He “brightened the corner”: decolonial AC Jordan and the quest for an equitable education system in apartheid South Africa

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AC Jordan


Through the prism of the decolonial theory, this paper seeks to situate AC Jordan's canon and place in the sphere of education and African letters. It argues that Jordan was streets ahead of his peers in terms of foresight and scholarship. He was a decolonialist long before it became chic and safe to be one in South Africa. His interpretation of South African history from the perspective of the oppressed was revolutionary and decolonialist in thrust. It was perfectly in sync with Brazilian scholar Paolo Freire's vaunted “pedagogy of the oppressed” theory.

Paulo Freire

He “brightened the corner”: decolonial AC Jordan and the quest for an equitable education system in apartheid South Africa.

Rather than reproducing Western abstract universals, however, the alternative is a kind of border thinking that engages the colonialism of Western epistemology (from the left and from the right) from the perspective of epistemic forces that have been turned into subaltern (traditional, folkloric, religious, emotional, etc.) forms of knowledge.
________ Escobar (2009:188)

The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, there arises a diversity of morbid symptoms.
________ Antonio Gramsci

The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men.
________ WEB Du Bois, “The talented tenth”

In an essay entitled “The talented tenth”, which was published in 1903, WEB Du Bois writes:

The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negros must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the mass away from the contamination and death of the worst, in their own, and other, races.

Now the training of men is a difficult and intricate task. Its technique is a matter for educational experts, but its object is for the vision of seers. If we make money the object of man-training, we shall develop money-makers, but not necessarily men (1996:133).

WEB Du Bois

And the prescient Du Bois concludes the essay with this injunction:

Men of America, the problem is plain before you. Here is a race transplanted through the criminal foolishness of your fathers. Whether you like it or not, the millions are here, and here they will remain. If you do not lift them up, they will pull you down. Education and work are the levers to uplift a people. Work will not do it unless inspired by the right ideals and guided by intelligence. Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life. The Talented Tenth of the Negro must be made leaders of thought and missionaries of culture among their people. No others can do this work, and the Negro colleges must train men for it. The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men (1996:156–157).

The spirit of being “your brother’s keeper” permeates this essay, as it seeks to remind the few educated blacks of their ethical and moral obligations to the less fortunate – as Du Bois once remarked: “Selfishness is even more natural than sacrifice” (p 130).

At the University of Fort Hare’s October 1949 graduation ceremony, a young Robert Sobukwe made the following remarks in his capacity as president of the SRC – remarks that seem perfectly in sync with the sort of issues that Du Bois raises in his essay “The talented tenth”:

A word to those who are remaining behind. You have seen by now what education means to us: the identification of ourselves with the masses. Education, to us, means service to Africa. You have a mission; we all have a mission. A nation to build we have, a God to glorify, a contribution clear to make towards the blessing of mankind. We must be the embodiment of our people’s aspirations.

And all we are required to do is to show the light, and the masses will find the way (http://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/robert-sobukwe-speech-university-fort-hare-president-students%E2%80%99-representative-council-21-oct#sthash.HvgLP7GA.dpuf).

(Date accessed: 01 August 2016).

Robert Sobukwe

I hereby affirm Enrique Dussel and Eduardo Ibarra-Colado (2010:491), when they state that “despite the fact that plenty of the researchers in the colonised countries consider themselves proud critical or advanced thinkers”, in most times “very rarely do they recognise the extent to which they are Eurocentric, even though they are not European”. Colonial subjects find themselves imagining the world in colonial terms, even if they consider themselves decolonists. I will demonstrate that AC Jordan was a clear exception. “How did it happen?” you may ask.

