Solidarity is a tricky concept, especially in a land as diverse as our own. A worthwhile aspiration nonetheless, when it is not unduly stripped of its complexities.
Heritage Month offers us an opportunity to reflect on these complexities, as Prof Achille Mbembe does in his essay “African Modes of Self-Writing”.
Mbembe explores the idea of solidarity through the process of self identity and the abuse of our history for political ends.
He describes an aspect of identity as the “full development of conceptions that might have explained the meaning of the African past and present by reference to the future”.
“Might have” and “not actually”, he argues, because of forms of popular thinking that have led the process and the possibility of solidarity “into a dead end”.
One notable obstacle to a forward-looking African self-identity, one that allows for solidarity to flourish, is of special interest. Especially as Wits comes out of recently concluded SRC elections, and as the country braces itself for national elections in 2014.
The obstacle, he says, is a form of thinking that presents itself as “radical” and “progressive”. What it is in reality is a manipulation of the progressive to narrowly restrict what can pass for African culture, identity and politics, and who it is that can participate in the process and conversations about solidarity.
It is a tactic often used by those seeking to shout down people who have a different opinion from their own, and is based more on warping historical facts and whipping up painful emotions than on sound reasoning and good faith.
Sometimes it is as childish as name-calling, at other times it amounts to deeply hurtful slander.
As a student newspaper we have been accused of many things by a number of people.
Some of these complaints have been justified and we appreciate them because they make us reflect on and improve the work we hope to do as a lifelong career. Other criticisms, unfortunately, have been less constructive and delivered full of the venom of unreasoned bigotry.
The worst has been that Wits Vuvuzela has an “agenda” against certain people, one orchestrated by shadowy ventriloquists and that is racist and, oddly, “neo-liberal”.
These kinds of personal insults are not unusual in national politics here and around the world – not that this makes it right. But in a community as small as Wits, where you have the opportunity to get to personally know the journalists of this newspaper if you so wish, it is hard to understand.
Many of the accusations are not supported by fact. They merely pose as radical, or “more African”, than anybody with an opposing view – without truly being committed to a progressive cause. The intention is crude political expedience: where you either play the victim or the righteous liberator to gain political traction.
Accusers ignore one important thing: that while our past divided us, and in spite of our different heritages and cultural backgrounds, personal and political beliefs, we all share a common future.
Those who blindly support the accusers forget the simple basis of our constitutional compromise: reason, good faith and a shared future. They also close their eyes to the fact that political noise is not always the equivalent of practical, progressive policies aimed at improving lives.
This heritage month, it would benefit us all to look at our history and differences in a sense that considers the future as an opportunity to share, to collaborate and go beyond the political expediency of personal insult in favour of solidarity.