Here is a simple assertion: epic thoughts precede epic actions. Or, even simpler put, thought precedes action. But this a recycled idea, so why am I wasting your time? Surely common sense – and if not common sense, Descartes – has told us for too many years to count now that our thoughts determine our actions.
Following the #CapeTownIsRacist debate on twitter, as well as the many articles that have been written since then about race in South Africa (Sihle Mthembu’s ‘The Horseshoe’ is the best reflection I’ve read so far), I got thinking about something within the same field of reasoning, but not quite on the same page.
Well, to tell you the truth, my thinking got started a little while before #CapeTownIsRacist started trending. However, this resurgence of one of the most exasperating but none-the-less significant arguments in our society – because we have yet to begin to talk candidly about how we cross the divide between apartheid and liberation together without throttling all the white people, and vice versa – helped to put the topic into sharper focus for me.
Coming back to the point, I had the strangest encounter in December last year. After volunteering to be a staff member at a church camp in Magaliesburg, I found myself tasked with the responsibility of having to help teach roughly a hundred teens ballroom dancing. During one of the classes, when it was time for the boys to go and ask the girls to dance, a few shy-looking boys who were still struggling to find their feet appeared to be hesitant to make their way across the floor. ‘Cute, they are a little scared,’ I thought to myself. So I went up to tell them nice things, hoping I would fill them with courage in the process. But soon enough I discovered that shyness was the wrong diagnosis. When I asked them why they were reluctant to go and find dance partners, one of the boys answered bluntly: ‘I can’t dance with a white girl.’ And that was that.
Or not. I stood dumbstruck. And then I forced them to go over and ask the girls to dance anyway. Like the good evangelical that I am, I succeeded in my mission to convince these separatists to change their un-mixing ways. I did what I knew was best: I pushed them across the floor until they adopted my, I mean, the right position— that is, dancing with white girls (or any girl, for that matter).
In the aftermath of this incident, however, I’m still a little shocked to have encountered such reservations about mixing with someone different from kids who were born in the ‘90s. Really? Really really? Where did they get their baggage from? How the heck have they grown up in this so-called post-apartheid society and managed to cultivate mindsets coloured by the Immorality Act?
Perhaps this encounter was just an exception to the rule and is not representative of any important segment of SA’s youth today? Or perhaps it was more significant than I can know? Whatever the case may be, it reminded me of something that an insightful young woman named Busi Mnguni and I discussed last year: the need for us – in particular: coloureds, indians, blacks, etc. – to think properly about the ways in which apartheid (and the colonial project before it) devastated our epistemological heritage. Then, in response, to come up with new philosophical strategies to help our society navigate our way into the future that everyone seems to have hope for. Because, as long as we can dream it, it is possible.
Which brings me back to my opening thought: I think, therefore I act. Any solution to our current dilemma which lacks a philosophical edge is not even worth considering. That is, without a dynamic philosophical framework to replace the oppressive systems of thought which still dictate so many of the ways in which our society operates, we might as well resign ourselves to dystopia right now. The Black Consciousness movement began to engage in the task of crafting a new way of looking at ourselves for the black people groups of SA, but unfortunately the work was never followed through to its ultimate conclusion. It remains very much frozen in its infancy, a stillborn child of sorts which academics and populists enjoy visiting and revisiting in order to perform their relentless, heady autopsies, as well as to evoke a pathetic echo of nostalgia in our collective memory.
Our parents, as well-meaning as they were, lied to us when they said that studying a subject like philosophy at varsity was a useless pursuit. We can spend our lives amassing all the material resources we want in order to gain economic freedom, but if we do not free our minds from their bonds we will still be enslaved at the end of the day, whether we know it or not. As a result, we’ll fail perpetually to move beyond the vexing, false-dichotomies which continue to polarise our discourse, our interactions with each other (or lack thereof), our willingness to ask another person to dance, the geographic composition of cities like Cape Town, and so forth and so forth (I’m sure you get the picture)…
One thing we urgently need to do is to give our philosophers and artists the space and time they need to dream up new ways of seeing our world. We need to somehow learn to see their travail as what it is: travail. And we need to respect them for it. Because, even though it might appear to be a useless waste of time to the person who is hustling on the streets in order to make something of themselves, it has the potential to break us out of the box which is currently cramping our style and inhibiting us from seeing a world in which a simple DASO poster is nothing more than a simple DASO poster— one depicting two half-naked people in some sort of intimate embrace.
One last thing, if you’ll allow me to bore you with a few platitudes, no epic work has been accomplished which has not been preceded by epic thoughts. Just as no epic architectural feat has been achieved without an epic architect (Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia anyone?). The logical conclusion is— well, I’ll let you follow that line of thought through to its conclusion by yourself. Think, ‘South Africa’.
Think about it, that’s all I ask.