It happened, says Sartre (2001:21), that the settlers:

Possessed the Word and the rest borrowed it. Between the former and the latter, corrupt kinglets, feudal landowners and an artificially created false bourgeoisie served as intermediaries. In the colonies, the naked truth revealed itself, while the mother countries preferred it dressed; they needed the natives to love them – like mothers, in a way. The European elite set about fabricating a native elite, selected adolescents, marked on their foreheads with iron the principles of Western culture, stuffed into their mouths words which stuck to their teeth; after a brief stay in the mother country, they were sent back; interfered with, these living lies no longer had anything to say to their brothers; they echoed from Paris, from London, from Amsterdam …

AC Jordan, one of the most representative writers and thinkers of the global south, has been, over the decades, comfortably studied as traditionalist, modernist, nationalist and post-colonialist, while other scholars have found it difficult to classify AC Jordan. But, above all, the problem is not one of classification, but rather of the scope of his contribution to scholarly meditation. This presentation seeks to privilege AC Jordan as a decolonial thinker, especially where he seeks to promote not only the isiXhosa language and embedded indigenous knowledge, but also epistemic shifts that move away from the colonial logos. By privileging the decolonial epistemic perspective, this study seeks to inaugurate an epistemic break from the Euro-North American episteme which has been used to study the political thoughts and literature of AC Jordan. AC Jordan’s activism for revived African languages and cultures has marked him out as not just an occasional African nationalist, post-colonialist writer, as most readings of his work have mistaken him to be. As I re-situate AC Jordan’s work here, I want to make it clear that the decolonial epistemic perspective is not a theoretical dead end, but the “search for other possible knowledges and worlds” (Walsh 2007:234).

The value of decolonial thought lies in that it seeks to demolish narrow Eurocentric universalism of epistemologies; it elects to install pluriversality that recognises other knowledges in their loci of enunciation. Here, I deliberately insert into the corpus of Western cognition a way of knowing and a way of being, as opposed to the “disciplinary decadence” (Gordon 2011:1–9) of most critical theories. Decolonial critical theory privileges to recognise itself and other theories as complementing each other, in an attempt to understand fully the world and how it works, thus allowing for a comprehensive and possible conclusive understanding of AC Jordan and his works. It is time we eschewed the hierarchical theories of being, and recognised the decolonial thrust of AC Jordan’s work thereby.

The first step of decoloniality is the valorisation of epistemologies “that have been distorted, bastardised, ignored and rendered irrelevant by the Euro-North American episteme” (Sithole 2014:vi). Decoloniality recognises that “ours is an asymmetrical world order that is sustained not only by colonial matrices of power, but also by [specific] pedagogies and epistemologies” (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2013a:10), and, therefore, the points of departure from decolonial thinking are “the existential realities of suffering, oppression, repression, domination and exclusion” (2013a:15). By privileging AC Jordan as a decolonialist, coloniality is unmasked, resisted and destroyed, and this entails decoloniality as a political-cum-epistemological liberator project that seeks to challenge the asymmetrical organisation of power in the world.

Sarah Broek and Carsten Junker (2014) clearly point out that one cannot tear down the fiction with the same concepts with which the fiction was constructed; or, to use Audre Lorde’s dictum, one cannot use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. Let me return to the salient point made by Broek and Junker (2014):

Coloniality is still with us: There is no “post” from decolonial perspectives ... from a decolonial perspective, there is no outside of coloniality, from where coloniality can be observed … for decoloniality, the universes of meaning are formed at the crossroads of non-European ancestralities and the intervention of European ancestrality imposed in the name and myth of modernity. Decolonial thinking and doing, which means the decolonization of the idea of being, arise and unfold from disrupted and coerced cultures and civilizations. Now, both words, “coloniality” and “decoloniality”, are popular in Western Europe and the US, but we should not forget that the point of origination is not inscribed in the Greco-Roman tradition of language categories of thoughts, skin and heart. “Decolonization” originated in the third world, and was enacted by actors wanting liberation from Western Europe. Western Europe could not “offer” at once, to the rest of the world, both oppression and liberation. Neither then, nor now (2014:21).

Decoloniality, which is drawn from Latin American thinkers, is privileged in that it seeks to decolonise the “epistemologies of the south” (Santos 2014) through acts of “epistemic disobedience” (Mignolo 2009), and Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni adds that it is contrary to the poverty of postmodern, postcolonial Marxist and nationalist critique (2013:14), “which criticized modernity from within the hegemonic Western epistemology. Decolonial critical theory is a critique of modernity from without, and has thus the potential to pursue a ‘democratisation of knowledge, de-hegemonisation of knowledge, de-westernisation of knowledge’” (2013a:15).

