘open’ ‘non-racist’ space. Time limitations preclude my going into detail about this logical fallacy, suffice to say that just because there are black people who speak Afrikaans, an obvious fact not even worth noting, it does not mean that Language (Afrikaans language in particular) does not function as an exclusionary tool at Stellenbosch University.
Now, no right thinking person can deny that Stellenbosch is a space of deeply entrenched structural and institutional racism and patriarchy. So, the language question cannot be separated from the question of ethis, and ethics in turn cannot be conceived of outside of the process of developing democratic intuitions. When talking about the language issue, we – members of Open Stellenbosch – are driven by a will to social justice. To attend to this, we are working together to bring about critical change at Stellenbosch University, a change that can only be realised by addressing the language question. OS is an anti-racist, anti-sexist, non-partisan movement that recognises our location in the belly of the beast of Neo-apartheid infrastructure.
I should begin by highlighting an obvious fact, that is, the idea that the post-apartheid present is mediated by historical discourse. If Language is itself the bearer of discourse, then it is also central to ideology. Language, both as a means of communication as well as a process of meaning making, can be and has been manipulated to subjugate black people in general. The typical conception of collective and individual power dynamics, a way of understanding ones existence as arising ex nihilo, creates a false history which further implies that ‘cultures’ and peoples are at different places on the timeline when, in truth, they are merely different. And one way the university has successfully managed to minoritise blacks is by presenting Afrikaans as ‘a developed academic language’, in contradistinction to Xhosa, for instance, an indigenous language still needing to be systematised, or invested with scientific and academic value. Apart from the absurd notion that systematising indigenous languages is an unquestioned good, this discursive strategy nevertheless works well for Afrikaner nationalists. Hence, I want to suggest that we commit ourselves to unlearning the naturalised and commonsensical ways of accounting for disenfranchised groups. To this extent, we must refute the notions of ‘diversity’ or ‘inclusivity’, in favour of comprehensive Transformation of the space sine the concept of ‘inclusivity’ relegates black people to mere appendages of a white, specifically Afrikaner dominant culture and mode of being. I’ll explain this further as it relates to language: The idea of diversity, of languges, of people, and of class and various other subject formations, belongs to the terrain of cultural studies within which the discourse of ‘minorities’ is located. The language policy, the discourse about diversity to which it gestures, may in fact be complicit with the minoritisation of cultures in, and people at, SU. By rethinking some of Homi Bhabha’s early formulations in postcolonial subject formation, I want to relocate culture within the diversifying processes and therefore highlight the benefit of historicising the discursive construction of social reality which is in turn reified in the form of the policy. I want, thus, to advance and develop the late twentieth century proposition that such historicism is only possible if one “relocate[s] the referential and institutional demands of such theoretical work in the field of cultural difference – not cultural diversity” (Bhabha’s italics, 32). If Transformation is a true objective of the institution, then this distinction between difference and diversity must be accentuated and accounted for in the language policy. It is important for my undertaking since ‘cultural diversity’ is concerned with epistemological objects and is therefore constituted by treating culture as “an object of imperial knowledge” (34). Hence, the usefulness of cultural difference within cultural studies (in contrast to cultural diversity) is that difference, in fact, lies in the very idea that the enunciation of cultural difference “problematizes the binary division of past and present, tradition and modernity” (35) and so forth, and therefore disrupts the very homogenising symbols that one will find in ‘cultural diversity’: the idea of a fixed and single ‘community’ or a stable system of reference. . I am suggesting here that we move our attention elsewhere in search for an opportunity to rethink our understanding of Transformation more generally, so that we think of it as has having to do less with notions of inclusivity or any comparable compensatory gesture, but Transformation as beginning with the work un learning our epistemological procedures, and doing the ethical act of giving up our privilege (white, male, heterosexual and any other positions of domination) in order to create the enabling conditions for a spontaneous abrupt kind of newness in the space. Such a newness is characterised by co-ownership of the space.
As far as language, then, black people do not want to be taken in by the narrative of inclusivity, because such a narrative, by the very definition of the term ‘inclusive’ reaffirms the position of white power by establishing a minority/ majority dichotomy which itself is a distortion of reality in South Africa. Once we see Transformation functioning to as undo this insidious myth, ‘inclusivity’ (as well as the resultant fallacies of it; multilingualism etc.) falls away and the space is cleared for the emergence of true reconciliatory work. I mention this, however inchoate, because it seems to me that the university has consistently talked about transformation in quantitative terms that have been negligent of the material realities and lived experiences of black people at Stellenbosch
Now, taking the language policy as a point of departure, we are fighting for substantive and comprehensive Transformation which is attuned to the lived experiences of black people, a political category which for us is not only a matter of pigmentation, but also includes those people who have a shared experience of discrimination and dehumanisation in this space. We challenge the privileging of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, not simply on the grounds that it is necessary if we are to bear the full fruit of ‘inclusivity’, but on the grounds that it belies the university’s own vision statement. In addition, the university is largely funded by a post-apartheid and democratic South African state which means that it is thus intended – inherently – to be a public space. It follows that such a space should be one to which all students should feel able to lay equal claim. We have noted how the privileging of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction translates itself to a privileging beyond the classroom. It extends into the social fabric of our residences and other shared spaces, wherein black people are consequently marginalised and maligned
It is interesting too that management’s response to our movement has thus far been predictable: defend Afrikaans as the language of instruction by insisting on ‘multilingualism’ and repeating that the use of Afrikaans as a primary medium of instruction is constitutionally valid. Ironically, the University Council, the Vice Chancellor and Vice Rector, who are supposedly key overseers of transformation, have failed to recognise that the achievement of equality is one of the founding values of the Constitution. The right to equality is entrenched in section 9 of the Constitution. This right is elaborated on in the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA).
