With all of the Frantz Fanon worship going around I thought that I would finally read The Wretched of the Earth cover-to-cover – rather than just dealing with the chapters one is dished out at universities. Having just got through that incendiary horse manure that Sartre placed at the front of it, the experience is going well, although I do not agree with his Hegelian inspired dialectical approach. One issue that is interesting from where I stand is Fanon’s take on ‘the settler’. As he says: ‘from the moment that the colonial context disappears, [the settler] has no longer any interest in remaining and coexisting.’ He goes on to argue that the settlers only frame their lives through their metropolitan centre and that the pied-noir Algerian ‘liberals’ wanted a twofold citizenship. Furthermore that the settlers claim that ‘the land was created by us’ and that ‘if we leave, all is lost, and the country will go back to the Middle Ages.’
One just has to have grown up an English speaking white South African to have experienced this coming from the horse’s mouth. But what I am interested in is, is this true today and was it entirely true then in 1960-61? South African whites have no metropolitan centre anymore. I, for one, feel incredibly at odds with the world when I live in Britain as I am doing. I have no desire to be away from South Africa and see no real connection, other than language and at times a sense of humour (although not always), that connects me to either Britain or Ireland. I think very few white South Africans really want to leave. One just has to read Coetzee’s latest novel The Childhood of Jesus to see what regrets he possibly has over leaving the country that formed him. We white South Africans are, for better or worse, no longer settlers, we are natives. As I have quoted before (and no doubt will do again) I think Simone Weil was right when she said: ‘With exiles who are ever thinking of their country – and those who forget it are lost – the heart is so irresistibly turned towards the homeland in distress that few emotional resources are left for friendship in the land they happen to be living in. Such friendship cannot really germinate and spring up in their hearts unless they do themselves a sort of violence.’
What is more Albert Camus for one, who is no doubt the ‘liberal’ ‘settler’ straw man that Fanon directs his accusations at, did not hold the views that Fanon ascribes to the settler. All of Camus’s work, except perhaps for The Fall, was an attempt to express his deep attachment to Algeria, an attachment he was desperate not to lose. Camus also argued from the early 1930s that Arabs and Berbers must have the same political rights as the pied-noir and the metropolitan Frenchman. That is to say he argued against a ‘twofold citizenship’. In fact he left the Communist Party because they, in 1935, stopped supporting the Arab and Berber cause in order, supposedly, to defeat Fascism. In fact a few years later Camus was thrown out of Algeria for his support of the Arabs in the newspaper he edited, Alger Républicain. There is a certain irony in Fanon’s quote, about the settlers saying that the colonies will go back to the Middle Ages after they leave, when one considers what Camus wrote in the pages of that paper: ‘We are living every day alongside people [the Arabs and the Berbers] whose condition is that of the European peasantry of the Middle Ages, and yet we, and we alone, are unmoved by their desperate plight.’
To be sure Fanon was right, to a large degree, in what he said about settlers and their mentality. But in the ever increasing balkanisation and Fanon worship we are encountering in South Africa we should perhaps take pause to reflect and to accept that some of his arguments are out dated, while others were not wholly true of all.