1. AC Jordan on the state of education in apartheid South Africa

AC was streets ahead of his peers. He was a decolonialist long before it became chic and safe to be one in South Africa. His application of the “pedagogy of the oppressed” in his interpretation of South African history was revolutionary. It caused some waves, and it shook the University of Fort Hare’s conservative establishment. Here is how Mama Phyllis describes this watershed moment in AC’s illustrious teaching career:

In May, AC gave his first Wednesday address to staff and students in the Christian Union Hall (at Fort Hare). This was a Fort Hare tradition, according to which every staff member or visitor would address the whole college on a topic of his choice. AC chose as his subject “The ethics of war of the Bantu”. He took certain episodes from the point of view of the Africans – the lions, the time, telling their own story. AC was by all accounts terrific, and made an indelible impression on the students. I did not go to the meeting, as I was in my eighth month of pregnancy. But even before he came home for lunch, groups of students stopped by, excited, telling me that for the first time they had an African who was not afraid to interpret African history as it should be. Right through the day, students dropped by to congratulate him and to ask more questions. From that day on, AC’s place among Fort Hare students was assured. While the students were excited, his African colleagues were embarrassed. As he was going out of the meeting, one of them, very close to him, came up and asked: “Joe, how could you do that?” “What have I done?” he asked. The Fort Hare old guard, the white liberals, were shocked.

They had never expected this from him. They had thought that he, too, would be one of their good boys ... The impact of AC’s talk was felt even at Lovedale (1992:128–129).

AC was a decolonial thinker who sought to promote not only isiXhosa language and embedded indigenous knowledge, but also epistemic shifts that move away from the colonial logos. The value of decolonial thought lies in that it seeks to demolish narrow Eurocentric universalism of epistemologies; it elects to install pluriversality that recognises other knowledges in their loci of enunciation.

Scholars such as Paulo Freire (1993), Paul Tiyambe Zeleza (1997) and Albert Memmi (1974:96) have described how colonial education worked as education for domination, and was used to erase and distort the memory of the colonised. AC steadfastly fought for the preservation of indigenous knowledge and its language.

AC was an educationist at heart, a man of firsts and a breaker of seemingly impregnable racial walls. Not only that: he was also prescient. In her autobiography, A life’s mosaic, Mama Phyllis Ntantala offers the following insights on her trailblazer husband’s intellectual legacy:

In November 1945, AC received an appointment as Lecturer in African Languages at the University of Cape Town. He was going to be the first African to hold a full staff position in a predominantly white university. To this very day, the University of Cape Town prides itself for having taken this bold step. The University of the Witwatersrand had African people on its staff, but not as full staff members. They were all teaching assistants. Many Africans criticized AC for taking up the position at UCT. His reasoning was that UCT belongs to all people in South Africa, not only to the whites. He was going there to keep the door ajar, so that many others could come in, for only then could UCT pride itself as an institution of higher learning, free from the prejudices of South Africa (2009:131).

Phyllis Ntantala

AC’s poem “Open the door” was probably addressed to UCT and other segregated South African institutions, to embrace racial integration and equity. We do well to quote directly from the poem:

Overflowing are the barrels, but us they give only dregs,
Abundant is the meat, but us they throw bones,
Rich and fertile is the soil; to us they allot the bog,
Light there is all around, we see it only through a crack.

All the nations glory in their wealth,
All the nations are immersed in light,
All the nations have acquired wisdom, all, all the nations have a place and a share,
But where, where is the share of the children of the soil?

Open The Door!

The poem speaks to the unjust exclusion of the indigenous people from their birthright and entitlement. It is characterised by righteous indignation, an unquavering tone which is followed by a capitalised stentorian injunction, “Open The Door!” echoing the title of the poem.