We have noted that the problem with the University’s current approach to Transformation has to do with a deliberate equivocation of key terminology, a convenient mistake on the part of management. For instance, their uncritical understanding of ‘racism’ is taken to mean different things at different times. This equivocation works well for those who do not recognise the need to account for the injustices of the past. Such people will often claim that any differentiation on the basis of race should be deemed ‘racist’. Related to that, what is also often conflated is the distinction between direct and indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination can, and often does, amount to unfair discrimination. Indirect discrimination as exemplified by the language policy, includes any discrimination which is framed in terms of ostensibly neutral criteria, but that none the less has the effect of marginalising a particular group. In a landmark case on indirect discrimination is the Constitutional Court, the decision in City Council of Pretoria v Walker, was properly summed up Langa DP in noting that he problem with cases of indirect discrimination is that “there is almost always some purpose other than a discriminatory purpose involved in the conduct or action to which objection is taken”. As far as Stellenbosch University is concerned, that purpose is said to be the ‘protection’ of the language rights of the Afrikaans minority. The calculated actions of the university amount to the protection, not of Afrikaans culture, but of the white Afrikaans culture. Staff demographics are the most striking and measurable indication of this, but they are by no accounts the only indication.
From its inception, Open Stellenbosch has impressed on the student body the simple message that we wish to hear their stories. “I remember sitting in a lecture once, when a student raised her hand to clarify something with the lecturer in English.” So begins one of the hundreds of stories that have been sent to Open Stellenbosch. What the student describes next is a several minute long monologue in which the girl was personally attacked for having even dared to ask the question: “You people come to our university, and then expect us to change!?”
The stories that are the most revealing are often more subtle. One student recalls that way his lecturer, while following the language policy, would none the less make all of his jokes in Afrikaans. Jokes told in this way are not funny – they are a sign of the systematic exclusion of black students and, through that exclusion, a way of securing white Afrikaner culture which was founded and since kept in place through symbolic, systemic and physical violence in the present.
published on kagablog with permission of the author
August 1, 2015
Barbara Enrenreich proposes that wars, like ritual sacrifice, are celebratory practices that reconstruct the transition of the human animal from prey to predator. It may be that human violence is the residual memory of the repressed experience of having been prey, our original place in the food chain. Through socialization and cooperation, primitive bands were able to survive the attacks of predators. Notwithstanding, the weakest, slowest, and defenseless were given up for the good of the entire primitive clan. As soon as the youngest and healthiest members were able to flee, the beasts had a feast, devouring those left behind. This awoke a sense of danger and terror that engendered the consciousness of death. Sociability was a first step toward survival, giving rise to feelings of solidarity and community cooperation. The experience of being prey is before that of being hunter. It was only the manufacture of tools and their manipulation that permitted humans to hunt other animals for food and in self-defense. In this way they also sharpened domesticating practices. The dog, for example, was mastered primarily as an animal for the hunt. It is probable, however, that humans first engaged in scavenging, which gave rise to carnivorous practice. With the working and polishing of stone—the fabrication of tools and weapons for hunting—human beings derailed the course of nature and converted themselves into predators. This originated warlike thinking, and at the same time lay the foundation of the instrumental, evolving development of reasoning. In this process, carnivorous animals were viewed as deities, represented many times in prehistoric cave paintings and symbolic rites. This representation is tied to the practice of sacrifice, which, for example, the ancient Greeks transformed into hecatombs.
Wars are nothing more than bellicose rites of human sacrifice carried out in the name of “political fathers” who have designed the standardizing and stupefying megamachine. Wars re-enact the horror of being prey and stimulate the adrenaline rush of fight or flight; meanwhile, they also heighten the conquering spirit of the predator. In modern societies, antidepressants have suppressed adrenaline, repressing the capacity to experience risk and subsuming instinct in self-repressive and stressful frustration. The megamachine cretinizes the population, which becomes a group of superfluous individuals easily manipulated by nationalistic slogans, derived perhaps from a socializing and pristine original sentiment. Militarism drives soldiers to a modern hecatomb, whose only effect is terror. In the face of this terror, climbing trees to defend them from clearcutting, liberating animals from their cages, letting deer graze peacefully, organizing communal meals, hugging friends, etc., are acts of love that thwart the logic of the hunted and hunter. War is the material and symbolic re-enactment of the transition to predation, and it crystallizes in the “terrorist” reliving of horror. The utmost respect for all living creatures is the only possible ethic that can oppose depredating aggression. Survival is not sustained in the art of killing, or in politics, or in war. On the contrary, responsible cooperation and community are essential for human and planetary coexistence. Predation, terror and war are the sanguine trident of instrumental reason, and its self-rationalizing logic is the foolishness that annihilates consciousness and steeps the imagination in fear. In order to amplify the consciousness to the detriment of genetic determinism, it is necessary to banish the paradigm of prey-predator. Opposing war is a first step.