Where I Stand 24/05/2016

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.

4 thoughts on “Where I Stand 24/05/2016

  1. What you fail to understand is that settlers have a deep attachment to the land their in- that is at the very essence of being a settler as Fanon says and as you explained at the top of your piece. Settlers, by their very nature believe that they created that land and give it its sustenance and if they leave it will all go down. So off course they feel attached to the land, and off course they feel like that is where they belong.- This fact doesn’t make Fanon’s theory outdated. Your argument basically goes- Look at Fanon’s theory, he is right about settlers mentality, but I don’t feel attached to England and Camus loved Algeria therefore Fanon is outdated?

    Like Seriously? Please write something better with more substance.

    Also if white South Africans have no attachment to the metropole- then why do a majority of them (I’m guessing yourself included) have passports from European countries?

    “We white South Africans are, for better or worse, no longer settlers, we are natives. ”
    You do not need to read Fanon to understand that in South Africa- the Settler remains a settler despite rainbow nation pipe dreams.

    Come back with something better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am sorry that conversations always have to be like this these days – that it is about division, finger pointing and point scoring. You automatically think that I am going going to disagree with you and therefore you can be rude to me. I don’t believe that we have to meet on these terms. Anyway, yes I have an Irish Passport. But I have no attachment to it and I certainly does not make me culturally Irish – I do not serve the Irish State. I have no particular attachment to my South African one either, both are merely a piece of bureaucratic enforcement – and I certainly do not serve the South African State. I am not a nationalist – I do not believe in any form of nationalism. But I do believe in culture and I believe, as Weil suggested, that there is a need for roots. You are right Fanon’s argument is that settlers believe they belong to the land but his argument is that they believe that they belong as a result of the metropole’s vision of colonialism. My argument is that the metropole is no longer there on these terms for the white South African, therefore Fanon’s idea no longer pertains. This does not mean that their (my) position within South Africa is not problematic. Nor that whites still don’t pay lip service to the metropolitan ideas, all that I am saying is they are fooling themselves if they do. I was brought up a liberal and still am one, I know that it is nothing to brag about but I do not believe in the Marxist notion that I must merely submit myself to history. I believe that there are acts of good faith and that things can be changed through action. All I can say is that I have tried to live like this. Of course good faith does not have much traction these days. People are far keener just to rewrite history, to reduce history to a Manichaean one. This is much like when Julius Malema, when still part of the ANC, claimed that the PAC had nothing to do with Sharpeville. I am not interested in reducing pieces of history and placing bits into the dustbin. Nor do I believe that history contains an essentialist dualism or that it is dialectical. I believe in plurality and I still believe in the possibility of a more equal and multicultural South Africa. But I believe whites are going to have to work a lot harder, be more engaged and less self-serving if this is to be the case.


  2. Reblogged this on University of Broken Glass and commented:
    If you ever want to read a white South African’s arguments – using white authors – to derail and undermine Fanon, here is a read. His entire post is basically a justification for his statement that: “We white South Africans are, for better or worse, no longer settlers, we are natives”, an attempt at claiming to belong by virtue of how they feel, rather than historic and current contexts. It is an insight into the mind of someone who seeks to dismiss without engaging the history of his own white privilege.


    1. This is not an argument from feeling, unless culture is a feeling. You don’t seem to have engaged with the argument of the metropole that I offer. All I can say is that although I left the ANC fourteen years ago I am still a firm believer in the Freedom Charter and the ideal of multicultural liberal socialism. I just wish arguments in South Africa were not reduced to ‘you are white and privileged and can’t see anything other than through this lens’. I don’t believe that. I have lived in my country for forty years, my broader family has been there for nearly 200 years and I and they have hopefully done so with their eyes open – at least some acted against and were punished by the apartheid state. So when you talk of white privilege what do you know about it? How have you experienced it? I have for better or worse seen it from, to a limited degree, both sides.


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