The exclusion and rendering “invisible” of black people from their heritage, does not seem unique to the South African race relations nightmare. In his magisterial work, The souls of black folk, WEB Du Bois also brings it up as he confronts racist America:

Your country? How came it yours? Before the Pilgrims landed, we were here. Here we have brought our three gifts and mingled them with yours: a gift of story and song-soft, stirring melody in an ill-harmonized and unmelodious land; the gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer the soil, and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire two hundred years earlier than your weak hands could have done it; third, a gift of the spirit. Around us the history of the land has centered for thrice a hundred years ... Would America have been America without her Negro people? (1990:189)

In an essay entitled “What America would be like without blacks”, Ralph Ellison also addresses the same racial questions raised by AC Jordan in “Open the door”, and by Du Bois in Souls of the black folk. He writes:

Most of all, I refer to the recurring fantasy of solving one basic problem of American democracy by “getting shut” of the blacks through various wishful schemes that would banish them from the nation’s bloodstream, from its social structure and from its conscience and historical consciousness (1995:105).

In his classic, Invisible man, Ralph Ellison once more addresses the question of the systematic exclusion of black people, and America’s dogged refusal to recognise them, in the following terms:

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind.

I am invisible; understand, simply because people refuse to see me.

Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus side-shows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me (1952:7).

Ralph Ellison

Not only was AC an outstanding teacher; he was also a humanist. He was aware of the sort of economic constraints that dogged the children of the poor, as the following extract from Mama Phyllis’s autobiography illustrates:

Working with him, I began to see good qualities in him – warm, though never demonstrative, kind, patient. Concerned about others, he demonstrated humility in his concern for those students who could not even pay the lowest fees. AC was a scholar whose breadth and depth amaze me even today, an intellectual whose pursuits were limitless (2009:95).

In an article that was published by the South African Outlook in December 1968, one of his students, Harold Scheub, spoke as follows during the memorial service of his former mentor, AC:

His life was devoted to the pursuits of knowledge, and it was characteristic of him that he shared with enthusiasm and with love his thoughts and ideas with his students, enlisting them in his efforts to eliminate the ignorance that separates humans and enslaves scholarship ... I speak for the students of Professor Jordan. It is fitting that his students be represented on this sad occasion, because Professor Jordan’s concerns were primarily with the training of students (1968:194).

Indeed, in the words of Robert Sobukwe, education to AC Jordan meant “service to Africa”.

He was scathing in his critique of Bantu education, and saw it as an instrument of subjugation. The following excerpts from an address entitled “Our right to knowledge”, which he delivered at the Annual Conference of the Teachers’ League of South Africa in Cape Town in June 1952, are instructive:

It has always been known to us that the system of education in South Africa is designed to promote the interests of the dominant class at the expense of the non-white people, who are regarded as just so many flocks of sheep to be herded about and shorn as their masters choose (1952:1).

Criticising the church’s dubious stance on Bantu education, he noted:

But we are not taken in by this bluff. Nor are we taken in by the protestations of the churches that speak with double tongue, condemning the Bantu Education Act, but grabbing the thirty pieces of silver offered by Eiselen for the lives of our children. If they think we are helpless and defenceless, they will soon discover that they have made the biggest mistake of their lives. For on our side is the most powerful weapon of all time – Truth (1952:3).

Retracing the roots of the obnoxious Bantu Education Act to the two morally unsustainable twin monsters, black tribalism and Boer feudalism, he notes:

To base African education on a non-existent or artificially created tribal system is to destroy the African. Those who are trying to force Bantu education on the African know these things. The reason they are attempting this is that they do not want to admit the African into the new society that has arisen on the ruins of tribalism and feudalism. They are not interested in human development, but in the white supremacy, as Verwoerd has openly declared, and this can only be achieved by denying the African his legitimate right to modern knowledge (1954:4).

These excerpts from Jordan’s forthright denunciation of Bantu education show that he was very conscious of the pitfalls of racial reasoning. In his book Race matters, in a chapter entitled “The pitfalls of racial reasoning”, Cornel West writes as follows about the contribution of courageous leaders, such as Sojourner Truth, who were at the forefront of the struggle in America:

They understood that the pitfalls of racial reasoning are too costly in mind, body and soul – especially for a downtrodden and despised people like black Americans (1993:32).

In another quintessential AC Jordan address entitled “Let us live for our children”, which he delivered at the opening of the TLSA Conference in Cape Town in June 1946, he provided the following insights on the skewed nature of race relations in South Africa:

Among other things Mr Kreft tells the graduands, is that he is convinced “that the best interests of this country cannot be served by breaking and destroying what others have built”. I agree with Mr Kreft, provided that what “others have built” (whoever they are) is worthy of preservation. But if others have built a social structure that threatens to break down upon and destroy humanity, then surely those who come after have not only the right, but also an obligation, to break down and destroy such a social structure (1946:3).

And he continued to unpack South Africa’s racial nightmare:

During the war, some white school children in this country were asked a number of questions to test their intelligence. One of the questions was: “What do you think would be the most fitting punishment for Hitler after Germany has been conquered?”

One child gave this answer: “I propose that Hitler should be brought to South Africa and treated exactly like a ‘native’.” Obviously, the most inhumane treatment to which a human being can ever be subjected, according to this child, is the treatment of the Africans in this country (1946:4).

In this extract, Jordan speaks to the notion that in apartheid South Africa, the white child was miseducated, while the advent of the Bantu education unleashed a calculated programme that was designed for the undereducation of the black child. In his dissection of the paradoxes of apartheid rule in this speech, Jordan seems to be echoing WEB Du Bois’s famous pronouncement on the racial question: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line.” Raising another thorny issue under apartheid rule – the disparity in teacher salaries – Jordan continues:

There are glaring injustices in this country, and one of the most classic is that of teachers’ salaries. That in the same school, under the same roof and for the same number of hours, there should be three teachers, possessing the same qualifications and teaching the same pupils, but paid according to the degree of whiteness (or blackness) of their colour, is an indefensible state of affairs; and yet, the cry of “equal pay for equal work” is regarded as a preposterous demand by the rulers of this country (1946:5).

Jordan makes cogent postulations in his dissection of the machinations of the apartheid state, where the principle of equal pay for equal work was suppressed in the interests of maintaining white political and economic supremacy.

AC was neither provincial nor insular in disposition. He took his scholarship and political activism across the seas. To him, neutrality was an absurdity. The bombing of his home by bigots during his tenure at the University of Wisconsin attests to his “engagement with battles in the streets” even beyond the borders of his home country. In one of the twentieth century’s most exquisite pieces of writing, “Letter from a Birmingham jail”, the iconic American Civil Rights Movement leader, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, makes the following points on the moral unsustainability of provincialism and neutrality during moments of national crisis:

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country (1992:85).

Martin Luther King Jr

2. The paradoxes of our times

The old is dying and the new cannot be born;
in this interregnum there arises a diversity of morbid symptoms.
_____ Antonio Gramsci

AC would have been disappointed to learn of the palpable devaluation of African languages in what is supposed to be a new South Africa. He would have been angry at a black middle class and political elite whose children can neither read nor write African languages – who seem to regard this anomaly as a badge of superiority. After spending a lifetime contributing towards the centering of African languages and literature in academic discourse, he would have felt betrayed by our deviation from this noble pan-African imperative. Addressing the black middle class’s connivance in the devaluation of their culture and aesthetics in America – and its consequences, particularly on their children – Poet Laureate Langston Hughes writes as follows in his landmark essay, “The Negro artist and the racial mountain”, a document of remarkable insight:

The children go to a mixed school. In the home they read white papers and magazines. And the mother often says “Don’t be like Niggers” when the children are bad. A frequent phrase from the father is “Look at how well a White man does things”. And so the word white comes to be unconsciously a symbol of all virtues. It holds for the children beauty, morality and money. The whisper of “I want to be white” runs silently through their minds ... One sees how difficult it would be for an artist born in such a home to interest himself in interpreting the beauty of his own people. He is never taught to see that beauty. He is taught rather not to see it, or, if he does, to be ashamed of it when it is not according to Caucasian patterns (1995:91).

Langston Hughes (Photo: Carl van Vechten)

In what I regard as Achebe’s final gift to Africa and the world, a book entitled There was a country, he offers this reminder:

It is up to the owners of any particular culture to ensure it survives, or if they don’t want it to survive, they should act accordingly, but I am not going to recommend that (2012:60).

Name-calling has become part of what Antonio Gramsci calls “a diversity of morbid symptoms” in contemporary South Africa. The “clever blacks” tag was preceded by the “dog” tag, in reference to those value-oriented intellectuals who are concerned about our alarming descent as a nation.

In his collection of essays entitled Fine lines from the box, in a chapter entitled “The year of the Dog”, Professor Njabulo Ndebele writes as follows:

Kodwa was reported to have called for “the dogs to be beaten until their owners and handlers emerge”. My name, according to reports, was one of four on a list of these “dogs” ... So, when Kodwa invokes the image of dogs being hit, he is showing how well-schooled he is in the archaelogy of denigration and brutal punishment (251–253).

One wonders how AC would have felt at the pervasive “morbid symptoms” that are exhibited by a ruling elite that demonises and derides as “Clever Blacks” those value-oriented intellectuals who are alarmed at our descent under a leadership that has become amoral, hedonistic and narcistic. The “morbid symptoms” that permeate our landscape include the demonization of dissent – a strategy that is clearly designed to create an acquiescent, monolithic, mentally chained and gullible citizenry. We live in an increasingly dangerous environment, in which those who speak truth to power are narrowly labelled as being “anti-this” or “anti-that” – and that is reductionist. We are faced with a ruling elite that has perfected the art of denialism. How can the country’s intellectuals remain mute and apathetic when a self-serving ruling elite conveniently invokes its “impeccable” struggle credentials in order to legitimate its looting of the country’s resources? It’s not like these concerned intellectuals are calling for an insurrection. They are calling for a return to the source, a return to basics! Is disrespect for the rule of law and accountability a sign of “impeccable” struggle credentials? How can the country’s intellectuals be expected to applaud kleptocracy? Blind faith is destructive. Also, any form of idolatry is dangerous. The ruling elite seem to think that their narrative is the only one that matters. But we need a plurality of voices here. We do well to quote Aime Cesaire’s famous words here:

No one has a monopoly on truth and beauty; and there is room for us all at the rendezvous of victory (1971:34).

The ruling elite must create space for a thousand flowers to bloom. One shudders to think what would become of our country if its intellectuals were to sell their souls and be “captured” by the ruling elite in an age where the “capturing” of institutions and individuals had become a way of life.

If we do not arrest this alarming decline, what kind of country will the next generation inherit? We do well to quote Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s sobering reminder here:

History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals (1992:87).

The diversity of “morbid symptoms” of our times is aptly captured in the following lines from WB Yeats’s poem, “The second coming”:

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
... And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? (1991:124)

Has yesterday’s “Amandla”-chanting revolutionary metamorphosed into what Yeats describes in the poem as a “rough beast” that “slouches towards Bethlehem”?

We can’t pretend that we were not forewarned about the dangers of incumbency. Sobukwe’s message from his landmark Fort Hare graduation address in 1949 resonates:

I know, of course, that because I express these sentiments I will be accused of indecency and will be branded an agitator. That was the reaction to my speech last year. People do not like to see the even tenor of their lives disturbed. They do not like to be made to feel guilty. They do not like to be told what they have always believed was right is wrong.

And above all, they resent encroachment on what they regard as their special province. But I make no apologies. It is meet that we speak the truth before we die (1949:2).

The “clever black”, so denoted and denigrated, does the work of decoding literally how the economic conundrum has eluded the current ruling elite. Could the decline in university funding perhaps be a strategy to reduce the number of “clever blacks” in the country?

Again, one wonders how AC would have reacted to the relentless denunciation of rational thought and the labelling of concerned citizens as “clever blacks”. Perhaps he would have reacted as follows:

You Tell Me to Sit Quiet when robbed of my manhood,
With nowhere to live and nought to call my own,
Now coming, now going, wandering and wanting,
No life in my home save the drone of the beetle!
          Go tell the worker bees,
          True guards of the hive,
          Not to sting the rash hunter
          Who grabs at their combs.
You Tell Me to Sit Quiet when robbed of my children,
All offered as spoils to the rich of the land,
To be hungered of body, retarded of mind,
And drained of all spirit of freedom and worth!
          Go tell the mother hen
          Who sits on her brood
          Not to peck at the mongrel
          That sniffs at her young ...

Lamenting the demise of visionary leadership in his native Ireland, and seemingly nostalgic about the “golden age” that produced exemplary leadership in that country, WB Yeats writes as follows in the poem “September 1913”:

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It is with O’ Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It is with O’ Leary in the grave.

They weighed so lightly what they gave.
But let them be, they’re dead and gone,
They’re with O’ Leary in the grave (1991:73–74).

WB Yeats (Photo: Alice Boughton)

In “There was a country”, Achebe offers this advice to intellectuals:

But there is a moral obligation; I think not to ally oneself with power against the powerless. An artist, in my definition of the word, would not be someone who takes sides with the emperor against his powerless subjects (2012:58–59).

AC was not an acquiescent kind of intellectual. He spoke truth to power and raised his voice whenever he found himself confronted with injustice. His was a voice that would not be silenced; his was a mind that would not be chained; his was a spirit that would not be broken.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2007:28) argues that what must be imagined is an “ecology of knowledges, post-abyssal thinking premised upon the idea of the epistemological diversity of the world”. The “ecology of knowledges” that Santos imagines entails “pluriversality”, which aspires in Dussel’s words for “a multiplicity of decolonial critical responses to Euro-centred modernity”. It is a concept that Arturo Escobar (2007:01) imagines as the possibility of “worlds and knowledges otherwise”, a world where other worlds and their knowledges can all exist, and where civilisations can have a dialogue and knowledges can participate in conversations. Where the culture, the history and the language of the colonised had to be distorted, if not totally erased (Fanon 1967), what AC Jordan did was to ensure that:

The understanding of the world by far exceeds the Western understanding of the world. Second, there is no global social justice without global cognitive justice. Third, the emancipatory transformations in the world may follow grammars and scripts other than those developed by westerncentric critical theory, and such diversity should be valorized (Boaventura de Sousa Santos 2014:18).

Ella Fitzgerald (Photo: William P Gottlieb)

In conclusion, I would like to invoke the song, “Brighten the corner”, by that great African-American lady of song, Ella Fitzgerald. In my view, it is a song that beautifully defines AC’s life mission:

Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do
Do not wait to shed your light afar
To the many duties ever near you now be true
Brighten the corner where you are

Brighten the corner where you are
Brighten the corner where you are
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar
Brighten the corner where you are

Just above are clouded skies that you may help to clear
Let not narrow self your way debar
Though into one heart alone may fall your song of cheer
Brighten the corner where you are

Here for all your talent you may surely find a need
Here reflect the bright and Morning Star
Even from your humble hand the Bread of Life may feed
Brighten the corner where you are

______ Ella Fitzgerald, “Brighten the corner (Where you are)”



I would like to thank Professor Kgomotso Masemola of the Department of English Studies at the University of South Africa (UNISA) for selflessly contributing invaluable insights during the crafting of this essay.


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A former Fulbright scholar, Phil Ndlela has held lecturing positions at the following institutions of higher learning in South Africa: the University of Fort Hare, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University of Zululand, and North-West University (his current employer, where he is a senior lecturer). He holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts, USA. He teaches Black Writing in South Africa, African-American Literature, and Post-Coloniality as Theory and Praxis. His book, Orality, literacy and the discourse of liberation, was published by Lovedale Press in 2010. He is also the Andrew Mellon Foundation Visiting Humanities Professor at Claflin University in South Carolina, USA.

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